It was a fairly unremarkable Tuesday at Central Park West and Columbus Circle. Vendors bought sizzling canine, espresso and overpriced bottled water close by. A mild breeze rustled the sycamore branches hanging over a bicycle rental kiosk stuffed with neat rows of mint inexperienced helmets. Then, at 4:41 p.m., a black Mercedes van crept by way of the jam of buses, police automobiles and flower-adorned bicycle cabs.
Two youngsters watched as a lanky younger man in darkish sun shades, black shorts and a white T-shirt unfolded himself out of the van and stood at greater than seven ft tall.
“Oh my god!” one of many youngsters stated. “It’s Victor Wembanyama!”
Wembanyama was on the town for the N.B.A. draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Thursday, when he’ll virtually definitely be chosen No. 1 overall by the San Antonio Spurs as one of the vital anticipated prospects since LeBron James. He was on his method to Yankee Stadium to throw the ceremonial first pitch for Tuesday night time’s sport with Seattle. But earlier than that, he wished to attempt one thing he had by no means performed: journey the New York City subway.
“Watch your head!” a police officer bellowed as Wembanyama walked by way of the station and ducked beneath a cream-painted pipe on the ceiling.
“I’m used to it,” stated Wembanyama, who’s at the least 7-foot-4. In France, where he grew up and performed skilled basketball final season for Metropolitans 92, he has ridden the Paris metro loads of occasions. By now, at 19 years previous, he’s usually accustomed to bobbing his head to maintain it from hitting issues.
He had flown to the New York metropolitan space on Monday afternoon, when he was swarmed by followers at Newark Liberty International Airport. Now he had simply visited the workplaces of the N.B.A. gamers’ union on Sixth Avenue, a few block from Bryant Park. He wanted to catch a Bronx-bound D practice at Columbus Circle. A teammate from France, Bilal Coulibaly, who can also be anticipated to be drafted early on Thursday, Wembanyama’s brokers and his communications supervisor had come alongside.
Wembanyama’s household met him on the subway station — his mother and father, brother and sister — as did law enforcement officials, N.B.A. safety personnel, in-house content material producers for the N.B.A., and reporters and photographers from two French information media retailers and The New York Times. It was a formidably sized group for a Tuesday afternoon subway automotive.
Harry Cisse, 17, who was on the best way to a pal’s commencement, sighed deeply because the group packed onto the practice, leaving little area to transfer or breathe.
“WELCOME TO NEW YORK!” a lady’s voice boomed within the distance because the practice started to roll. She added, as Wembanyama stood in the course of the automotive along with his head bent: “HOW TALL IS HE?”
Sebastian Cardona, 22, instantly texted and known as some pals on FaceTime along with his iPhone to allow them to know he was on the practice with Wembanyama.
“Rookie of the year!” Cardona yelled earlier than making an attempt to get Wembanyama to flip round for a photograph. Cardona, too, was on his method to see the Yankees. He stated he knew Wembanyama was going to throw out the primary pitch, however he by no means anticipated to see him on the subway.
A few ft away, a lady shouted in French for Wembanyama to flip. He obliged a few occasions and smiled for her images. Aladji Sacko, 25, a Frenchman who now lives in New York, was standing subsequent to the lady on his method residence.
“I’ve only seen him on TV,” Sacko stated as he grinned. A couple of minutes later he wove by way of the crowded automotive to sneak nearer for a photograph.
After the primary cease, at one hundred and twenty fifth Street, Wembanyama discovered a seat. Two seats away, a lady’s headphones flashed coloured lights. She closed her eyes and ignored the commotion round her.
Wembanyama smiled as he sat, then spent a lot of the journey like anybody would possibly — checking his telephone, chatting along with his companions. He did a brief interview with the N.B.A.’s leisure group, telling them he wished he had an opportunity to go to extra of town. After Thursday night time, Wembanyama is predicted to be whisked off to San Antonio.
It took 4 stops on the D practice to go from Columbus Circle to Yankee Stadium. Wembanyama and his courtroom left the practice collectively, ascending a yellow-tiled stairwell into the Bronx. People driving and biking by Wembanyama yelled to get his consideration. One particular person in a automotive shouted, “Go Spurs!” and Wembanyama smiled to acknowledge the cheer.
Fans ready in line to enter Yankee Stadium grabbed their cellphones to file Wembanyama as he handed by, chattering excitedly concerning the N.B.A. draft.
Inside the stadium, Wembanyama spent a while within the dugout with Yankees catcher Jose Trevino, maybe getting some recommendation on his impending pitch. Wembanyama fiddled with a baseball that regarded like a golf ball in his outsize arms. He left the dugout to signal autographs and pose for photos with kids.
He nonetheless had greater than an hour earlier than his pitch.
When it was lastly time, he clapped as he approached the mound. The crowd, nonetheless filling in, cheered to welcome him. Wembanyama wound up and threw the pitch too far outside for Yankees pitcher Clarke Schmidt, stationed behind residence plate, to catch it.
Wembanyama shrugged, after which he laughed.