NEW YORK—A day ago, R.J. Barrett promised that he would cry when Commissioner Adam Silver called his name at the NBA Draft. Zion Williamson was less certain.
When the time came Thursday night, both Barrett’s and Williamson’s emotions reached a critical point, and each former Blue Devil did in fact cry.
As Williamson heads to the New Orleans Pelicans as the first pick and Barrett to the New York Knicks as the third pick, each is set to become the face of his respective franchise, which will bring an emotional toll. But as the duo’s NBA journey began at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, it was time for a heartfelt embrace between Barrett and Williamson as Barrett exited the stage.
“We just told each other how happy we were for each other. I told him I loved him, he told me he loved me, and we're ready to get to work now,” Barrett said.
For Barrett, going to New York marks a homecoming of sorts. His mother’s family is from Brooklyn, his parents met at St. John’s University in Queens and Barrett grew up watching the Knicks play with his late grandfather.
New York fans are not known for being too welcoming to their supposed franchise saviors. Just ask Kristaps Porzingis, who was jeered at his NBA Draft night in 2015, or recent New York Giants draftee and former Blue Devil Daniel Jones, who was showered with boos at a Yankee game this week.
Knicks fans, hardened by two decades of their team’s ineptitude, let slip a rare moment of optimism, and greeted Barrett with an overwhelmingly positive reaction. Barrett felt similar excitement toward his new fanbase and city.
“I’m so overwhelmed, humbled and just honored and very thankful that the Knicks took the chance with me, that they believed in me,” Barrett said. “I’m so happy to be a Knick, and I can't wait to play in Madison Square Garden.”
Dream come true
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After New Orleans tabbed Williamson as the top pick—a mere formality for the clear-cut top prospect since November—the consensus 2018-19 National Player of the Year initially kept his emotions in check.
Yet once Williamson made his way to his mother, he could not hold it in any longer, and let the tears fly. After all, this was the realization of his boyhood dream.
“I don't think it's a feeling I can really describe. You know, as a little kid you say you want to go to the NBA. People say, ‘You've got to have a plan B because the chances of doing it is little to none. For me to be selected No. 1, I mean, I can't dream it better than that.”
It is no coincidence that Williamson began to cry when he saw his mother, who did everything in her power to help her son reach his potential.
“She taught me growing up, and whenever I needed something, she would do everything in her power just to get it for me and my brothers,” Williamson said. “She put aside her dreams just so me and my brothers could have a chance at ours. I don't think a lot of people are fortunate enough to be in that kind of situation, so I just thank God that I got a mother like I did.”
While Barrett did experience a similar mix of emotions connecting back to his family, it was simple for the Canadian as he readies to go on the impossible mission of returning the Knicks to relevance.
“I'm just very happy, man,” Barrett said.