If the world were truly a meritocracy, it would be people like Scripps National Spelling Bee champion Zaila Avant-garde calling the shots. Apart from becoming the first African-American to conquer the annual spelling competition, and having received at least two full rides to various esteemed colleges, the 14-year-old also happens to already hold three world records for her insane basketball handles, as the young woman demonstrated on Wednesday’s Jimmy Kimmel Live. (Avant-garde also has big plans to work at NASA, play in the WNBA, and coach men’s professional hoops, along with, one can only suspect, solving global warming and finally cracking that cold fusion puzzler.)
With guest host and 1 Dope Queen Phoebe Robinson introducing Avant-garde while clutching a handful of index cards next to a rack full of multicolored basketballs, the champ could only assume her various skills were about to be challenged once more. (Kimmel sidekick Guillermo Rodriguez was dressed in a bee costume to hand out the balls, for added difficulty, as the spot was called “Bee Ball.” You get it.) With the inevitably impressed Robinson cheering her on, Avant-garde nailed the word “machiavellian” while dribbling three basketballs with ease. You know, if you count spelling the word while smoothly passing the balls behind her back and between her legs simultaneously impressive.
“Amaryllis” proved no challenge, either, as the champ politely even corrected Robinson’s pronunciation while repeating the trick with double the number of balls going at the same time. (That’s six basketballs, for those of us as bad at math as spelling.) Still, though, Robinson brought out the big guns for her final test, asking the champ to balance on a cylindrical roller while dribbling three balls and spelling a French loanword. Oh, and the question would be asked by Bill Murray.
As those Scripps-heads out there know, Avant-garde made a reference to the legendary actor and comedian right before she won the whole shebang by spelling “Murraya” (which is, as our colleagues at The Root put it, “a type of bougie-ass tree”). With Murray beaming in from France, where he’s attending the Cannes premiere of Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, Avant-garde overcame her obvious surprise at talking to the star of Lost In Translation (the only Murray movie she’s ever seen) while dribbling and spelling “portmanteau.” As a reward, the effortlessly impressive and winning Avant-garde received another scholarship (this time to hoops clinic Sports Academy), along with the nickname “Big Z” from Murray, who also pitched that the noted polymath help out his beloved Chicago Bulls. If she has the time, that is.