Victor Wembanyama’s agent, Bouna Ndiaye, is helping the No. 1 pick be himself
The Senegal native talks about Wembanyama’s potential, the Britney Spears incident and why he became an agent
LAS VEGAS – After just one well-chronicled, yet struggle of a game into the NBA summer league, Victor Wembanyama was fatigued by demands on and off the court. And while it likely cost the heralded San Antonio Spurs rookie money and added notoriety, he asked his agent Bouna Ndiaye on Saturday to refocus on basketball.
“After his first game people started talking trash and stuff. I never worry about him mentally,” Ndiaye told Andscape following Wembanyama’s 85-80 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday at the Thomas & Mack Center. “The only thing he told me is he wanted to stay a basketball player and not be running to all these things that bring him attention with all this craziness around him. The last few days were really crazy … He is the first [client] to tell me, ‘Hey, basketball first. Slow down everything. I don’t want to do anything. I want to play basketball.’ And that’s what we did.
“We canceled a few things [Saturday] just to allow him to rest. He went to bed early and was able to come back [strong]. It’s OK in his mind that he wants to be a basketball player first and not an icon first with major attention and marketing. He was drafted and his life is crazy. He told me, ‘I want to be on the court and play basketball. I don’t want to do all this. It’s part of the business, but basketball first.’ ”
More than 17,000 fans, millions watching primetime nationally on ESPN and a viewing audience worldwide were focused on Wembanyama’s debut in the NBA summer league on July 7. The 7-foot-3½ 19-year-old had already become the subject of fascination worldwide, showing an ability to shoot 3-pointers like a guard, dribble like a Harlem Globetrotter, run the floor and block shots before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA draft on June 22.
Wembanyama, however, was fatigued after his lackluster debut with 9 points on 2-of-13 shooting, 5 missed 3-pointers and zero offensive rebounds in 27 minutes in a loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Friday. This was two days after Wembanyama’s security guard had an odd altercation with singer Britney Spears after she tried to get his attention by touching him from behind. The Frenchman was also making a lot of appearances during the first weekend of NBA summer league, including a sit-down with Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and an appearance at the trophy unveiling for the NBA’s new midseason tournament.
Wembanyama’s request to Ndiaye was granted and certainly seemed to benefit his performance in his second game on Sunday. The crowd was again packed with the likes of rapper Fat Joe and Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry. And this time, “Wemby” lived up to the hype with 27 points, 12 rebounds, 2 3-pointers and 3 blocks. After his outstanding second game, he is expected to get the rest of summer league off.
“In the past month, I’ve played basketball in 50% of my schedule,” Wembanyama said. “It’s a special moment in my life… Honestly, I just want to hoop. I want to work out. Lift. This is my life, obviously. Every first pick has to go through this. It makes me better for the future.”
Ndiaye is the co-founder and CEO of French-based company Comsport, which represents NBA players Rudy Gobert, Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier, rookie Bilal Coulibaly, and numerous players worldwide. Ndiaye and fellow Frenchman Jeremy Medjana share the duties of representing Wembanyama, whose acquisition has been projected to add $500 million in value to the small-market Spurs. Ndiaye and Wembanyama also have an African connection as the longtime NBA agent is from Senegal and Wembanyama’s father, Felix, is Congolese.
Following Sunday’s game, Wembanyama was asked by Andscape about being represented by Ndiaye.
“That is the first time I’ve been asked this,” Wembanyama said. “I’ve known him for a long time. He knew my parents for a long time. Even though he is supposed to be the best — he and Jeremy are supposed to be the best in France, one of the best in the world — it wasn’t an obvious choice for me to work with them three and four years ago. But when I talked to him and Jeremy also, I felt like they can be more than just agents.
“They are people who are friends who actually know me. They don’t care about the money. They don’t care about the contracts. They are not going to just make me sign because we have something greater to entertain. We have something greater going on. They strive for greatness. In the whole world, they are the only people that suit me to be my agent.”
The following Q&A is an Andscape exclusive with Ndiaye, who spoke about the Wembanyama phenomenon, the challenges of his career, what being drafted by the five-time NBA champion Spurs in a small market means, security concerns, strength questions, inspiring prospective sports agents, the future of basketball in Africa and much more.
