Spartanburg, South Carolina. A small, quaint southern city where one immensely popular 16-year-old attends Spartanburg Day School.

This 16-year-old’s name is Zion Williamson.

When you enter the small city of Spartanburg, you will find a mural stating, “THERE’S ONLY ONE SPARTANBURG”. These words are written in white and can be found just next to another mural, an outline of the state of South Carolina. The mural has lines crossing through the state until it reaches the northern tip of the state, where Spartanburg can be found.

In recent years, the mural has changed. Several years ago, residents hammered a basketball hoop into the mural, letting all the travelers who pass through Spartanburg know that basketball is king in this southern town. South Carolina is considered prominently football-oriented, but in Spartanburg, basketball is king and the best of the best play at the town’s pride and joy, Spartanburg Day School.

Spartanburg Day School first opened it’s doors to the public in late 1957 and has been the prominent school in the area since. Williamson basically put the school, and the county for that matter, on the map in early 2016, when he caught an alley-oop and slammed it down over a wide-eyed, helpless defender, who he then starred down as the gym erupted in celebration. But Williamson was only getting started.

The summer of 2016 brought Williamson one step closer to stardom. At the NBPA Top 100 camp Williamson won co-MVP and went on to win the Under Armour Elite 24 Dunk Contest and dominating the AAU circuit. As he grew so did his fame including when entered his junior season, the dunks began to hit primetime.

The huge statlines, the viral highlights, the mixtapes, all of this began running rampant through the viral world. In almost every game at Spartanburg Day School, you can walk into the gym and see Williamson grabbing a rebound, dribbling in the open court, bobbing and weaving through confused and overwhelmed defenders, and dunking with a ferocity unlike anything the world has ever seen from a high schooler.

Spartanburg’s high school basketball head coach, Lee Sartor, talked to SLAM Magazine about the explosiveness that his star plays with, saying, “You think he’s going to make a regular play, and it starts that way, but he finishes with such power and force that it just shocks your soul. Your just amazed by what you just witnessed. And you want to see it over and over again because it’s just so unbelievable.”

Williamson stands currently at 6-foot-7 and still has the possibility of growing more. He weights in at around 240 pounds and can muscle his opponents down in the paint in order to get to the basket. Williamson is a lefty and has handles like a point guard and dunks like…nobody that’s come before him. Some people are comparing him to the likes of Vince Carter, Dominique Wilkins, Zach LaVine, and even .

With Zion’s popularity skyrocketing, its hard to find a seat at a game featuring Spartanburg Day School, both home and away. Coach Sartor even remembers one away game, in which Spartanburg had to sprint out a tunnel in the back of a gymnasium and run to the team bus. He also feels for the fans who flock to watch him play, as he remembers begging for autograph from top-ranked high school players, and makes it his duty to sign each and every autograph requested by fans.

 

Williamson’s fame soon hit a whole new level he never expected. One ordinary night, Williamson says he laid down to go to sleep and woke up the next morning with hundreds of messages. “My phone just blow up. They were all like, go check Instagram, look what Drake just posted.” And sure enough, rapper Drake had posted a picture with him wearing Zion’s Spartanburg jersey. Soon the Zion Williamson fever couldn’t stop. Other stars, such as Odell Beckham Jr., have worn the jersey in Instagram pics as well.

Williamson often says that when he dunks, “It’s an adrenaline rush, it just gives you so much energy. When I get the ball or steal and I’m wide open, you just hear everybody rise and you hear; “ohhh”. Few basketball players have been this exposed in the media, especially in high school. But one notable comparison is LeBron James. When James was a senior in high school, all his games were featured on ESPN. Though his games aren’t featured on ESPN, Williamson does have the national spotlight on him at all times.

It’s not just his popularity that has people comparing him to LeBron James. The two player’s traits are almost striking. Williamson and James have the same NBA-ready body at the same point in their careers. Like Williamson, James was about 6-foot-8 and around 240 pounds when he was finishing high school. The two players both posses freakish athletic abilities, but can also struggle on the perimeter at times.

When asked about the comparison, Williamson said, “When LeBron was in high school, they were already talking about him being the best player ever. That’s what I want. Just looking at him I wanted to be just like him. I love when people compare us, because LeBron has the best all-around game in the NBA. He’s the most versatile player in the game, and if people think that I’ve got a game similar to him, that’s an honor.”

Most analysts still think it’s too soon to start making comparisons between Williamson and arguably the best player on the planet. But one thing is for sure. Williamson represents the future of the NBA and basketball period.

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