SAN ANTONIO — Before Victor Wembanyama was the best basketball prospect since LeBron James, he was a skinny French kid in a Tony Parker jersey.
He was about 10 years old when he watched his nation's basketball hero – the greatest power forward of all time, Boris Diaw – and the rest of the Beautiful Game Spurs suffer heartbreak the year before they regrouped and dismantled LeBron's Heat in 2014.
"I remember the Finals around 2013," he said recently in his native tongue. "I remember Ray Allen's shot, everyone remembers it as a crazy shot, but since it was TP who was playing I remember it as the villain's shot."
The villain's shot. What a way to express a sentiment millions of Spurs fans share.
It seems clear that Wemby has been a Spurs fan for a long time, and that shouldn't surprise.
"There's a special relation between France and the Spurs because of Tony of course, and also Boris," Wembanyama said. "I know half of the country, if not the whole country, wanted the Spurs to have the first pick."
Wembanyama will undoubtedly become the first Frenchman to go first overall in the upcoming NBA Draft. He represents the future of the sport, not just for his proud country but for the best league in the world.
Even if he wasn't a Spurs fan himself, San Antonio seemed a perfect landing spot for the 7-foot-5 phenom.
They have Gregg Popovich and a storied history of turning first-pick big men into champions and all-time greats. The organization is serious, and professional, and structured. Their roster is better than the record last year would indicate, and perfectly suited to compliment a heliocentric star. They have a state-of-the-art facility set to open, and the cap space and draft picks to build a contender around him soon.
Then, there's the French connection. Think about how happy Cleveland was that the Cavs earned the right to draft hometown hero LeBron James, and the impact that had on the marketability of both player and team. Now picture that happening, but for a nation of 68 million people.
Many experts agreed it would be an ideal fit for both team and player, and some close to Wemby's camp indicate that's where they were hoping for. They never publicly indicated a preference and said any team would be a good fit, but one thing is now abundantly clear: He did not want to go to Houston.
Maybe it's because he's a puro San Antonio Spurs fan. Maybe it's because they are an organization that has picked in the top-three several years in a row and has no clear direction and... none of the above-mentioned assets that the Spurs do. Probably a little column A, a little column B.
When the Rockets' logo was revealed for the fourth pick, he made no effort to conceal his happiness. There was a subtle fist pump, a triumphant facial expression. It's perhaps the most excited someone has ever been to learn that they would not be going to Houston, and fans there did not appreciate it one bit.
Houstonians watched live, hoping he wouldn't go to their biggest rival—the team that had won five titles since the Rockets' last Finals appearance, and when they met their dreaded fate the pained cries could be heard all the way in San Antonio.
One person who seemed thrilled about it was Victor Wembanyama, who smiled ear to ear and looked around before clapping and bowing his head. Another was his mother, whose jaw nearly hit the floor.
"I looked around and everyone in the room was happy. I was too," he said.
Now he's all but certain to play for Pop and follow in the footsteps of Duncan and Robinson, the Spurs' two prior No. 1 picks.
Tony Parker was stoked too. He owns the team Wemby played for two seasons ago, and tweeted a picture of a young Wembanyama wearing his jersey after Tuesday night's lottery result.
The Spurs only had a 14% chance of landing Wembanyama, but he says he wasn't surprised.
"Not to brag about it, but I knew what was gonna happen," he said. "I actually recorded myself saying it this morning walking to practice. The universe told me. Dreams, feelings—it happens sometimes. But it's never wrong, always right."
Spurs fans around the world have been dreaming of Victor Wembanyama in San Antonio. A month out from draft night, it seems highly likely that the Spurs fan dreaming of that the longest is Wembanyama himself.