Inside Year 1 of the Victor Wembanyama era

Before the San Antonio Spurs moved into the practice facility at their new $500 million campus complex this season, they still had a bit of business to take care of at the old facility.

The same building where Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and many others practiced on their way to winning championships was hosting offseason workouts involving the next great Spur: Victor Wembanyama.

The No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft used those workouts to prepare for the season, get familiar with his teammates — and get ready for one of the most anticipated rookie seasons in NBA history.

Before the season began, Wembanyama, still yet to turn 20, was asked what he expected to encounter in 2023-24 in the NBA.

“I would say discovering all this stuff I used to see on TV,” Wembanyama said. “All the stars, all the arenas, the atmospheres, all this is going to be really precious to me. I know I’m going to live through incredible things and have obstacles, but it’s going to be a beautiful year. I know I’m forging forever memories now.”

And quite the year it was. Wembanyama’s incredible rookie season, which comes to an end Sunday, with the Spurs headed to the lottery for the fifth consecutive season, was filled with highs, lows, memorable moments and incredible performances that left San Antonio hopeful for the future.

HOURS BEFORE HIS preseason debut against Chet Holmgren and the Oklahoma City Thunder, Wembanyama was going through his first NBA shootaround.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who had been through many of these before, called over his star player to sit on the bench next to him.

The two men — a 74-year-old coach with more than 2,300 regular-season and playoff games under his belt and a 19-year-old rookie who had played in just two summer league games — sat alone and talked for nearly five minutes, uninterrupted by teammates, other coaches or the media.

Popovich taking that much one-on-one time with a single player at shootaround was a rare sight — but Wembanyama is a rare player.

“At first, he asked me how I expected the game to be,” Wembanyama said later of the pregame conversation. “I told him that I wanted to play hard, play with energy and the rest is going to come naturally.

“He said he agreed with me. He said, ‘You already know. Do your thing.'”

Victor Wembanyama and Gregg Popovich are separated by more than 50 years in age, but their short-term futures are linked. Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

Oct. 9, 2023: In just over 19 minutes of action in his preseason debut, Wembanyama puts up 20 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block against the Thunder while going 8-of-13 from the field.

Oct. 13, 2023: In a nationally televised preseason game against the Heat, Wembanyama produces the first of many viral highlights. First, toward the end of the second quarter, he calls for an alley-oop from Tre Jones while still standing behind the 3-point line. Later in the game, he stretches his arm to complete a dunk over Heat center Thomas Bryant, whose incredulous reaction immediately becomes a meme.

WEMBANYAMA WANTS TO win at all costs. His highly competitive nature has been on display from the very start of the preseason — when he was doing everything he could to make sure he beat his teammates in drawing contests filmed for in-arena content during timeouts.

“We had a couple minutes to draw the [Spurs] Coyote, and since it’s a contest, I gave a hundred percent,” Wembanyama said. “So I wanted to win. I think I did, but I didn’t see all of them though.”

Later in the preseason, Wembanyama’s competitive streak shined again.

During shootaround on the morning of the Spurs’ final preseason game against the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio’s roster was split into two teams for a final free throw shooting drill, which reached a point where Keldon Johnson was shooting to give his team the victory. Wembanyama was having none of it.

The 7-foot-4, 210-pound center stripped off his practice jersey and sprinted up into the stands, 12 rows behind the basket Johnson was shooting on. As Johnson lifted his arms to shoot his free throw, Wembanyama twirled his jersey around above his head but to no avail.

Johnson sunk the shot. Wembanyama’s team lost.

The moment demonstrated both that Wembanyama was willing to do anything to win, but also that he was willing to be himself and have fun with his teammates — something that would come in handy as the losses piled up throughout the season.

Oct. 25, 2023: Wembanyama makes his highly anticipated regular-season debut, but battles foul trouble most of the night. Wembanyama ends up playing just 23 minutes in a 126-119 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, finishing with 15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 1 block.

Oct. 27, 2023: Two nights later, Wembanyama is on the winning end of a regular-season game for the first time, blocking two Jabari Smith Jr. shots on the same play late to help lead San Antonio to an overtime win against the Houston Rockets.

