Zion Williamson had a message for the haters last Friday.
Not for his haters, but the haters who say competitive fire no longer exists in the NBA -- those who long for the days of Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks or Michael Jordan's beef with the Detroit Pistons.
With the New Orleans Pelicans up 126-117 on the Phoenix Suns with five seconds left in the game last Friday, Williamson received an outlet pass and had a wide-open path to the hoop. Now, you normally will see guys dribble out the clock when the win is in the bag like this.
But Zion took the opportunity to put an exclamation point on the victory with a 360-degree windmill dunk. The Suns didn't take it kindly.
Zion Williamson Shouldn't Apologize for Late-Game Dunk vs. Suns
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN... ZION WILLIAMSON. pic.twitter.com/MhjV7Zpl0R
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) December 10, 2022
Let's take in Zion's slam for the moment. This is the Zion we would love to see in the dunk contest but probably never will, similar to how we'll never see LeBron James. He's clearly the best dunker out there, but the dunk contest is beneath him. And with his injury history, I doubt the Pelicans would let him compete. I pledge to give Zion 100 po'boys if he competes one day. Who's with me?
End of tangent.
Anyway, Pelicans color analyst Antonio Daniels started chanting for Zion not to dunk when he received the ball. It wasn't great optics, either, when Zion flexed near the New Orleans bench and basked in the crowd's cheers after.
Then a scuffle broke out that was sparked by Chris Paul giving Pelicans point guard Jose Alvarado an elbow to the face after the dunk. It didn't escalate to violence, but neither team was going to sit by idly. Oh, and Alvarado isn't exactly a Paul fan. He wouldn't refer to him by name in his post-game presser. Gold lol.
Williamson had a great answer when asked after the game about the dunk.
"That was a little out of character for me," Williamson told reporters of his dunk after the win in New Orleans. "But you've got to understand, I mean, you can understand it or not. They sent my teammates home last year."
"I missed all last year. I got carried away a little bit. I admit that. But you know, I was in that locker room when my brothers were down because the Suns sent us home last year. That's a tough moment to be a part of. So in that moment, I got carried away. I admit that. ... If they were to do the same thing, I wouldn't have no problem with it."
However, Suns guard Cam Payne didn't share the same sentiment.
"The game was pretty much over, and they just kept playing," said Payne, according to ESPN. "I felt like there was just no sportsmanship, and we don't really like that. We do the right thing. I felt like they should've done the right thing, and they didn't. We didn't take it well, and we don't like to lose either. The game was over, no shot clock. They can hold the ball."
Let's rewind a second. Zion's statement is why he's one of the most likable players in the NBA. He admits his fault but also defends his actions. You don't think the guys in the Pelicans' locker room loved hearing this from him?
He could've dribbled it out. He could've taken the win without adding anything extra. But the same people who complain about how classless this is are the same people who complain about NBA players not caring.
Rivalries are petty. Rivalries are grudge-driven. The Bulls-Pistons rivalry of the '90s wouldn't have had the same juice if Isiah Thomas and the Pistons didn't walk off the floor before the end of Game 4 of the '91 Eastern Conference Finals.
The Suns will surely remember this. The Pelicans will surely have Williamson's back. We're witnessing the groundwork for the NBA's newest rivalry.
Enjoy all things sports?
Don't miss a story! Sign up for daily stories delivered to your inbox.