With MasterChef Christian Green in his corner, Zion Williamson has his sights set on 2023 MVP

Everybody surrounding Zion Williamson shares a common goal: to put the young Pelicans superstar in the best possible position to succeed and thereby allow for his God-given ability to consistently shine on the court.

An important member of this entourage includes Christian Green, Williamson’s personal boss, although he wants everyone to understand that there’s a team of people sitting squarely in Zion’s corner, and for those who may have forgotten, big things lie ahead for the 22-year- old

“It’s not just me,” Green said. “I give all credit and due praise to his family, to his strength coach. I’m just a piece. I’m not going to sit here and say that it started with me. It starts with Zion, his family, his strength coach. I’ll say, I’m an important piece, not the important piece. But with the camp and the family that he has behind him — him being very godly, very spiritual — he’s on the right track.

“I believe that he’s going to be the best once LeBron James…I believe it. There are some naysayers that don’t see it, but I really believe that he’s going to be the next big thing. Which to me, he already is the next big thing.”

It’s hard to poke holes in Green’s logic. Over the last 40 years, only Michael Jordan has scored more points than Williamson through 85 career games, but even the player labeled by many as the greatest of all time failed to score as efficiently as Zion.

That’s an incredible accomplishment. However, it’s also a distant memory considering today’s fast-paced media age.

May 4, 2021, is the last time Zion Williamson appeared in an NBA game. He is on pace to go more than 18 months between regular season contests. According to In Street Clothes, the average time missed with a broken fifth metatarsal fracture is 10 to 11 weeks.

Charles Barkley, not known for his eloquence, may have said it best during a TNT appearance early last season.

“And he’s already had surgeries on his legs, now he’s got a broken foot, he’s gonna have to learn, even when you’re hurt, you’re gonna have to control your eating.”

Two major injuries have kept Williamson on the sidelines for an extended period of time in his young career. Even when he’s worn a uniform, there’s been questions about his playing weight. That’s why no one should overlook the Green hire.

“One thing that I’ve realized with athletes, especially young athletes, when they come into the league, their mindset is nine times out 10, I was eating like this when I was young and I can continue to eat like this as I go to the pros. And that’s not what it is. You can’t eat like you were in high school. Changing his diet, pulling out a lot of carbs, stripping him from a lot of different sugars, that’s been our main focus and it’s been working.”

Green has served as a private chef to other professional athletes, runs his own catering business, and is one of 20 contestants participating in MasterChef season 12 that’s currently airing Wednesday evenings on FOX.

Although Williamson’s camp brought him on board a few months ago, the long-time Louisiana resident, who was lured into the cooking side of the world by his grandmother, has been aware of Zion for much longer than that, even reaching out to the superstar right after the 2019 NBA draft to offer up his services.

“I’ve always been a big, big Pelicans fan,” Green said. “Before Zion got drafted, I remember watching the Duke game and he busted out of his shoe on a play. And when he got drafted to the Pelicans, I reached out to him through Instagram.”

While it took several years for the two to join forces, it is good that Williamson and his camp started to address real concerns in the midst of a lost campaign. First, Jasper Bibbs, Williamson’s personal trainer and nutritionist, was hired; next, Green.

Williamson will be entering his fourth regular season, having missed 141 out of a possible 226 games to date. He set out the entirety of the 2021-22 campaign. There’s never been a greater need to get and keep Williamson in the best shape of his life if he wants to be remembered as one of the all-time greats.

Soon after free agency began last month, Williamson inked his second contract with the New Orleans Pelicans. There’s been much talk about several clauses which could reduce his guaranteed amount over the five-year span. However, don’t expect anything to be invoked during the lifetime of this deal.

Per Bobby Marks and Christian Clark/Marc Stein, we know that a prior injury clause with criteria for games played and weigh-in clause exist in Williamson’s new contract. Say if Zion fails to appear in enough games over the course of a season due to another injury in his right foot or his combined weight and body fat percentage is at 295 or higher during a specified weigh-in, the Pelicans have the right to reduce the guaranteed money. However, it would come at a ridiculously steep cost — they would also have to waive him.

Barring a career-ending injury, the Pelicans are not going to try and save a little money by letting Williamson walk out the front door. So, the de-escalators in his contract are not the story. They only matter in a worst-case scenario.

The infinitely more important takeaway is that there’s been a real commitment undertaken by all parties involved to have Zion play at his most ideal weight, with a primary focus on Williamson’s nutrition.

“That’s our main approach,” Green said. “You have a guy that’s talented like Zion that can do half of the things that a lot of guys in the NBA can’t do. When he first came into the league and he dominated the way that he dominated in the first couple of games that he played, it was just more like a shock. So right now our focus is to get him in the best shape that he can possibly be in — cause he’s already in shape — like get him into the best shape he can possibly be in so we can attack that goal of being the MVP for the upcoming year.

