On his 22nd birthday, Zion Williamson put pen to paper on a nine-figure deal that will keep him under contract for the next six seasons.
The New Orleans Pelicans forward is entering the final season of his rookie deal. Once it concludes, he is owed $193 million over a five-year span. If he is able to make an All-NBA team, win Most Valuable Player or be named Defensive Player of the Year next season, Williamson could make as much as $231 million over the life of his next deal.
In other words, his extension contains escalators — but it also contains de-escalators, should Williamson’s conditioning issues continue.
According to league sources, Williamson’s contract stipulates that he will have weigh-ins periodically throughout the entirety of his new deal. The sum of his weight and body fat percentage must be below 295. If it is not, the amount of guaranteed money in Williamson’s contract can be reduced.
Since the Pelicans drafted Williamson No. 1 overall in 2019, he has struggled to stay in shape. Williamson played only nine minutes in Summer League before his rookie year. He was shut down after bumping knees with a player on the New York Knicks. His poor conditioning played a part in New Orleans’ decision to sit him out for the remainder of Summer League.
For Zion Williamson, the numbers on the scale will be almost as important as the ones on the stat sheet.
Afterward, former Duke coach Mike Kryzkewski told Forbes that he didn’t think Williamson should have played at all.
“He’s been on this circuit of awards, the ESPYs, everything,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t think he’s in the playing shape or the mental shape to play.”
Williamson was listed at 285 pounds in his lone season at Duke. He has been listed at 284 pounds with the Pelicans.
The multiple lower body injuries Williamson has suffered as a pro have hindered his ability to stay fit. During the preseason before his rookie year, Williamson tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee. That injury sidelined him for 44 games.
In July 2021, Williamson learned he fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. When he reported to training camp in September, he was well above 300 pounds, The Times-Picayune reported in February.
Williamson missed the entirety of his third season. He was cleared to play without restrictions in May.
To improve his conditioning, Williamson has been working with Jasper Bibbs, a personal trainer who spent five seasons with the Utah Jazz, and Christian Green, a Dillard University alumnus who is a private chef.
“Definitely getting him in tiptop shape,” Green said in an interview earlier this month. “My boy says he wants the league MVP this year. I see it. I believe it. I believe Zion is going to be the face of the NBA once LeBron James retires. I believe it. I see it. Just getting him in great health. He’s in great health now. But once the season starts, he’s going to be in even better health.”
The Pelicans hope that adding a healthy and motivated Williamson to their core will allow them to build off their surprise playoff run last season.
After an injury-riddled start to his NBA career, Williamson appears to have taken steps toward improving his diet and conditioning. The contract he signed earlier this month gives him financial incentives to do so.
“It was a tough year,” Williamson said after signing his extension July 6. “For the Pelicans to come give me this birthday gift, I’m not going to let them down. I’m not going to let my family down. I’m not going to let the city down.