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Spurs, fans welcome No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama to San Antonio

Spurs, fans welcome No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama to San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The first dinner that Victor Wembanyama had in his new home city was filled with San Antonio royalty. Gregg Popovich was there, of course. So were Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Manu Ginobili and Sean Elliott.

NBA champions, all of them.

Wembanyama now starts his quest to join their club.

Even as the welcomes for Wemby continued Saturday — one at San Antonio’s iconic downtown River Walk, another at the arena — the French teen who has been labeled a generational basketball talent already was thinking about what comes next. He’s got a visit to Nike headquarters in Oregon in the next few days, appointments to see some houses in San Antonio that he might be calling home for the next few years and then practices for the NBA Summer League.

“I’ve got a lot to do,” Wembanyama said. “But it’s all right. It’s OK. It’s all going to fit in.”

He’s excited, and rightly so. He put on a Spurs uniform on Saturday for the first time and will play in one for the first time sometime in early July in either Sacramento or Las Vegas; San Antonio plays in both of those summer leagues. He offered high-fives to hundreds of Spurs employees who showed up at the arena on Saturday to welcome him, smiling the whole way.

“These are exciting times,” Spurs CEO R.C. Buford said.

They come with the biggest expectations. The morning party on the River Walk took place at the spot where the Spurs’ championship celebrations usually are centered. And the news conference that followed at the arena came with Wembanyama seated on a stage that just happened to be at the same end of the court as San Antonio’s five NBA championship banners.

“To Victor, I wanted to say to you directly, we’re excited to grow with you, support you, challenge you, especially Coach Pop — there’ll be a lot of challenging days — on your journey through life and basketball,” Spurs general manager Brian Wright said as he sat to Wembanyama’s left. “Your talent is obvious, but as we got to know you, the maturity, the approach, the character really showed us how special of a young man you are.”

It was part of a whirlwind first 20 hours or so in San Antonio for Wembanyama, who flew in from the NBA draft on Friday and had dinner with Popovich and some former players that night. Wembanyama said he learned more about the NBA in those two hours than he had learned in the last few years.

“Honestly, that was one of the best dinners of my life,” Wembanyama said. “And not because of the food. The food was good. But the people was crazy.”

Saturday started with Wembanyama enjoying a bag of the city’s famed breakfast tacos — bacon and egg, and bean and cheese, he said — before heading to the Arneson River Theater for the day’s first introductory event. Robinson was there, sitting in the front row. So was San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, wearing a Wembanyama jersey.

There’s someone driving around San Antonio with a Wemby license plate. There’s a burger with foie gras on the menu at a local sports bar, as a tribute to Wembanyama. There’s a mural of him on the outside of a business directly across the street of another mural featuring Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker. There’s even a mariachi band that already has a song about Wembanyama.

“The fans have been the best at their job,” Wembanyama said. “I can only hope to be at their level.”

The Spurs also introduced second-round pick Sidy Cissoko on Saturday — another player from France who has known Wembanyama for about a decade. Cissoko played in Spain before ending up with the G League Ignite, and he already has endeared himself to San Antonio, a city with a strong Latin influence, by taking questions in English, French and Spanish.

“The hoop gods have been incredibly generous to San Antonio for a long time, and they blessed us again with Victor and Sidy,” Buford said.

Wembanyama said he hasn’t had much time for sleep, and he’s looking forward to things calming down a bit so he can get back into his basketball routine — one that has been understandably disrupted in recent days. But first, there was luggage to unpack, more people to meet, more jerseys to sign.

It was hectic. It’s going to be hectic for a while. And Wembanyama says he’s enjoying it all.

“This is the life I wanted,” Wembanyama said. “This is what I worked for and it’s what I’ve been wanting for a long time. So, it feels normal to me.”

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