SAN ANTONIO – The chants from hundreds of fans, some of whom waited outside for hours in nearly 100-degree heat, started at the very moment Victor Wembanyama stepped out of the private plane that carried him to his new NBA home.
And the NBA’s newest No. 1 draft pick — a star without having even played a game in the league yet — reveled in his first San Antonio moment, waving at the fans and letting them know how much he was enjoying it all.
Wembanyama arrived in San Antonio on Friday afternoon. He was a few hours behind schedule; Spurs fans had waited a long time for something like this, so a little more waiting did nothing to dampen the welcome they gave the generational talent from France who is expected to put the franchise on his back and carry it back to prominence as quickly as possible.
“This is love. This is family,” said Spurs fan Gabriela Hernandez of San Antonio, who braved the sun and extreme heat just to get a glimpse of the arrival. “This is what family does.”
Wembanyama will hold his introductory news conference in San Antonio on Saturday. He was drafted by the Spurs on Thursday night in New York, and arrived in San Antonio shortly before 4 p.m. Central time Friday.
One fan carried a sign asking Wembanyama to marry her daughter. Another man was dressed like an alien; that was the word LeBron James used last fall to describe the 7-foot-3 teen who just took his team to the French league finals. There were dozens of people in Wembanyama jerseys already, some from France, some the Spurs version.
His plane got a water-cannon salute from fire officials as it taxied to a stop, and even the police officers on motorcycles assigned to escort Wembanyama’s vehicle out of the private airport got caught up in the joy of the moment. Wembanyama stopped and shook each of their hands as he made his way to the van, even posing for pictures.
“I think it just shows the culture of San Antonio and the people here,” said Spurs forward Jeremy Sochan, who was at the draft on Thursday night and flew back Friday about a half-hour before Wembanyama arrived. “Things are very exciting. He’s a very exciting prospect. It’s going to be a lot of fun. … It shows how much love we want to show to him and that it’s a family here and that he has nothing to stress about. It’s going to be good.”
They’re hoping for great, actually.
The Spurs struck gold — as in, trophy gold — with their past No. 1 picks, a pair of centers named David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Both became San Antonio royalty, both ended up in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, and now Wembanyama will try with his size 20.5 foot to follow their massive footsteps. The Spurs haven’t won a title since 2014, haven’t won a playoff series since 2017 and haven’t even made the playoffs since 2019.
But with Wembanyama, they’re instantly the talk of the town again — maybe the talk of the league, too.
“I can’t speak for the city. I know how excited they are and how excited they were when we ended up with the first pick,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Thursday night, shortly after the selection became official. “But the city has always had a love affair with the Spurs, so it doesn’t change no matter who we pick or what year it is.
“They’ve always been loyal, faithful fans who enjoy the Spurs and the players in return have always understood their responsibility to the city. We didn’t do anything different in preparation. We are who we are, and the city has always supported us.”
It was 98 degrees (37 Celsius) outside when the plane landed. Add in the humidity, and it felt like 108. The UV index was listed at 11, or extreme. And some of the fans waited and waited and waited for hours, some under umbrellas, one in a wheelchair, a few sharing bottles of water and other drinks they brought for the Wemby stakeout, and a few others buying cold drinks from an enterprising fan armed with a cooler and a bullhorn across the street from the air strip.
When Wembanyama arrived, nobody could hear the bullhorn anymore.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Sochan said. “I think he’s ready.”
A few moments later, Wembanyama gave San Antonio a wave. Day 1 in his new home was underway.