How does being in San Antonio slow things down for Victor?
It’s great. Their DNA is all about team, culture and basketball first. But Victor’s life [is] different cause he cannot walk by himself. I can see here in Vegas. I could see everyone in Vegas, All-Stars walking by the hotel, with no problem. The first time [Wembanyama] got out, everybody’s running to him. Same in New York [during the recent NBA draft].
It was like that in France, too. He had security all season.
How worried are you about Victor’s safety with all the attention surrounding him when he is in public, including the Britney Spears situation?
The Britney Spears [incident] was a very good ‘Welcome [to] America’ moment. Small in a sense, but big in a sense. That was nothing. But there was so much noise for nothing and it turned into something … He was just walking. He didn’t do anything. But it shows you in America, everything is much bigger than anywhere else in the world.
Now that summer league is over Victor, what is next for him?
We give him some off time from summer league than get back to work. He will stay around for a few days in Las Vegas, but he will not be playing.
Does Victor have a home in San Antonio yet? Is he settled there?
No. Not yet. We have different options that we are looking at.
You are based in Dallas and deal with clients worldwide. But will you be spending a lot of time during Victor’s rookie season with him in San Antonio?
Yeah, of course. I am setting up an office in San Antonio just to have more of a presence there. Every month I’m visiting all of my guys and we keep doing the same thing. Obviously there will be attention on him because the demand is just too high and too strong.
How much has adding Victor as a client changed your life?
My life. First of all, I want to talk about the draft. Being at that [green room] table with the best player in this class group, it means a lot for me. It means a lot for a lot of people because I am that kid coming from Africa, grew up in France and being at a No. 1 [draft pick’s] table is not only for me, it’s for anybody else in the planet. Black people [yes], but just every people that can think about a dream that can be real.
Everybody can do it because I did it. That’s message of hope. For me, this means a lot. Not only for me, but for a lot of people like us.
How excited are you for Victor and what is his potential?
I’m excited for him because he wants [to] be special. He wants to be unpredictable. He wants [to] be great on everything and he’s working for it. I just can’t wait to see when it is going to complete. He still has upside. He can better his shot. He can better his body. He can better his work ethic. In five years, how are you going to be able to guard him?
What would you say about the concerns about his strength at this point?
Did you see an issue here in Vegas? No. People are wrong. We’re not focused at all on weights. I don’t want to put weight on his body. We’re going to fight to not put weight on his body. Weight on his body [is] a big mistake. We focus on strength, core. We were very pleased that he linked up [with] Jabbar who played until  years old. That’s the path that we want to take …
I’m very glad they, they connected because uh, have a similar body type. Kareem was not heavy. Victor is more mobile, gaudier and taller than Kareem. So, that difference in height is a challenge and is something that we are working on every day. Making him heavy? We don’t want to do that.
I’m driven by someone wanting to achieve their dreams. That is my No. 1 motivation. Some young kids have been coming up to me saying, ‘This is my dream. I want to make it.’ My purpose starts with them.
When were your toughest days as an NBA agent before getting to this point with Wembanyama?
No, there [was] not one tough day. There were several days. Back in the days in France, my nickname was ‘The agent for the players from the ’hood’ from people and newspapers in France. You take care of someone for more than 10 years and then you just receive an e-mail or a phone call telling you that it’s over. That is not one tough day. That is several.
You cry, you just start over, and you keep working with others. There were a lot of tough days.
What made you want to be an NBA agent?
I’m driven by someone wanting to achieve their dreams. That is my No. 1 motivation. Some young kids have been coming up to me saying, ‘This is my dream. I want to make it.’ My purpose starts with them. That is my drive every day. I started trying to take care of my brothers and people from my ’hood in France. I helped so many kids become just good human beings and educated without being an agent.
And then one of these kids pulled me to the side and said I want you to be my agent named Makan Dioumassi. Four years later, he was playing in the Olympics in Australia for France against USA in 2000. That was my first big client. Since then, I’ve had Rudy Gobert, Nic Batum, Evan Fournier, Ian Mahinmi, all French.
Thirty years ago, I had this desire to focus on French and African players. Everyone was telling me, ‘You’re never going to make money. American players are making the most. You better stop.’ That was 30 years ago. Now I’m a force.
