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New Orleans Pelicans’ Zion Williamson draws inspiration from The Notorious B.I.G.

Plagued with injuries, he says late rapper’s music changed his mindset about life: ‘It really showed me that nothing’s guaranteed’

METARIE, La. – Zion Williamson loved playing deejay in his mother’s car during his childhood every time she left him alone with her CDs while she ran errands. Sharonda Sampson owned a lot of R&B and hip-hop CDs for the future New Orleans Pelicans star to choose from. And for the most part, Williamson would choose rapper The Notorious B.I.G.

“When I was younger, my mom would go in the store, and I would be sitting in the car. She had [Jay-Z’s] The Blueprint and Reasonable Doubt. Mary J. [Blige’s] What’s the 411 and My Life. And Big’s CD was in there, too,” Williamson told Andscape following the Pelicans’ practice Tuesday at the team’s practice facility. “So, I would listen to them. Even though I didn’t fully know what [Notorious B.I.G.] was talking about, as I get older, I learn more and more.”

Meanwhile, Williamson’s NBA career hasn’t played out as he’s hoped, because he has spent most of it on the sideline due to injuries.

Williamson has been sidelined since Jan. 2 while recovering from a right hamstring strain. The 6-foot-6, 284-pounder is out for the ninth-seeded Pelicans in a Western Conference play-in game Wednesday night against the visiting 10th-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder. The two-time NBA All-Star averaged 26 points, 7 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 29 of a possible 82 games this regular season. The No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft has been limited to 114 regular-season games in four seasons due to injury, including missing the entire 2021-22 campaign. Williamson missed the Pelicans’ playoff run last season and it appears possible that he will miss the playoffs this year if the team qualifies.

Williamson said that it will take a collective decision by himself and the Pelicans’ brass to return to action, but mentally and physically he appears to have some obstacles to returning.

“It’s a little bit of a mental battle, because you know when I reaggravated [my hamstring] back in February, it was tough,” Williamson said. “So, when I go to make certain moves, there is that hesitation. Sometimes there’s not and sometimes there is. And I understand the magnitude of these games coming up and I don’t want to be out there hesitating or doing something that may affect my team in a bad way.”

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson reacts during the third quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 2 in Philadelphia.

Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

To mentally get over the disappointment of missing games, Williamson said, he has turned to The Notorious B.I.G.’s music for inspiration.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer made two of hip-hop’s most influential albums, Ready to Die and Life After Death. Billboard’s 1995 Rap Artist of the Year was killed in Los Angeles at age 24 on March 9, 1997. Williamson was given a signed copy of the 2022 biography of Notorious B.I.G., It Was All A Dream: Biggie and the World That Made Him, by the author, Andscape senior culture writer Justin Tinsley.

“Notorious B.I.G.’s album Ready to Die really changed my mindset on life,” Williamson, 22, said. “And like I also said at the beginning of the year, if it’s in God’s plan for me to be who I feel like I should be, then it’s in his plan. If not, got to live with it.”

One song that perhaps could give Williamson motivation that a better day is coming is the song “Sky is the Limit.” The Notorious B.I.G. raps: “If the game shakes me or breaks me, I hope it makes me a better man.” The hook of “Sky is the Limit” is also, “Sky is the limit, and you know that you keep on. Just keep on pressin’ on. Sky is the limit, and you know that you can have what you want, be what you want.”

Describing how The Notorious B.I.G. changed his “mindset on life,” Williamson said: “It really showed me that nothing’s guaranteed. In life, a lot of good things can happen but also a lot of bad things. Sometimes, more bad than good. Sometimes, more good than bad. You just got to learn how to roll with the punches.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.