In a recent article about G.Q.New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson talks about his love for narutoto the point where it ends up being the focal point of the entire show.
If you think I’m kidding, in just two paragraphs we’re seeing things like:
Williamson speaks of Naruto with the same reverence that other NBA players speak of the Bible: comfort and clarity in equal measure. Over the course of the unusually tumultuous past year of his otherwise stellar career, Naruto was his pole star.
That “turbulent” year is one in which Williamson was injured, failed to improve, put on a lot of weight and his future in New Orleans (and in the league itself) was constantly in question. It is clear that Zion Really loves narutoto the point where he showed up at a Comic-Con panel wearing a Hokage robe, and the fact that he gives it so much credit for helping him recover and prepare for the next season.
However, what really caught my eye in the function is this (emphasis mine):
Zion estimates that about 80% of the league’s players are interested in anime; they just won’t admit it. Those familiar with the conventions of the form know that it would be hard to create a genre more suited to professional athletes: Shōnen anime (the term for programs aimed at children) often revolves around a protagonist who strives for greatness. in his chosen field, be it piracy on the high seas (One Piece) or fight alien warlords using energy blasts so powerful they turn your hair golden (Dragon Ball Z). They are long-form stories about what it takes to be The Best, not by the way, the same goal that drives athletes.
That stat is wild and also completely believable. Most NBA players are in their 20s, meaning they’ve grown up in a culture where anime has long outgrown its (often unfair) weeaboo associations, and where Japanese series like Dragon Ball Z are not just part of the furniture, but resonate especially with young black men, who make up the majority of the league.
Now, I’m not going to say that Zion is the only NBA player who has gone public with his love for anime. Here’s Steven Adams in 2016:
And even more famous, here is superstar Joel Embiid in 2018 relaxing during his pre-game routine:
And that’s before we get into the small but important lineup of players that They have confirmed their love for Dragon Ball Zlike Embiid’s teammate Tobias Harris and Cavs forward Lauri Markkanen.
But if Zion’s 80% figure is remotely true (he’s entering his third season in the league, he’s been in enough discussions in the locker room and on the practice court to at least be able to make a good guess), then there should be. much more of this. There are 450 players in the NBA, which would put the number of anime fans in the hundreds, not dozens. We could and maybe we should see more things like pre-game dance routines, post-game interview quotes from dunk and players with nicknames of kill the prey instead of the old DC comics.
Perhaps many players feel that there is still some sort of stigma attached to it, which would make them seem nerdy and, by (outdated and incorrect) association, weak. But shit, if Zion and Joel Embiid, two of the biggest, baddest guys in the NBA, can be here like this, then anyone can.