ESPN The Magazine
Zion Williamson Image Credit: ESPN The Magazine
Zion Williamson Image Credit: ESPN The Magazine

Williamson Is Ready For Takeoff

His dunks inspire awe, his all-around game will make him millions. But to understand his legend, you have to go back to the place where it all started.

Mina Kimes

A few hours before Duke’s NCAA tournament run begins in Columbia, South Carolina, Bill Pell sits in his living room and reminisces about his final year teaching at Spartanburg Day School, a tiny private school located about 100 miles from the arena where the Blue Devils will play later tonight. Before retiring last spring, the 79-year-old taught a daily creative writing class, a yearlong elective for kids interested in developing their craft. Fewer than 10 students signed up for the course. One of them was 17-year-old Zion Williamson.

“I hope he won’t mind me saying this, but he’s a hell of a poet,” says Pell, smiling coyly as he adjusts his glasses. “The kid can write.”

Pell lives on a quiet country road in Spartanburg, in an airy, sun-filled house built in the 1800s. Before moving here several decades ago, he worked as an editor for the Modern Language Association in New York City. At Spartanburg Day, he wanted to create a space for his students to express their feelings through writing. “All teenagers are very emotional,” he says with a chuckle. “Early on, I said, ‘Do you know what you want to do, Zion?’ He said, ‘I’m not sure.’ He wasn’t 100 percent comfortable—he was feeling his way into the class.” While Pell usually let his s


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