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“Pull the sugars. Pull all sugars and all the bad carbs. Just eat good carbs. I’m going to be honest with you, people don’t realize and understand how much sugar is not good for you. Sugar is not good for you at all. People don’t realize that sugar will slow you down. Sugar does change your mood. Sugar will make you a little bit sluggish. We try to pull as much sugar as we can.”

Remember Kevin Love’s body transformation? While we shouldn’t expect Williamson to get as lean, the change could wind up as profound. Zion’s family, Bibbs and Green are all on the same page and have been so since their first interaction last March.

“The first meeting involved talking about his goals,” Green said. “He was a young man with a lot of goals and spirit. He’s hungry, very motivated. He wants to get it done. He loves New Orleans. He enjoys being in New Orleans. He loves playing for the Pelicans. And the number one thing we recently talked about, he wants to bring home the MVP this coming season.”

That’s been a common denominator. From Williamson himself to the people in his camp, the loudest echo is that the young star is hungry, and it’s great that Zion’s personal boss truly understands an athlete’s burning desire.

“To be honest with you, when I see Zion, I see a little bit of myself in him,” Green said. “Even though I’m not 6’8, even though I can’t move the way that he can, his mindset is very intriguing to me. He’s hungry. That’s how I was when I was young and an athlete, running track or playing football. I was hungry and I was always open in regards to learning and getting better. And that’s one thing I can say about this young man is that with all the critics and naysayers, he kept a positive mind, put the pedal to the metal and got it done. And we’re still getting it done.”

In addition to formerly being a driven athlete, Green still feels those same juices as he competes for a second time on Fox’s MasterChef.

“I’m going to be honest with you, it’s truly, truly, truly a lot of competition when you’re dealing with a show like MasterChef. I mean, you’re getting a lot of different chefs from different walks of life, different styles of cooking.

“Would I sit here and compare it to being an athlete? Yes, because you’re going in with a mindset of winning. You’re going in with a mindset of, I’ve got to defeat whoever is next to me. I want my dish to be the best dish. That’s just like back in my day when I played receiver and I had to go up against the DB, I gotta get past this guy to get to the ball and get that touchdown.”

When Green isn’t competing on one of television’s most popular cooking shows, he’s working alongside Gibbs to plan out Williamson’s next set of meals. He then purchases and prepares all the food, being extremely mindful that everything and every step is healthy.

“One thing that I have said to my clients is, there’s going to be some things that you don’t like,” Green said. “There’s going to be some things that you’re going to love, but the things that you’re not going to like are going to be the things that help you, that get you to the next level. He loves seafood. So whichever way I can prepare seafood in a healthy way, is going to be prepared in a healthy way.

“He loves my honey-glazed salmon. He loves my ground-turkey wheat spaghetti, a healthy spaghetti. But most importantly, he loves salmon and my lamb chops. All lean meat. No fried food. No grease. The only thing I use is avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil.”

Last December, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype asked various NBA executives about how they approach out of shape players. Although the article reaffirms why it’s fantastic that the Pelicans have both CJ McCollum and Willie Green — two guys who can have a difficult discussion with Zion if necessary, the more salient point was reading about how widespread conditioning issues are across the league and to what great lengths front offices are willing to go to deal with them.

In other words, Zion’s situation is far from unique.

“Typically, a guy’s body or his conditioning is a function of his habits,” an executive noted. “In very young players’ contracts, a lot of teams will try to incentivize the development of good habits. That’s why in a lot of rookie contracts, you’ll see bonus amounts for offseason conditioning programs or training programs. All they have to do is complete those training or conditioning programs with the team because it basically gives the team 2-4 weeks of access to the player in the offseason to really help teach that young player some self-discipline skills, some self-training skills, eating skills, and sleeping skills. The players are incentivized to sort of submit to that program.”

Several good habits were missing from Williamson’s toolbox. However, one gets the sense now that’s a thing of the past.

“That’s one thing I can literally say about him is that regardless of what was being said or what was seen out there, this young man has buckled down and gotten focused,” Green said. “As you see, as you see, he doesn ‘t look like how he used to. It is much better than what you saw previously.”

According to those around him, Williamson is motivated to win the NBA’s 2023 Most Valuable Player Award. Even if he fails to take home that prestigious award, an All-NBA Team selection feels within his grasp. He’s proven himself worthy of consideration by putting up monstrous numbers in the past and the Pelicans made the playoffs without him just a few months ago. If injuries are kept to a minimum, it’s not difficult to imagine a lot of success for New Orleans that also results in individual shine.

Don’t forget that if Williamson walks away with any of the important hardware, his next contract will be worth $231 million, not $193 million. So, the focus should be on the escalators in Zion’s contract, allowing him to earn 30% of the salary cap.

There’s more than 38 million reasons why Zion Williamson will probably enjoy his best season to date, and Christian Green is an important one to know and remember.

For fun Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.

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