Williamson already had thrown down a left-handed slam. He had even ruined a backboard. So the players involved in this showcase game forgot all about actual basketball and behaved like every other fan in sold-out United Center. They, too, wanted to see what else Williamson had in his bag.
Williamson smiled that big, childlike smile as he was handed the ball. Luka Doncic and RJ Barrett of Team World got out of his way. Jaren Jackson Jr., a teammate for the night, acted like the hype man. And the fans who weren't already standing in anticipation leaped to their feet.
All eyes were on Zion — just like they had been the whole day.
"It was a great experience, but it went by fast," Williamson, who scored 14 points, said of his first time at All-Star Weekend. "I think I'm going to have to sit in my room later, like, when I get back home and just take in the whole day to truly enjoy it."
Williamson, the New Orleans Pelicans rookie and the No. 1 draft pick, attracted the largest gathering of reporters during Team USA media day earlier Friday, when he dodged a question about next year's dunk contest.
"It's a possibility," he said. "I can't give a direct answer right now."
Later in the night, Williamson gave his answer — an emphatic one, one that said he doesn't have to be an official participant to crash the contest.
During the final 1:34 of the first half, Williamson had consecutive dunks. He dunked so often and so ferociously that the backboard couldn't take it. One of Williamson's finishes tilted the backboard, and Team USA had to keep playing on the wayward basket until officials fixed it at halftime.
"[I] went into halftime, and my teammates started telling me," Williamson said. "I don't know which dunk it was on, but I don't think it was me."
Barrett, who teamed with Williamson for a season at Duke, had tried to warn everyone.
"He's been doing that," Barrett, a New York Knicks rookie, said before the game. "It's just I feel like with him he's a player that we haven't even seen before. It's like, how do you even guard it?"
When asked how to defend Williamson, Barrett shrugged.
"I'll give you the secret," he said. "He's going to do what he's going to do, and you can't stop it."
Much like Williamson, the other Rising Stars weren't satisfied with just serving as the appetizer ahead of the big game Sunday night. The rookies and sophomores created their own all-star moments.
Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks guard, scored 16 points for Team World. Just before halftime, he pulled up from Trae Young range — in front of Trae Young.
Doncic stepped into a jump shot from behind the half-court line, and even though Young, the Atlanta Hawks guard, mildly contested, Doncic drilled it. The two stared in admiration and laughed together. Just like everyone else in the arena, they couldn't believe it, either.
"It was fun," Doncic said. "You know, those games, fans want to see a lot of dunks, a lot of long threes, fun stuff."
The Washington Wizards were well represented on the World Team by second-year center Moritz Wagner and rookie Rui Hachimura. While Wagner committed a rare act of defense — nabbing two steals in the opening quarter — Hachimura just tried to dunk everything. He had four dunks in the first quarter and finished with 14 points; Wagner had 16 points.
Later, Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges, a dunk participant last year, threw an underhanded lob to himself off the backboard and caught it with his right hand with perfect execution. Bridges went on to win the game's MVP award with 20 points.
But when the scoreboard reached the point of no return, the crowd and even the players wanted the night's true MVP.
Williamson attempted a 360-degree windmill — but couldn't stick it. He then imitated Bridges's dunk by throwing it off the backboard — but tried to make it too spicy by catching the ball and going between his legs. He missed that one, too. Then, with less than 30 seconds to play, Williamson had one last attempt. He went with a hybrid, 360, between-the-legs dunk and . . . sighs followed his final miss.
The impromptu dunk contest was a dud. But in these all-star events, where entertainment trumps competition, Williamson won the night.
Williamson finally proved he's too big for basketball. Or, specifically, he's too big for the Rising Stars game.