Oct. 31, 2023: Wembanyama and the Spurs come back from 20 points down to win — taking their only lead on their final shot of the game — to defeat Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns.

Nov. 2, 2023: Still in Phoenix, the Spurs watch a 27-point lead vanish before Wembanyama goes on a 12-2 run down the stretch to seal the win. Wembanyama finishes with 38 points, the most by a Spurs rookie since David Robinson in 1990.

Nov. 5, 2023: The Spurs blow a 20-point lead against the Toronto Raptors, losing the first game of what would stretch into a franchise-worst 18-game losing streak.

Nov. 18, 2023: One game after the first zero-block night of his career, Wembanyama posts a then career-high eight blocks in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Dec. 1, 2023: Wembanyama misses his first game of the season against the New Orleans Pelicans because of right hip tightness.

Dec. 8, 2023: After starting him at power forward for the first 19 games of the season alongside Zach Collins, the Spurs move Wembanyama to the starting center position. In a losing effort, Wembanyama puts up 21 points and 20 rebounds, becoming the youngest player to record a 20-20 game in league history.

Dec. 13, 2023: With LeBron James out of the lineup, Wembanyama puts up 30 points, 13 rebounds, 6 blocks and 3 steals, but it isn’t enough to overcome Anthony Davis’ 37 points as the Lakers hold on for a 122-119 win.

SINCE BEING DRAFTED, Wembanyama has been called the league’s most hyped rookie since LeBron James in 2003. James missed the first game between the Spurs and Lakers but would return to the lineup two nights later, setting up the first showdown between the league’s all-time leading scorer and the rookie who James himself dubbed “an alien.”

Late in that second quarter, James found himself guarded by Wembanyama in the right corner. There was a buzz in the arena as James sized up the 7-4 Wembanyama and skied a 3-pointer over Wembanyama’s outstretched arms.

Wembanyama said he could feel the entire arena’s eyes on the two of them in that moment — but he wasn’t nervous.

“I would’ve thought I would feel some type of way, but honestly on the court I was just trying to win, trying to defend and make the right plays,” he said after the game. “So no, I didn’t have no feelings on the court.”

San Antonio jumped out to a 20-point lead in the first quarter, but the Lakers were able to cut the lead down to seven at halftime, in part, behind James’ nine second-quarter assists.

While both players played well enough — James finished with 23 points and 14 assists while Wembanyama had 13 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocks — neither put up the kind of eye-popping stat lines fans were hoping for. Instead it was Devin Vassell leading the way for San Antonio with 36 points.

When the starters checked out for good with 1:40 to play, Wembanyama and Vassell shared a long embrace. It wasn’t just a 129-115 win over the Lakers, it was the end of a franchise-record 18-game losing streak that didn’t seem like it would happen after a 3-2 start.

Vassell said it didn’t feel like a normal victory. Wembanyama, who led his team to the French league finals the year before, likened the atmosphere to a playoff game.

“We love that feeling,” Wembanyama said. “We want to repeat it so yeah, we’re going to keep working our ass off.”


Wemby, LeBron face off as Spurs snap a historic 18-game skid

Victor Wembanyama totals 13 points against LeBron James and the Lakers, breaking the Spurs’ 18-game losing streak.

Dec. 19, 2023: Wembanyama misses a game against the Milwaukee Bucks because of right ankle soreness. When he returns two nights later against the Chicago Bulls, he is placed on a minutes restriction, playing only 22 minutes in a 19-point loss.

Dec. 23, 2023: During his pregame warmup routine against the Mavericks, Wembanyama steps on the foot of a Mavericks’ ball boy and rolls his right ankle. The Spurs hold him out of the game as a precaution.

Dec. 28, 2023: In a win against the Portland Trail Blazers, Wembanyama finishes with 30 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 7 blocks. He becomes the third rookie in NBA history to have 30 points and at least five rebounds, blocks and assists in a game. He is also the third Spur with such a stat line, joining Robinson and Duncan.

AFTER HIS FINAL GAME as a teenager, Wembanyama sat at his locker icing his right ankle and pulled out his cell phone.

The postgame meal in Memphis was wings, and his teammates were devouring food all around him. The rookie took a small plate back to his locker, but was more focused on his phone.

He wasn’t checking social media or looking at his own highlights from the game. Instead, he was playing chess.