During the 2023 NBA draft, the top 10 selections all had Black representation. What did that mean to you?
That is of big pride to me. That shows that everybody can do it. It’s not a question of race really. You have no idea here in Vegas in summer league I just can’t walk without everyone coming to congratulate me and to whisper in my ears, ‘We’re so proud of you. Now we know we can do it too.’ Not one times. Fifty times.
Before Wemby’s game, this lady come to me just behind and said, whispered to me, ‘I’m so proud of you. I’m a young agent, female. Black. And you inspire and I know I can be there now.’ And she took a picture. And this is good for us, for the community, because it’s not about race. It’s about opportunity. It’s about a dream.
Race doesn’t make you smarter. Race doesn’t make you richer. Race doesn’t make you successful. Every human being has the same chance to succeed. So, sometimes it’s more difficult for a certain race. I’m the proof. Everybody can make it. If I made it from Africa to France, to France, to United States and United States to this position, everybody could do it, not only in sports [but] in anything that you do in life. I think this is a big message of hope that I’m proud to be that image, that good image.
How did you connect with Victor and become his agent?
I knew his mom and his father like, 30 something years ago. His mother was coaching my son when we he was 4 to 5 years old. We were in the same basketball area. We always knew each other. We were friends, basketball addicts and were passionate about it. Victor was not born yet, but he had a sister in the gym all the time.
And then Victor was born and when he was around 11 years old, Jeremy, my partner, said, ‘We need to look at this kid. He is special.’ I said, ‘Who is he?’ He said he is 11. I said, ‘I’m going to watch an 11-year-old play.’ And then he keeps pushing me. ‘The kid is special. You have to go.’ And he kept pushing me for almost a year and a half. And at 12½, 13 years old say, ‘I’m going to go.’ So, I’ll call [Wembanyama’s mother] Elodie and say, ‘I’m just going to watch a basketball game. Yeah. On Sunday. Just relax. Don’t worry.’ I felt bad about to going scout a kid that 11, 12, 13 years old. That was the first time that I was seeing him live with my eyes. And then you can see that talent and then you can see there’s something to work with.
What can you say about Victor as a person?
In my 30 years of being an agent, there have been a lot of smart kids — very interesting, mature, charismatic players. But Victor is unique. I’m just giving you an example. He was in Dallas last year for four months. And so, I invite him to go out to get a meal. We ask him a lot of questions to get to know him more for almost 2½ hours. Two days later, he calls me says, ‘Can we go dine again?’ And then he was asking me questions for hours. That’s Victor. He’s a bright kid. Good head on his shoulders. Wise. I told him, ‘You’re not 19, you’re 35 years old.’ Smart.
What do you think about the Spurs organization that Victor is joining?
Fantastic. One of the best DNAs and cultures in basketball. Coach Pop [Gregg Popovich]. I’ve been telling Victor that if Coach Pop coaches you for 15 years, you’ll have [those teachings] for all of your life. No one can push you as much as Coach Pop. I just want to be alive in four or five years to see how great he can be.
Do you think people have to be patient with Victor?
You have to be patient. Everything is a process. You saw it from Game 1 to Game 2. It’s a process. He has to understand that. It’s tough to play here. Everybody wants to dunk on you. Everybody is expecting to beat him. And that’s going to be that every night next NBA season. Everybody will go after you. They’re all watching you saying, ‘We’re gonna go after you.’ That’s gonna happen.
Nothing comes easy. He knows that. Just adapt, keep going, keep working and be yourself. So, this my job to help him be himself.
Is Victor familiar with his African roots?
Yes and no. I think that would come from him. I think that will come from him. His sister went to Africa last year to check it out … It will come in due time.
Are you scouting Africa for talent more?
Yes. I believe in Africa like I always did. When you see [Joel] Embiid, [Pascal] Siakam and all these African [NBA] players, Wembanyama, they are all from Africa. We have unlimited type(s) [of] people and will see even more in [a] few years.
What advice would you give to an aspiring agent?
Whether [it] is about being an agent, being a dad, being whomever, you want, you need to have a dream, because I had one. You have to keep your dream in perspective.
And then you have to believe in it. You have to work, be patient, fail, stand up, fail, stand up. And at the end of the day, if you’re patient and you keep working, you keep being consistent, you’re going to achieve.