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Zion Williamson’s debut a boon for ESPN

Zion Williamson, Pelicans

As soon as New Orleans Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin announced Zion Williamson would be tentatively ready for a Jan. 22 debut against the San Antonio Spurs, the NBA got to work to ensure his debut would be aired live for their fans.

The No. 1 overall selection indeed debuted on Wednesday, crushing ESPN’s ratings from last year’s comparable game.

Williamson’s first game garnered an average of 2,357,000 viewers, peaking at 2,777,000 at one point. That’s an 88% improvement over last season’s comparable game:

Pelicans vs. Spurs also cracked a 1.6 US rating, matching ESPN’s highest-rated NBA game this season outside of Christmas Day matchups — up 100% year over year.

The NBA and ESPN quickly got to work, deciding to flex a Houston Rockets vs. Denver Nuggets game that was originally scheduled for broadcast and replacing it with Zion’s debut — putting all the pressure on the Pelicans to deliver the product, now that all eyes were on them.

Williamson’s debut was a relative disappointment for the first three quarters, as the Duke product totaled five points, four rebounds, and five turnovers through 11 minutes of play. But if you stuck around to watch the fourth quarter, you were undoubtedly greatly rewarded for your patience.

Zion exploded in the fourth, scoring 17 straight points, going a perfect 4-of-4 from deep and shocking the Spurs as the Pelicans mounted a late comeback effort.

Head coach Alvin Gentry pulled him with 5:23 left in regulation, but it’s likely many viewers stuck around to see if he would return at some point.

While he didn’t, his scorching personal run was more than enough to satisfy those who wanted to see the No. 1 pick make his awaited debut, finishing with 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and three assists on the night.

Not bad for one night of basketball.