Wembanyama tries not to be on his phone too much. He’s an avid reader. Later in the year, he said at a news conference that he doesn’t focus on online criticisms too much because he just turns his phone off. He’ll delete social media platforms and just re-download them when he wants to look something up or check in on friends.

On that night, he was wrapping up a game of chess as reporters walked in the locker room. A smile came across his face.


Wembanyama was getting back into the flow of things playing chess. Sometimes he’ll play against family members, but the game has become a new way to occupy his time.

He turned to his plate of wings, eating one and then storing the rest at the top of his locker before going to shower.

He showed an air of calm in the locker room, which wasn’t quite present just 45 minutes earlier.

Wembanyama was still on his minutes restriction and was removed from the game with 3:07 left and the Spurs trailing by 16 points. Exactly 1 minute and 20 seconds later, the Spurs had cut the lead to 11 and were at the free throw line. Wembanyama took the opportunity to get off the bench and check himself back into the game.

On the ensuing offensive possession, Wembanyama dunked home a pass from Vassell and cut the lead to eight but was quickly subbed back out by Popovich.

Wembanyama made it clear to his coach that he thought the team could still win the game, and he wanted to do everything in his power to help.

“In the moment, of course, I want to play,” Wembanyama said. “I’m frustrated, but the wise option is to listen to the staff even though it’s hard and frustrating. But, you know, we ball.”

Popovich called it an example of his competitiveness.

“Everybody wants to play,” Popovich said two days later. “He doesn’t want to sit on the bench. Definitely, he’s frustrated with the minutes restriction. But he’s also intelligent enough to understand the long term is what we’re interested in. And when I brought him out, he totally understood. He didn’t like it, but he understood. I’m glad he didn’t like it.”

Jan. 10, 2024: Wembanyama records his first career triple-double, putting up 16 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in just 21 minutes against the Detroit Pistons. It is the second-fewest minutes played in a triple-double in NBA history.

Jan. 12, 2024: Continuing his stretch of putting up big numbers in limited minutes, Wembanyama has 26 points and 11 rebounds in 19 minutes, 41 seconds against the Charlotte Hornets.

Jan. 15, 2024: Trailing by 35 at halftime against the Atlanta Hawks, Wembanyama and two other starters are benched to start the second half. After being held scoreless in the first half, Wembanyama reenters the game midway through the third quarter and proceeds to put up 26 points on 12-of-14 shooting, making all of his 2-point attempts. The Spurs cut the 35-point deficit to 6 late in the fourth quarter, before the Hawks pull away for a 109-99 win.

Jan. 20, 2024: In a small victory for Wembanyama, he sits the first night of a back-to-back in order to play against his former teammate and countryman Bilal Coulibaly and the Wizards on the second night. Wembanyama has 24 points, 8 rebounds and 6 blocks in a Spurs win.

Feb. 7, 2024: The Spurs’ annual Rodeo Road Trip starts in Miami. The Spurs won’t be back in San Antonio for a game for more than three weeks.

ON A NIGHT when seemingly nothing was going their way, Wembanyama and the Spurs found themselves down more than 20 points in the second half against the Orlando Magic, two games into their extended stay away from home.

With 6:28 left in the fourth quarter, Wembanyama drove down the lane and dunked over Magic center Moritz Wagner, who tried to draw a charge, sending both players crashing to the floor.

As Wembanyama got up, he started to grab at his right hip. The Magic challenged the call and Wembanyama remained on the court, watching as the referees reviewed the video. The call stood, Wembanyama made his free throw, but came out of the game 28 seconds later, ducking into the tunnel near the Spurs’ bench to stretch out his hip.

A little more than three minutes of game time later, Wembanyama was ready. He emerged from the tunnel and told assistant coach Matt Nielsen he could check back in at the next available opportunity. He wanted to be back on the floor.

The Spurs, however, did not.

San Antonio was down 121-102 with 2:53 left. The game was a lost cause. There was no reason to risk further injury to their prized rookie. Wembanyama watched the end of the game from the bench as the Spurs lost for the 42nd time this season, guaranteeing them a losing record for the fifth consecutive season. Prior to this stretch, they’d had six total losing seasons since joining the NBA in 1976-77.

