Some things are just meant to go together. Peanut butter and jelly. Bacon and eggs. Ferocious, rim-rattling jams and eloquent, passionate poetry.
Pause. Those last two don't quite fit... or do they?
If you're New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson, they sure do. The 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick is known for his brute strength, his unstoppable drives to the basket and his amazing finishing ability, all of which have helped him to an All-Star campaign with averages of 25.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists to this point in the season. But he's also known for his poetry, thanks to what his Spartanburg Day School creative writing teacher Bill Pell shared with Mina Kimes of ESPN.
"I hope he won't mind me saying this, but he's a hell of a poet. The kid can write," Pell said in 2019. "He'd give them (the poems) to me -- he was very cautious. I began making suggestions. Then all he did was write poems ... and the deeper we got into the year, the more complicated and sophisticated they became. They were remarkable."
JJ Redick, his current Pelicans teammate and the host of Cadence13 and RADIO.COM podcast "The Old Man and the Three," just had to learn more about what Williamson's high school poetry was like, and the big man was happy to oblige. Just like any other high schooler, Williamson needed to fill up his senior schedule with some "easy" classes down the stretch, and Mr. Pell's creative writing elective happened to be one that fit into an open time slot.
"I was going through the college process of trying to figure out where I wanna go, and I remember I go in this class and kind of write just to get the passing grade," Williamson recalled. "And this teacher — Mr. Pell — he was such a great guy, like, really knew his stuff about sports, just a kind guy through and through. One day, he came to me and he was like, alright Z, I want you to actually try."
It seems as though Pell could sense that Williamson, destined for greatness on the NBA hardwood, was kind of just going through his class without much effort. That wouldn't fly anymore for Pell. And at first, Williamson responded with some non-committal "yeah, sures," but Pell doubled down on his ask.
"At first I couldn't come up with anything, so I'm like, I don't have anything Mr. Pell, thinking he was just gonna let me off the hook," Williamson said, to which Pell responded 'good try' and asked him to bring something in for the very next day.
"So I'm like, man. So I go home and I just got off the phone with a college coach and I was thinking, man, this is stressful, I don't know where I'm [going to] go. And then I said, I can write about that!"
That's when the subject matter of his poem came to him. The piece shared the stories of two different people. On one hand, you had a guy who "flies" and "can't do any wrong," with several fans asking for pictures, cheering him on, and looking to follow him wherever he chooses. On the other hand, you have a humble dude that ultimately feels bad for turning down pictures, turning down opportunities and disappointing others — a metaphor, if I am interpreting this correctly, for a highly sought-after prospect who would unfortunately have to say no to many prospective bidders.
"And I pretty much talked about all the cons of being in the limelight at such a young age. And then at the end, I was like, now what if I told you I was the same guy? How would you feel?" Williamson said, revealing that both identities were his own. "And I remember I turned that in and [Pell] was like, now that's a real poem.
"So then after that I just, you know, I'd be in my room sometimes and I'd just kinda type up a poem because he made me feel like that was a way I can express myself without always having to be out in public."
Redick responded with my exact thoughts: that's actually really deep. If he's not going to partake in the dunk contest this year, maybe we can at least get a little bit of poetry — maybe slam poetry, to go along with slam dunks — at All-Star Weekend this coming weekend.