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Wembanyama is the new Nike alien

The rookie season of the French player was sensational, but the future is still completely unwritten.

Wembanyama is the new Nike alien The rookie season of the French player was sensational, but the future is still completely unwritten.

Crackling sounds disturbed by interference in the signal, a script emerging from a black screen with a glitch effect, introducing the viewer to a vision that comes "from somewhere in South Texas" The shot then flies over a cultivated field, gradually revealing a pattern of crop circles that builds to a climax of extraterrestrial vibrations. The cyberpunk imagery conjured up here is clearly science fiction. It could be the first few seconds of the trailer for Blade Runner or Signs - and that's the genre the movie is referencing, but it's a Nike basketball ad.

The theme? There is no trace of it, neither in the video nor in the caption. However, when the design is shown in its entirety, the symbolism becomes instantly familiar to the NBA audience. Behind the alien face - classically stylized and embedded in the geometry of a basketball emblazoned with two swooshes - is indeed "The Alien"," nicknamed and in reality: Victor Wembanyama, young star of the San Antonio Spurs.

The unicorn of the San Antonio Spurs

"They've all been unicorns the last couple years," LeBron James said last summer, alluding to the term increasingly associated with players who have an atypical combination of physical athleticism and technical ability. A now overused term for a - literally - unique profile like Wemby, who in a few short months has lived up to the unwieldy labels given to him at the draft: Generational talent, revolutionary player, evolution of the species. "You've never seen someone so big, fluid and graceful in his movements, who can put the ball on the floor, shoot from the floor, make catch-and-shoot threes and stop shots," LeBron continued, finally introducing the unicorn "superlative": "Wembanyama looks more like an alien to me." For a 19-year-old who stands over 6'25" with a 6'45" wingspan, plays with the maturity of a veteran, handles the ball like a guard, scores from every position and defends against just about everyone, tapping into the alien sphere seems more like a necessity than a choice. Even before his arrival in the NBA, he was given a nickname that perfectly fits the perception of the enfant prodige among insiders and observers alike. An epithet that - like the "Chosen One" - will probably accompany him for a long time to come, as hints recently given by the person concerned and Nike suggest.

The commercial was released on Monday, April 8. The caption reminds us: "The total solar eclipse has just begun", with attached emoji representing the evolution of the phases of the moon. The reference is clearly to the phenomenon observed that day in the United States, but the story it's meant to tell has only metaphorically to do with the study of the stars; it's the story of Wembanyama's landing "in South Texas," his impact on the NBA's ecosystem, and by extension, a journey that seems to lead inevitably to basketball Olympus. The term "eclipse" is used in astronomy to describe an optical event that occurs when one celestial body "eclipses" another: not an entirely inappropriate summary, with a touch of poetry, for the long Frenchman's first season overseas. The numbers he finished with - 21.3 points per game, topped by 10.6 rebounds, 3.6 blocks (speaking of "overshadowing") and 3.9 assists on average - earned him Rookie of the Year honors and a Rookie Defensive Player of the Year nomination. But it's the future prospects that electrify the NBA world, the French public - who are hopeful for him in Paris at the Olympics - and anyone who has seen him play on a basketball court. And if the development of his talent ended up in the safe hands of Vincent Collet and Gregg Popovich, Nike has the fascinating task of accompanying this foray into the future.

The relationship between Nike and Wembanyama

The first contacts between the player's entourage and the Oregon brand date back to well before June 22, when Adam Silver put his name forward - as the No. 1 pick, of course - for the 2023 draft. They began during his final months in "his" Paris, which he spent in the ranks of the Metropolitans 92, and led to the signing of a pharaonic endorsement deal; over $100 million according to ESPN insider Nick DePaula, an unprecedented amount for a rookie, higher even than the $90 million LeBron James received in 2003. The partnership was more or less made official on May 17, the night of the draft lottery and thus Wembanyama's de facto arrival with the Spurs, when Nike posted a photo of him with Paris, a starry sky and a comet in the background. "Think Wemby will change basketball? Think big. The wait is over."

"I work every day to be unique," reads his bio on, which is also a preview of the strategy adopted by the Swoosh in building the Victor Wembanyama brand. It all starts precisely from the concept of exceptionality and the exaltation of that charm - aesthetic first and foremost - that the Frenchman exudes on the parquet: a sensory journey in which the alien inspiration suggested by LeBron fitted perfectly, and a dimension in which Wembanyama himself seems to have recognized himself. At theAll-Star weekend in February, he wore an unreleased version - size (US): 20.5 - of the Nike G.T. Hustle 2, with a stylized alien face, drawn in his own hand, as his logo.

After the launch of the Alien Nike G.T. Hustle 2 PE in the market next month, it should only be a matter of time for the announcement of its signature shoe line. Should it take place by the start of the 2024/25 season, then within the next six months, Wembanyama would become the tenth ever with his own line of footwear as early as his first year in the NBA; as of now, however, a 2025 launch seems decidedly more likely. Meanwhile, a glimpse of the concept and design was offered last week in the context of "Nike: On Air" in Paris, where the prototype of the Nike Wemby 1s did not go unnoticed, indeed. The futuristic design, in which the alien suggestion is also rendered by the color choices, was created by the Nike Research Lab and is part of the A.I.R. (Athlete Imagined Revolution), a project based on theuse of artificial intelligence to translate tastes, needs, style and a lot of other personal information, in this case concerning the Île-de-France native, into the silhouette of a sneaker. It looks like a product that has arrived from the future, like the UFOs of sci-fi movies and like Wembanyama on a basketball court-and it is precisely that reaction, that wow-effect, that Nike wants to elicit. The supernatural, after all, catches the eye, and the brand understood that it had to sew a very special suit to dress the revolution.