Zion Williamson is one of the NBA's feel-good stories this year. He endured a rough time after missing the entirety of the 2021-22 campaign and becoming a target of jeers for his weight once ballooning to over 300 lbs. Many people poked fun at him, including Charles Barkley, who even had a ludicrous description for the New Orleans Pelicans forward last year.
Chuck and Shaq's lovechild
"It looked like me and Shaq had a baby," said Barkley on an episode of "Inside the NBA" after seeing footage of an overweight Williamson.
The quip had Shaquille O'Neal starting a laughing fit and crumpling a piece of paper as the resemblance of their frames was uncanny.
At the time, Williamson had undergone surgery a few months prior to address a Jones fracture in his right foot. He was expected to be ready to suit up by the start of the regular season. However, the former No. 1 pick experienced setbacks in his recovery, demoralizing him and preventing him from performing drills. Consequently, his weight shot up. But only a few people knew what was going behind the scenes with Williamson then, so some thought he was just lazy or apathetic.
One year later, no one is questioning the Pelicans star's passion and work ethic. He has slimmed down to his ideal weight and is producing at an elite rate thanks to his combination of talent, athleticism, and determination.
In addition, the Duke University product isn't posting empty numbers this campaign. Of course, his averages of 23.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.3 steals per contest shouldn't be taken for granted. But Williamson has also been instrumental in the Pelicans' early season run to the top of the Western Conference.
New Orleans' 15-8 record and top-two placing in the West might come as surprising to some. But Barkley knew right from the start of the regular season that the team had what it takes to reach the playoffs and earn home-court advantage in the first round.
At least Chuck made up for ridiculing Williamson last year by talking him and his squad up this season.