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Zion Williamson raves about Madison Square Garden after Pelicans' loss to Knicks: 'I love playing here'

Cover your ears, New Orleans. 

And your eyes.

The Pelicans suffered a 122-112 overtime loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday. But it's not the game result that will have Pelicans fans worried. 

It's Zion Williamson's reaction after the loss. Check out what he had to say when asked about playing his first NBA game at Madison Square Garden.

"I mean, New York is the mecca of basketball," Williamson said. "I love playing here. I played here in college. This is my first time playing in the pros. I mean, this atmosphere — whether they're cheering for you, whether they're booing for you, it's amazing."

"Honestly, I think, outside of New Orleans obviously, I think this might be my favorite place to play. Outside of New Orleans. I can't even lie to you. I can't lie to you."

Consider the alarms officially sounded for a franchise best known for its exodus of superstars.

Zion loves N.Y.

Williamson's feelings about New York aren't a secret. He made no effort to hide his desire to be drafted by the Knicks during his freshman season at Duke.

"I'd love to play for the Knicks," a giddy Williamson said in 2018 after a Duke game at MSG. But the lottery ping-pong balls fell New Orleans' way that season, leaving the Pelicans with prize of the draft and the Knicks settling for his Duke teammate RJ Barrett. 

On Sunday, Williamson practically glowed while recapping his NBA debut at MSG. After a loss. 

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, left, shakes hands with New York Knicks forward Julius Randle.
New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, left, shakes hands with New York Knicks forward Julius Randle, right, after their game on April 18, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger, Pool)

It's not just his words that should have the Pelicans worried. Check out that smile. Has Williamson ever smiled like that when talking about the Pelicans? 

Williamson also trotted out the "mecca of basketball" trope like he's genuinely bought into the tired line about a city that hasn't claimed an NBA championship since 1973. And he raved about the atmosphere after playing in front of a 10% capacity crowd due to COVID-19 regulations. The announced attendance at MSG on Sunday was 1,981.

Then there's the change in tone and body language when he checked himself and said MSG was his favorite place to play "outside of New Orleans." OK, Zion.

Can Pelicans convince Zion to stay?

Williamson is signed in New Orleans through 2023 and will face plenty of collectively bargained financial incentives to remain with the Pelicans beyond the end of his rookie contract. But those incentives haven't stopped previous superstars in New Orleans from eventually forcing their way out of town.

Chris Paul got his wish after six seasons in New Orleans ended with a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers in 2011. It took seven seasons for Anthony Davis, but he eventually forced a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2019.

There's a lot of time between now and when Williamson has leverage or free agency to leave New Orleans. And Williamson is playing under new management after the franchise's failure to build around previous superstars. Williamson's eventual exit isn't written in stone.

But do Pelicans fans have reason to be worried? Absolutely. 

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