So much for body positivity.
Zion Williamson made his much-hyped NBA debut for the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs after undergoing meniscus surgery in October. The 6-foot-6, 285-pound forward sat down four minutes into the game, and ESPN immediately began to focus on the 19-year old’s weight.
The network flashed a graphic when the camera panned to Williamson on the sideline that read, “Weight: 285 lbs (3rd-heaviest player in NBA this season).”
Williamson’s weight has been scrutinized since he starred at Duke last year. Some have questioned whether his size was partly to blame for the meniscus injury that cost him the first half of his rookie season and if it could hinder the rest of his NBA career.
Analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy did not take long to go there. The duo said it was clear that Williamson looked heavier than the last time they had seen him and that he needed to trim down after the 44-game absence to start his NBA career. They continued that they could not believe he had gained eight pounds in a week after resuming working out and questioned if 285 pounds was even accurate.
Jackson said he would have taken Ja Morant, the No. 2 pick who is starring for the Grizzlies, over Williamson.
Incensed fans immediately took note of the announcers’ focus and erupted on Twitter.
“Shame on you @espn @ESPNNBA for body shaming Zion on his debut!! Of all the statistics you choose to talk about his weight … SAD!!! @Zionwilliamson #nba,” wrote @realcabocorso.
“OH MY GOD THEY ARE FAT SHAMING ZION ON ESPN,” said @BrandonWagemann.
“Can we take outrage at Mark Jackson for fat shaming just so ESPN takes him off the air,” wrote @Mikearooonie.
“Should’ve let Doris [Burke] do play-by-play for this game. Mark Jackson and [Jeff Van Gundy] gonna spend the next 3 quarters body-shaming Zion,” wrote @murrminks.
The Ringer’s NBA twitter account skewered Jackson: “Zion if you see this, don’t listen to Mark Jackson. We think you look just terrific. #BodyPositivity.”
The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie tweeted, “It would be great if announcers didn’t feel the need to call Zion fat 3 minutes into his career. Would make for a much better product, imo.”
After a slow start, the rookie forward finished with 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes. He exploded in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 straight points for the Pelicans in one stretch. Fans cheered, “We want Zion!” after he sat out following that run as New Orleans is taking a cautious approach to the Duke star’s return.
“No, he couldn’t go back in the game,” New Orleans’ coach Alvin Gentry said afterwards. “The medical people said that was it.”
The Spurs defeated the Pelicans 121-117.
“Just the energy the crowd brought, the energy the city brought, it was electric, and I’m just grateful that they did that,” Williamson said after the game. “It was a dream come true to finally get out there; but at the end of the day, I did want to win, so just got to look to next game.”
The Pelicans (17-28) take on the Nuggets (30-14) on Friday night in New Orleans.