Duke’s Williamson Starts College Basketball Controversy


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Zion Williamson is one of Duke’s star players.

Thirty seconds into Wednesday’s UNC-Duke men’s basketball matchup, Blue Devil star Zion Williamson received a pass, dribbled toward North Carolina’s bench, planted his foot to pivot, and felt his foot break through his Nike sneaker as he sprained his knee.

The number-one ranked Duke team would lose both the game, 88-72, and their freshman phenom. Williamson, projected to be the first pick off the board in the upcoming NBA Draft, is likely to be physically sound to play in the NCAA March Madness Tournament if he chooses to.

Williamson is receiving a scholarship to attend Duke, which has a $75,370 sticker price for him. How much of this is subsidized by Duke’s athletic department is unknown to those not internal to the situation, but one can reasonably assume he isn’t paying to be there. Due to NCAA regulation, he is unable to receive benefits outside of this scope. If he were to be the first overall pick in the NBA Draft, he’d be getting paid upwards of $8 million for his first season, and close to $10 million the following season.

To mitigate his chances of getting hurt playing for Duke, many have argued he should sit out the rest of his season and prepare for the NBA.  Many others have argued that he should prepare to finish his Blue Devil career on the court, fighting for a Final Four appearance and an NCAA Championship. While there’s no “right” answer, the best choice for him is probably to sit out and get ready for the NBA.

Could  Williamson sue Nike for providing him a defective shoe? It is important to keep in mind that knee injuries tend to linger for athletes, and this could have a long-term impact on his career. As Sports Illustrated’s Michael McCann points out, Williamson can make the argument “that Nike is liable for manufacturing a defective sneaker that caused his injury.”

This is not the first time Nike has been in the spotlight for fragile basketball equipment. When the firm took over NBA uniforms, it was widely documented that the material used for the uniforms was fragile. There are many examples of torn jerseys and shorts being played in during games.

Considering Williamson’s expected earnings, he could seek a large amount from Nike. To do this, he will need to prove causation between the shoe’s breaking and his knee’s straining. This is not an easy argument to make, despite the connection between the two phenomena. Additionally, the floor conditions of Cameron Indoor Stadium will likely be investigated, to see if the court was slicker than it should have been. It should not have been slippery at all, with the game having just begun.

Nike’s stock dropped from $84.86 on Wednesday night’s close to $83.42 at Thursday’s open. One has to believe this is due, in part, to their sneaker splitting on college basketball’s biggest name.

After North Carolina took the ball down the court for an easy layup to take a 4-0 lead, ESPN’s production crew caught Duke Coach Mike Kryzewskyi walking onto his court towards the injured Williamson. In the background, former-President Barack Obama can be seen, pointing and saying, “his shoe broke.” Duke only has a handful of regular-season games remaining, before the ACC and NCAA tournaments begin.