By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) — San Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama said Thursday he believes Britney Spears grabbed him from behind as he was walking into a restaurant at a Las Vegas casino, and that the security detail he was with pushed the pop star away.
Wembanyama said he wasn’t told that Spears was the person who grabbed him until hours later, and that he never actually saw her.
Spears, who filed a report with Las Vegas police, said in posts on Twitter and Instagram that the run-in was “super embarrassing,” and denied grabbing Wembanyama, saying she only “tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention.”
She said she had recognized him earlier in the evening and when seeing the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft — a 7-foot-3 French standout who is entering the NBA with as much acclaim as anyone since LeBron James 20 years ago — and she “decided to approach him and congratulate him on his success.”
Spears said, “His security then back handed me in the face without looking back, in front of a crowd. Nearly knocking me down and causing my glasses off my face.”
Police said a report was filed on an incident at the Aria Resort & Casino, but gave no further details.
Spears’ attorney Mathew Rosengart declined comment, citing the police investigation.
Wembanyama said security advised him to not stop for anyone as he walked into the restaurant, mindful that pausing could cause a stir and allow a crowd to build.
“Something did happen, a little bit, when I was walking with some security from the team to some restaurant,” Wembanyama said. “We were in the hall. There was a lot of people, so people were calling (at) me, obviously. There was one person who was calling me but we talked before with security.
“I couldn’t stop. That person was calling me, ‘Sir, sir,’ and that person grabbed me from behind,” Wembanyama said. “I didn’t see what happened because I was walking straight and didn’t stop. That person grabbed me from behind — not on my shoulder, she grabbed me from behind. I just know the security pushed her away. I don’t know with how much force but security pushed her away. I didn’t stop to look so I could walk in and enjoy a nice dinner.”
Spears said in her social media posts that she gets swarmed by people all the time, including that same night, but her “security team didn’t hit any of them.”
TMZ first reported details of the event that took place Wednesday night near a restaurant at the casino. TMZ said Spears was in a group of four trying to enter a restaurant for dinner and that she “was swarmed by fans as she entered the casino.” TMZ’s account of the encounter with Wembanyama was similar to Spears’; the site said she tapped him on the shoulder and wound up being struck in the face and having her glasses knocked off.
“I didn’t know for a couple hours, but when I came back to the hotel … I thought it was no big deal, and then security of the Spurs told me it was Britney Spears,” Wembanyama said. “At first, I was like, ‘You’re joking,’ but yeah, it turns out it was Britney Spears. I never saw her face. I just kept walking straight.”
He was unaware that the situation had made headlines until Thursday.
“I saw the news obviously this morning. I woke up to a couple of phone calls,” Wembanyama said.
Wembanyama will make his NBA Summer League debut with the Spurs on Friday night in Las Vegas against the Charlotte Hornets. He signed some autographs for fans at the Aria on Wednesday night and did the same for a small number of onlookers as he entered a local high school for practice with the Spurs on Thursday morning.
AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton in Los Angeles and Associated Press Writer Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.