New Orleans Pelicans power forward Zion Williamson recently opened up about his love for “Naruto” while participating in a panel at San Diego Comic-Con in July.
Williamson, 22, shared that the story of Naruto, the titular character of the popular manga and anime series, resonated with him when he was a child,
as reported by GQ
. This connection became even more apparent after he started being coached by Lee Anderson, his stepfather, in basketball.
“For a while nobody took Naruto seriously,” Williamson explained. “And then he went and trained with [shinobi] Jiraiya for three years, right? And he came back at 16 years old, goated.”
A daily dose of Asian America's essential stories, in under 5 minutes.
Get our collection of Asian America's most essential stories to your inbox daily for free.
Unsure? Check out our Newsletter Archive.
“He always told me that even if I didn’t realize it yet, there was going to come a time when the world would see me,” the Pelicans player said of his stepfather. “I didn’t get it for a while. I was always asking him why he was so confident in me.”
“Sure enough, I’m 16 years old and suddenly all of the attention starts coming. I remember thinking, ‘Yo, that’s crazy. That’s exactly when it happened for Naruto, and it’s when it’s happening for me,’” he added.
“Naruto,” a manga series created by Masashi Kishimoto, was first released in 1999 and follows the story of the titular character who dreams of becoming the strongest ninja in his village. The manga received an anime adaptation in 2002. Williamson first watched an episode of “Naruto” when he was 5 years old. While attending San Diego Comic-Con in a customized Hokage robe, Williamson, who collaborated with Jordan Brand in May to release Jōnin-inspired Jordan Air 200E SP sneakers, was part of a panel where he answered questions from fellow “Naruto” fans. During the panel, the Pelicans player shared that his top five “Naruto” characters are Naruto Uzumaki, Itachi Uchiha, Jiraiya, Minato Namikaze and Hashirama Senju. He also talked about the condition of his foot — the NBA star suffered an injury right before the start of the 2021-2022 NBA season, forcing him to take a break for the entire season as he underwent rehabilitation. When asked by GQ about which part in “Naruto” he relates to the most given his current situation, Williamson replied, “It’s when Sasuke [Uchiha] was going rogue.” Although Naruto and Sasuke are rivals, the former still considers the latter to be his closest friend, as evident by all the time and effort dedicated to saving Sasuke from his path, specifically in the “Sasuke Uchiha Recovery” arc. This arc culminated in a fight between the two, with Naruto unable to have a choice in the matter.
“All of Naruto’s friends and teammates came to him like, ‘Dude, you’re gonna have to make tough decisions if you really want to be Hokage,’” Williamson explained. “And Naruto, he started hyperventilating because that’s a lot of pressure. He’s just a kid, and that’s his friend, you know? He really cared for him. And all anyone was telling him was that he needed to handle it, to take him down. Nobody ever asked him how he felt…”
“It’s been a lot. I can sit here and explain it, but nobody will really be able to feel it the way I did,” Williamson continued. “My foot was broken and I couldn’t magically heal it. It hurt because I love the game of basketball. But because of it, I was experiencing hate and pain from people I don’t know every day, and it started to wear on me.”
Near the end of the panel, Williamson shared that despite the backlash he has received over the past year, he will continue to pursue what he loves, stating, “No matter what the world is saying, I have to remember that I am who I am and stay true to that. That’s what Naruto did, and that’s what I’m going to do.”