Wembanyama didn’t miss any games because of the hip, but the season was beginning to wear on him.

“I think I felt more tired these two games than the rest of the games,” Wembanyama admitted.

Feb. 10, 2024: After pulling down one rebound against the Magic, Wembanyama has just four against the Brooklyn Nets. Is he finally hitting the rookie wall?

Feb. 12, 2024: No, he isn’t. Against the Raptors, Wembanyama finishes with 27 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocks in 29 minutes for his second career triple-double. He becomes the first rookie since Robinson with a points-rebounds-blocks triple-double.

Feb. 14, 2024: In the final game before the All-Star break, Wembanyama returns to Dallas and avoids any pregame injuries, finishing with 26 points before heading to Indianapolis for All-Star Weekend festivities.

WEMBANYAMA WAS NOT named to the All-Star team as a rookie. No rookie has been since Blake Griffin in 2011. Still, his All-Star Weekend schedule was packed. He was a part of the NBA’s tech summit on Friday morning, took part in a public practice in the late morning and early afternoon with media and fans in attendance, then was the centerpiece of the NBA’s Rising Stars event that night.

Wembanyama’s team didn’t make it out of the semifinals, losing to a team composed mostly of G-Leaguers. It was a stunning upset, and one that clearly went against what the NBA was hoping for when it set the matchups for the event. But Wembanyama’s weekend still wasn’t done.

The next night, the 7-4 rookie teamed up with fellow first overall picks Paolo Banchero and Anthony Edwards — both of whom had been named All-Stars — in the Skills Challenge.

Again, the anticipation was high for this trio, which was competing against a team of All-Stars (Scottie Barnes, Tyrese Maxey, Trae Young) and a team representing the home city (Tyrese Haliburton, Bennedict Mathurin, Myles Turner). However, during the obstacle course portion of the challenge, the right-handed Edwards opted to shoot his shots left-handed. None of them were close. Team Top Picks finished a distant third.

“They wanted to have fun,” Wembanyama said before a slight pause.

“Fun is winning for me.”

Feb. 22, 2024: Wembanyama and the Spurs return from the All-Star break with a game in Sacramento. Wembanyama puts up 19 points, 13 rebounds, 5 blocks, 5 steals and 4 assists, narrowly missing out on a 5×5.

Feb. 23, 2024: The following night, Wembanyama did what he couldn’t do in Sacramento: 27 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 rebounds and 5 steals. He becomes the second rookie to record a 5×5, the first player to average a 5×5 over a two-game stretch and the second player to have five steals and five blocks in back-to-back games. The other? Michael Jordan.

Feb. 27, 2024: The nine-game Rodeo Road Trip comes to an end with a loss in Minnesota. Wembanyama has 17 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists.

GETTING THE WIN over Oklahoma City wasn’t enough. Wembanyama wanted to make a statement.

The Spurs returned home with a 132-118 win over the Thunder. Wembanyama had 28 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 blocks, solidifying his status as the Rookie of the Month for February. He also won the award in January, after the Thunder’s Chet Holmgren took home the honor for the first two months of the season.

Following the game, one of the Spurs’ in-house hosts, Zay Zay Aquino, asked Wembanyama how he felt about the win. The rookie took the microphone and endeared himself even more to the San Antonio crowd, including Spurs legend David Robinson, who was watching from the other side of the court.

“I miss this s—,” Wembanyama said to the crowd of 18,392 after his first home game in 26 days. “I love it. I missed it. Enjoying a game, a win back from the Rodeo Road Trip with more than 16,000 people that I love. The best feeling.”

With that, he started a “Go, Spurs, Go” chant and ran off into the locker room.

It didn’t take long for Victor Wembanyama to endear himself to the fans in San Antonio. Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

March 3, 2024: Wembanyama has 31 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 blocks against the Pacers in a win, giving the Spurs back-to-back victories for just the fourth time all season.

March 5, 2024: Against the Rockets, Wembanyama seemingly suffers multiple injuries in the same game, getting his ankle re-taped and reaching for his back and hip at times after initially being questionable with right shoulder soreness. The Rockets take advantage in the second half — as Wembanyama doesn’t shoot — on the way to a 114-101 win.

