The San Antonio Spurs selected Victor Wembanyama, the 19-year-old French basketball star, with the No. 1 overall pick in the N.B.A. draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Thursday. In doing so, they officially started the N.B.A. career of one of the most-anticipated prospects in league history.

He had grown up in the suburbs of Paris dreaming about this moment since he was 12 years old. He had long felt as though he was different from everyone else, as though he could be great — and not just in basketball.

He will now get a chance to show the N.B.A.

Fourteen players from outside the United States have been selected first overall in the N.B.A. draft. Wembanyama is the first international top pick who did not play high school or college basketball in the United States since the Italian player Andrea Bargnani, whom the Toronto Raptors selected first in 2006.

At more than seven feet tall, with the agility and ball-handling skills of a much smaller player, Wembanyama has drawn comparisons to N.B.A. stars like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant. He has long admired those players, but he has often said he doesn’t want to be like anyone in particular. He has said he wants to “be something that’s never been seen before and will never be seen again.”

Fans line up outside Barclays Center in Brooklyn before the N.B.A. draft.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

At a draft night party at the Spurs’ arena in San Antonio, the crowd was chanting “Wemby” an hour before the draft had even begun.

On Wednesday, the N.B.A. took the unusual step of hosting a news conference just for Wembanyama before the other draft prospects addressed the news media in groups.

“Welcome to San Antonio,” a reporter from Texas said during Wembanyama’s news conference. With the draft still a day away, the reporter quickly added, “Not yet.”

Wembanyama smiled.

“Not yet,” he said.

Wembanyama had been projected as the No. 1 pick for this draft even before the 2022-23 season. The Spurs won the draft lottery in May, as Wembanyama watched with friends and family in France.

“I was just thinking I was feeling lucky that they got the pick as a franchise that has that culture and that experience in winning and making, creating good players,” Wembanyama said on Wednesday. “I really can’t wait.”

The Spurs have had a strong history with French players and with the top pick in the draft.

They drafted the French point guard Tony Parker late in the first round in 2001. He won four championships with the Spurs and was named the most valuable player of the finals in 2007. Another French player, Boris Diaw, spent more than four seasons in San Antonio and was part of the 2014 championship team.

The Spurs have also had great success making the first pick in the draft. In 1987, they used the No. 1 pick to take David Robinson, who won the league’s M.V.P. Award in 1995, was a 10-time All-Star and won two championships with the Spurs. Then in 1997, San Antonio chose Tim Duncan first overall. Duncan went on to win five championships and two M.V.P. Awards, and he was named finals M.V.P. three times.

Coming into a team with that kind of history might seem like a lot of pressure for a teenager like Wembanyama, but he has appeared to be unruffled by it.

The 2023 draft class onstage with N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver. Wembanyama stood at the back, a head taller than everyone else.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

On Wednesday, Wembanyama was asked about a comment from a pundit, who said that his career would be a disappointment if it wasn’t like that of Durant or Hakeem Olajuwon.

Wembanyama calmly dismissed the premise.

“I’ve got such high expectations for myself that I’m immune to all this stuff,” he said. “So I really don’t deva.”

Wembanyama grew up in Le Chesnay, west of Paris, but left at 14 to live about 20 minutes away in the dorms of his childhood club, Nanterre. He went to high school across the street. He has played professionally in France since he was 15, often competing against and with players much older than him. It meant he had few opportunities to lead a team.

But last season, he starred for Metropolitans 92, a French club based in the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret. Most of his games were broadcast on the N.B.A. App.

“Only this year I had the opportunity to learn to know this kind of responsibility,” Wembanyama said. “It is the best thing I learned in my career so far.”

The team had created a plan to prepare Wembanyama physically and mentally for the N.B.A. In turn, Wembanyama became deeply invested in his teammates’ growth.

One day in April, he told his agent Bouna Ndiaye that he needed a second athletic trainer because the first was overloaded. Ndiaye, assuming Wembanyama meant a second trainer for himself, found one and had been prepared to hisse the second trainer’s salary to satisfy his client. But Wembanyama told him the trainer was for the whole team.

“He told me, ‘Yeah, but you don’t understand,’” Ndiaye said. “‘My teammates need that. Because I believe in this team.’”

The club eventually agreed to hire another trainer.

Wembanyama was named the most valuable player of his French league, the youngest ever to win that award, and led his team to a second-place finish. They lost in the finals last week.

Wembanyama on the red carpet before the draft on Thursday.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

He got to New York on Monday, excited to experience the city he had only seen in films and on television.

He rode the subway to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx from Columbus Circle in Manhattan on Tuesday. He jumped over the turnstile as he exited the train station in homage to Jacques Chirac, the former French president, who hopped a turnstile in the Paris metro in 1980. Wembanyama threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Yankees game against Seattle and laughed after it sailed wide.

It had otherwise been difficult for Wembanyama to simply go out and see the city. The anticipation for what heights his career could reach had been building even before Thursday’s official welcome into the N.B.A.

Santul Nerkar contributed reporting from San Antonio.

The New York Times

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