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A Penguin Called Zion

Everything is terrible right now, except for this adorable-ass baby penguin

Ringer illustration

In landing Zion Williamson with the top pick in the 2019 NBA draft, it was assumed New Orleans had acquired a once-in-a-generation superstar. Zion was singular, most believed. His talent, physical makeup, and general disposition made him unique and worthy of praise and adoration. And while Zion’s likely abridged debut season in the league is stellar (he’s averaging 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds a night despite not being in peak shape), as of Tuesday, the Pelican might not even be the most notable bird in his own city.

Friends, meet Zion the penguin:

This week, the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans announced a new African penguin chick hatched on February 17 was granted the name Zion, in honor of the rookie’s generosity in pledging to pay for 30 days worth of wages for the Smoothie King Center’s out of-work staffers during the coronavirus pandemic.

African penguins are on the smaller side of the species’ breeds, towering over petite subsets like Galapagos and little blue penguins, but are small in comparison to larger lines like gentoos and emperors. Full grown, penguin Zion could be a sky-scraping 27 inches in height and weigh as much as 11 pounds. Can you say bruiser? It should be noted, however morbid, that the typical lifespan of an African penguin maxes out around 15 years—a full four years below the NBA’s minimum draft age requirement. But with pushes to eliminate the one-and-done, and a willingness from the league to lower the entrance age, by the time penguin Zion is ready to go pro, the rules could be altered to accommodate him.

There’s no word on whether the Audubon Nature Institute intends to develop penguin Zion’s perimeter game, ensuring he has the versatility required to excel in the modern game, or if they prefer a classical outlook, training him to be a dominant post presence.

Sharing a name with a critter can be a strange experience, and I would know. Earlier this month, I was alerted to a long-lost sibling, never once mentioned by my parents, or any other relatives for that matter, but it’s time the world met my sister, penguin Shaker.

Now, for the second time in the 21st century, we are entering a Penguin Renaissance. After falling out of style for a few years in the mid-2010s, the Eon of Penguin begins again. In 2019, Disney released a new documentary, creatively titled Penguins, documenting the life of an Adélie penguin named Steve. Colin Farrell joined a forthcoming Batman film to play the Penguin. With penguin Zion joining the team, the level of penguin hype is beginning to rival that of the early aughts.

In 2005, Madagascar introduced us to a cabal of mischievous penguins who incite a breakout from the Central Park Zoo, take over a freighter that leaves the film’s main characters stranded on the eponymous isle, and neglect to tell them the same escape vessel is out of fuel. The same summer, Morgan Freeman lent his warm, leathery voice to March of the Penguins, and the First Penguin Golden Age was off and running.

The following year’s Happy Feet—an animated penguin romp starring Robin Williams, Elijah Wood, and Hugh Jackman—cemented the penguin’s standing in the culture. With two more entrants into the Madagascar canon in the next decade, a penguins-specific spinoff and television show, a Happy Feet sequel, and an eventual March follow-up, it could be suggested that the penguin is the dominant animal of the 2000s thus far. And that’s before mentioning Penguin Books—the vaunted British publishing house—and Original Penguin, a clothing company that adorns each of their fabrics with a cute lil’ penguin.

With penguin Zion now in the fold, there’s no telling how grand Penguinmania could become.

Despite the apparent similarity in how they express excitement, as of press time, the basketball Zion had yet to comment on his brother-in-name.