It was a rather mundane Tuesday in Central Park West and Columbus Circle. There were also stalls selling hot dogs, coffee and expensive bottles of water nearby. A light breeze rustled the sycamore branches hanging above the bike-rental kiosks, which were neatly lined with mint-green helmets. Then at 4:41 p.m., a black Mercedes van whizzed through a traffic jam of buses, police cars and flower-adorned bike taxis.
The two teenagers watched as a lanky young man in black sunglasses, black shorts, and a white T-shirt stepped out of the van and stood over seven feet tall.
“Oh my god!” said one of the teenagers. “It’s Victor Wenbanyama!”
Wenbanyama was in town Thursday for the NBA Draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where he was named No. 1 overall by the San Antonio Spurs as one of the most anticipated prospects since LeBron James. will almost certainly be nominated. He was on his way to Yankee Stadium to throw the first pitch in Tuesday night’s game against Seattle. But before that, he wanted to try something he had never done before. Ride the New York City subway.
“Watch your head!” yelled a police officer as Wenbanyama passed through the station and crouched under a cream-painted pipe in the ceiling.
“I’m used to it,” said Wenbanyama, who is over 7 feet 4 inches tall. He grew up in France, played professional basketball last season for the Metropolitans 92, and rode the Paris subway many times. Now 19, he’s generally used to shaking his head to avoid bumping into things.
He flew into the New York area on Monday afternoon, where fans flocked to Newark Liberty International Airport. He had just visited the NBA Players Association offices on Sixth Avenue, about a block from Bryant Park. He had to catch his D train to the Bronx at Columbus Circle. Teammate Bilal Koulibaly from France will also be drafted early Thursday morning, accompanied by Wenbanyama’s agent and communications manager.
Wenbanyama’s family (parents, brother and sister) greeted him at a subway station, along with police officers, NBA security personnel, an in-house NBA content producer, reporters and photographers from two French news outlets and the New York Times. rice field. It was a frighteningly large group for a subway train on a Tuesday afternoon.
Harry Cisse, 17, was on his way to a friend’s graduation, letting out a deep sigh as the crowd crammed into the train leaving little space to move or breathe.
“Welcome to New York!” A woman’s voice echoed in the distance as the train began to move. Watching Wenbanyama standing in the middle of the car and bowing her head, she added: “How tall is he?”
Sebastian Cardona, 22, immediately texted and called a few friends on FaceTime on his iPhone, telling them he was on the train with Wenbanyama.
“Rookie of the Year!” Cardona yelled before trying to get Wenbanyama to turn around for a picture. Cardona was on his way to see the Yankees. He said he knew Wenbanyama would throw the first pitch, but he never expected to meet him on the subway.
A few feet away, a woman shouted in French to Wenbanyama to turn around. Several times he complied and took pictures of her with her smiling face. Alaj Sakko, 25, a Frenchman now living in New York, stood next to the woman on her way home.
“I had only seen him on TV,” Sacco said with a laugh. A few minutes later, he squeezed his way through the crowded car and tried to take a picture.
At the first stop, 125th Street, Wenbanyama found a seat. Two seats away, a woman’s headphones flashed colorful lights. She closed her eyes and ignored the commotion around her.
Wenbanyama smiled as he sat and then, like everyone else, spent most of the ride checking his phone and chatting with his mates. In a short interview with the NBA entertainment group, he said he wished he had more opportunities to visit the city. After Thursday night, Wenbanyama will be transferred to San Antonio.
It took us four stops on the D train from Columbus Circle to Yankee Stadium. Together, Wenbanyama and the Court stepped off the train and climbed the yellow-tiled steps into the Bronx. People who were driving or biking near Wenbanyama shouted for his attention. One person in the car yelled, “Go Spurs!” And Wenbanyama responded to the cheers with a smile.
Fans waiting in line to enter Yankee Stadium picked up their phones as Wenbanyama passed by, chatting excitedly about the NBA draft.
Inside the stadium, Wenbanyama spent some time in the dugout with Yankees catcher Jose Trevino, presumably getting advice on an impending pitch. Wenbanyama was fiddling with a baseball that looked like a golf ball with its oversized hands. He left the dugout to sign autographs and take pictures with the kids.
There was still over an hour before the pitch.
When the time finally came, they applauded as they approached the mound. The crowd, still packed, cheered to welcome him. Wenbanyama is over, I threw the pitch out too far Yankees pitcher Clark Schmidt, who was stationed behind home plate, caught the ball.
Wenbanyama shrugged and laughed.