March 7, 2024: Wembanyama skips the remainder of the road trip against the Kings and Warriors to stay back in San Antonio and nurse his injuries. He is driven back to Houston while the team flies on to California to complete the trip.

March 11, 2024: Wembanyama returns to the lineup with a 27-point, 14-rebound effort against the Warriors at home. It’s his eighth consecutive double-double.

March 17, 2024: In a victory against the Nets, Wembanyama has 33 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 blocks.

AT THE SPURS facility on March 20, practice ended roughly before noon local time. Soon thereafter, media were allowed into the gym to see various players getting up shots as a part of their post-practice routine.

Wembanyama’s routine took place on the opposite side of the two courts, the basket closest to the Spurs training room.

At one point, Popovich stopped over for a one-on-one tutorial. Then Wembanyama got up more shots. And worked on shooting over double teams. And then more shots. Then he went around the world on the 3-point line several times, stopping for free throws in between.

When all was said and done, it was over an hour later. The other players had long since departed. Only Wembanyama, the media and a handful of Spurs’ staffers were still on the court. All the other players had left or were undergoing treatment.

This isn’t new. Wembanyama takes his post-practice sessions seriously because he knows what they’ll lead to in the long run.

“I try to live my life where I won’t do nothing halfway,” Wembanyama said. “If I have to do it, I’ll be the best at it.”

His teammates have taken notice.

“Just seeing him work out every day, he goes hard,” Collins said. “He loves doing it, so he’s got a great work ethic for sure.”

March 22, 2024: Wembanyama has 31 points, 16 rebounds and 5 assists in a two-point loss to the Grizzlies. It’s his third 30-15-5 game of the season. He’d add another two weeks later against the 76ers, giving him four for the season, the most by a rookie since Sidney Wicks in 1971-72.

WEMBANYAMA DIDN’T THINK he was doing anything wrong. He knew other players got fined for throwing a ball into the stands before, but he thought this was different.

“They always threw it in a bad way,” Wembanyama told reporters.

Who could blame Wembanyama for his postgame exuberance?


Wembanyama sets new career high in OT victory over the Knicks

Victor Wembanyama’s 40 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists lift the Spurs past the Knicks in overtime.

At the end of perhaps the best game of his young career, he collected a last-minute steal off a heave down the court, secured the ball and, as the buzzer sounded, threw the ball into the stands while the Frost Bank Center crowd roared.

Despite 61 points from New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, the Spurs prevailed in a 130-126 overtime victory.

Wembanyama led the way with a remarkable stat line: a career-high 40 points, a matched career-high 20 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 13-of-22 shooting and 4-of-9 shooting from 3.

He became the second rookie since the merger (1976-77) to have a 40-point, 20-rebound game. He became the third player ever to have a 40-point, 20-rebound game while also making at least four 3s, joining Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

In a seven-week span during his rookie season, Wembanyama had a 40-20 game, a 10-block game and recorded a 5×5. In the 50 years since blocks became official, only two other players — Davis and Hakeem Olajuwon — have done that over the span of their entire careers.

Wembanyama’s career is just getting started.

March 30, 2024: Wembanyama follows up his 40-20 night with 32 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks in a four-point loss to the Warriors.

April 2, 2024: Wembanyama duels with Nikola Jokic, tying the game with a layup with 1:02 left, but the Nuggets prevail, scoring the final five points of the game. Wembanyama finishes with 23 points, 15 rebounds, 8 assists and 9 blocks, falling just shy of a quadruple-double. Four of his blocks come against Jokic, tied for the most times one player has blocked Jokic in any game in his career.

EIGHT DAYS BEFORE the regular season ended, Wembanyama reflected.

He had just played a career high 43 minutes, finishing with 33 points, 18 rebounds, 7 blocks and 6 assists. It’s the sixth time Wembanyama has put up at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks and 5 assists in a game this season. All other players have combined to do it just five times.

But it came in another loss, this one a double-overtime defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Wembanyama was asked about if the season met his preseason expectations, win-loss record aside. He said he thought the wear and tear on his body would be more. He said it was harder than he thought to remember the scouting reports on every player.

“You don’t know until you experience it,” he said.

And for the rest of the league, the Victor Wembanyama Experience is just getting started.

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