Most kids wanted to get the latest pair of Air Jordans growing up. Willie Wilson, wanted a pair of sneakers worn by Magic Johnson. No, these aren’t even the popular Converse Weapons. The pair he got was the Converse Magic, Johnson’s first signature shoe. That’s how much of an LA Laker fan he is.
In this interview, Willie shares how he became a Laker fan and other interesting stories about his NBA fandom.
NBA.com Philippines: What is your earliest NBA memory?
Willie Wilson: My earliest NBA memory was of the Lakers winning the ‘88 NBA championship. I was born and raised in Los Angeles. My mother actually is an NBA fan. I always identified as a Laker fan. Not like any one player. Not Magic or Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), (James) Worthy, Kobe (Bryant). It’s always been Lakers, die-hard Lakers, no matter what.
It was always watching the Lakers on Channel 9, because growing up, we didn’t have cable TV. So, the only games we were able to see were away games. It’s ironic because I have never been to a Laker game live.
Just watching the Lakers play, Byron Scott, all those guys, the way they ran up and down the court, and just pretending to be Magic Johnson, that’s my earliest memory.
Who was the NBA player that made you fall in love with the game?
Magic - it was always Magic. Growing up, Magic had his own signature shoe.
I was so hyped about the Lakers and Magic that my mom and I went to Sears and she bought me those shoes because I was just a huge fan. Those were my basketball shoes. I instantly felt like I was a basketball player when I got those shoes.
Who were the players you looked up to when you were learning the game?
I played in the Filipino leagues a lot growing up in Los Angeles, and me being taller, I always played in the middle. There were some big men that I idolized. One of them was David Robinson. I really idolized David Robinson, the way that he would be able to move around on the court, shoot on the perimeter. He’s one.
Ironically, my favorite player growing up was Reggie Miller. It’s so ironic right because I couldn’t really shoot during my career and he’s fourth all-time in shooting. I always loved him because of how he competed every game.
What’s your favorite NBA game ever?
It’s the Kobe-Pau (Gasol) championship against the (Boston) Celtics.
I remember it vividly because I was at practice, I was playing for Ginebra at the time and we were practicing at Green Meadows. Practice pretty much just got stopped because the game was on. Everybody stopped practice, even the coach. We just totally shut down practice, right? Everybody was locked into the game. Except for me.
I couldn’t watch. I was so nervous that I could not watch the game. And that’s how much of a fan I am. When it comes to the Lakers, I feel so much ownership, like it’s my team and I get nervous. It’s like I’m the one coaching the team or I’m playing on the team. That’s the championship game that stands out the most.
Who is your favorite player in the NBA today?
I’d have to go with Giannis (Antetokounmpo). Just the way that he dominates. Being a coach now, and also a defensive player, I look at the guys now in the NBA and I always ask myself that question, “How would I guard that guy?” What would I do if I was matched up against Giannis? How would I defend him?”
Just sag off him right? So that’s what everybody tries to do. They try to sag off and what does he do? He drives downhill, does a quick spin, and dunks on your head. Obviously, that doesn’t work.
So, if I find a player that there’s nothing that anybody can do to guard this guy. And he averages 32 minutes per game and he’s still scoring 28 points per game. I just find that so amazing that there is no answer for this guy Giannis.
Right now, in my opinion, he’s the greatest player on the planet today. It’s not LeBron James, it’s not Kevin Durant, it’s not (Nikola) Jokic, it’s not Joel Embiid. It’s Giannis.
Who are the three players you’re excited to watch next season?
Man, that’s a tough question right there. There’s so many players that I’m excited to see.
I say Karl-Anthony Towns is number one. Because I’m interested to see how he’s going to mesh with Rudy Gobert. I don’t think that it’s gonna work. [Towns is] a stretch four, but he can’t defend anybody. He can’t defend anybody in the perimeter, he can’t defend anybody in the paint.
I’m excited to see Jayson Tatum. How does he follow-up that [NBA Finals] loss? How does he bounce back? Some players get there early in their career and never ever get back. Is he going to be one of those guys?
I want to say LeBron (James) just because I’m a Laker fan but I already know what LeBron’s going to do. It’s going to be pretty much the same old thing. So, let me go with James Harden.
Now that he’s had a full offseason under his belt, he already knows what to expect playing with Embiid, they’re my favorites to win the title.