NEW ORLEANS — No question, Zion Williamson is the most popular sports figure in New Orleans -- not named Drew Brees.
Wednesday night, he didn't disappoint scoring 22 points in 18 minutes in his first game back on the basketball court since undergoing knee surgery in October to repair a torn meniscus.
Pelicans fans say they knew his play would be limited, but were surprised he came out of the game when he did.
"Very disappointed because he was on a hot streak and when players are on a hot streak, you want to keep them going," Daniel Bernard said.
"I understood why they did it, but it's just a tough decision as a coach," Ronald Fornerette Jr. said. "He's got his whole career ahead of him. You can't risk that."
Coach Alvin Gentry said it was the team medical staff's decision to pull Williamson out of the lineup.
"I ain't the brightest coach in the world, but I wasn't going to take him out in those situations unless I was told to," Gentry said.
Dr. Greg Stewart, Professor of Sports Medicine at Tulane University says when it comes to rehabbing from a meniscus tear, it's best to take it slow.
"A lot of what we're seeing with Zion is making sure that everything is healed and well," Stewart said. "The things that you worry about is the end of the bone getting rubbed raw and that can happen with this and some of the bone spurs."
"The tissue is going to heal and get stronger," Stewart added. "But, you don't want to go and put all the stress on it all at once."
In a postgame interview, Williamson said it was hard to go back to the bench to finish the fourth quarter. He also said at 19, he's not really thinking about his longevity.
Dr. Stewart maintains the Pelicans are looking at both the team's and Williamson's best interests.
"They want Zion to be healthy and to be a Pelican for years to come, not weeks and months to come," Stewart said.
Fans are now excited to see what Williamson can do when he gets the green light to go all out.
"I believe the Pelicans are at a turning point now since Zion's back because he brings much spark to the lineup," Bernard said.
"I was at (Wednesday night's) game and it was a great experience," Fornerette said. "Best three minutes in that arena ever."
It's unclear how many minutes Williamson will get when the Pels take on the Denver Nuggets at the Smoothie King Arena, Friday night.