The San Antonio Spurs won the 2023 N.B.A. draft lottery on Tuesday, giving them the No. 1 pick in June’s draft and the right to select the most anticipated prospect since LeBron James: the 19-year-old French star Victor Wembanyama.
Peter J. Holt, the chairman of the Spurs, jumped up to celebrate the moment it became apparent the Spurs had obtained the top pick. The lottery was held in Chicago, and the draft order was revealed during an ESPN broadcast.
“I might faint,” Holt said on the broadcast. “I’m so excited. The city of San Antonio, our fans, man — we just have so many people that love the Spurs so we’re pumped.”
The No. 2 pick went to the Charlotte Hornets, the third to the Portland Trail Blazers and the fourth to the Houston Rockets.
Wembanyama, in an interview from France, told ESPN: “My heart is beating. I got everyone I love, everyone I know around me. It’s really a special moment I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
A 7-foot-3 center with an eight-foot wingspan, Wembanyama can handle the ball and shoot like a guard. He plays for Metropolitans 92, a professional French league team, where he is averaging 21.6 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. The N.B.A. G League hosted his team for a two-game exhibition near Las Vegas in October, and the N.B.A. has broadcast some of his games. The hype about him rivals that surrounding James in 2003, when the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him No. 1 overall out of high school.
“He clearly, you know, appears to be a generational talent,” N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver said on ESPN before the lottery. “And, you know, there’s lots of other examples of generational talents who come in this league who’ve met expectations and some who haven’t. But I have no reason to believe he won’t.”
Wembanyama is certainly not the only potentially franchise-altering prospect available in this year’s draft, set for June 22 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Scoot Henderson, a 19-year-old guard who played for the G League Ignite and faced Wembanyama in the October exhibitions, is widely expected to be drafted at No. 2 overall. Henderson averaged 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists in 19 games with the Ignite this season.
For the Spurs, this is the third time they have won the lottery. In 1997, they used the No. 1 pick to select Tim Duncan, who became one of the best big men in N.B.A. history. Ten years before, they also picked a big man in David Robinson, a 10-time All-Star. Both players are in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
The draft order is decided by a lottery that grants teams with worse regular-season records better odds for the No. 1 pick. This system has led to teams being accused of tanking — not prioritizing winning to position themselves for high draft picks. The three teams with the best chance — 14 percent — to get the top pick this year were San Antonio, Houston and Detroit, which got the fifth pick. The 11 other teams in the lottery had lessened odds, ranging from Charlotte at 13 percent to the New Orleans Pelicans at 0.5 percent.
In recent years, the N.B.A. has moved to curb tanking by introducing a postseason play-in tournament to decide the seventh and eighth seeds in each conference and by flattening the chances for the No. 1 pick among the three worst teams.
But with Wembanyama’s N.B.A. arrival on the horizon, Silver told reporters in the fall, “I know that many of our N.B.A. teams are salivating at the notion that potentially through our lottery, they can get him, so they should all still compete very hard next season.”
The N.B.A. fined the Dallas Mavericks $750,000 last month for resting several players in the final days of the season even though the team still had a chance to make the play-in tournament. They missed the playoffs and received the No. 10 pick through the lottery. They had a 3 percent chance of getting No. 1.
They weren’t as lucky as San Antonio.
The Spurs’ Gregg Popovich is the longest tenured coach in the N.B.A. He took over in December 1996 and has since led the Spurs to five championships, most recently in 2014. But in recent years, the Spurs have been rebuilding and stockpiling young talent. The team has not made the playoffs since 2019. They were tied with Houston for the worst record in the Western Conference this season at 22-60. Wembanyama could immediately change that.
“I’m trying to win a ring ASAP,” Wembanyama told ESPN on Tuesday. “So be ready.”