The basketball world was left in shock when, just 30 seconds into the most anticipated game of the college basketball season, Zion Williamson crashed to the floor. Williamson has long been considered a lock for the #1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft and has been in the national spotlight since he was in high school. However, all it took was one freak accident to prove that he is indeed mortal.
The NBA world quickly came out on social media to share their support for the freshman sensation, but his injury also helped elevate the conversation about how we should treat these unpaid athletes.
The Man With The 45-inch Vertical
Zion’s legacy was built in high school. In the age of social media, Williamson’s ability to jump out of the gym made him an instant hit on Twitter, Instagram, and everything in between. Not only does he sport one of the most jaw-dropping verticals in the game, but he does it all at 285 pounds.
Think about that for a second. If Williamson, who is 6’7″, were in the NBA today, he would be the second-heaviest player behind 7’3″ Boban Marjanović.
The Most Anticipated Game Of The Season
The battle between the Duke Blue Devils and UNC Tar Heels is possibly the greatest rivalry in all of sports. The two school are only 10 miles apart, and the battle of Tobacco Road has continuously been one of the most anticipated matchups of the college basketball season.
This game was no different, as it matched up two teams in the top 10, as well as featuring the number 1 team with perhaps the top two prospects heading into the NBA draft.
Zion Goes Down
Just 30 seconds after tip-off, Zion found himself down on the court. Williamson was attempting a simple spin move in the paint when his shoe literally exploded as he planted his left foot. It appeared that Williamson had simply slipped on the floor, but the way he crumpled sucked the life out of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
He quickly reached for his knee as the Tar Heels went on to score an easy bucket before a quick timeout by the Blue Devils. Zion limped to the sidelines before eventually exiting to the locker room, where he was ruled out for the game.
His Shoe Literally Exploded
While it’s not all that rare to see a basketball player slip on the floor, rarely do they literally tear through their shoe. Unfortunately for Zion, the sheer force of his body mixed with his quick-twitch plant and spin was just too much for his Nike’s to handle.
Social media was quick to jump all over Nike, and as you’ll see in a bit, it got kind of ugly.
From One King To Another
If there is one player Zion is compared to the most, it might just be LeBron James. The King has long held the spot as the NBA’s best player, and many consider Zion to be his heir apparent. It’s easy to see why. Both players are built like a linebacker but have the speed, athleticism, and basketball IQ to set themselves apart from their peers.
LeBron was quick to show his love and support for Zion.
Even The Former President Wished Him Well In His Recovery
There’s no doubt the Barack Obama was always been a man of the people. The 44th president was sitting courtside with the Cameron Crazies when Williamson went down, and was quick to point out that Zion’s shoe exploded for the world to see.
Obama is a huge basketball fan, and when he was in office, his March Madness bracket quickly became a staple of the event. If you haven’t seen Obama on the court, let me just tell you that the lefty can ball.
Others Were Quick To Criticize The NCAA
College sports has had to deal with the backlash of profiting off of amateur athletes for years. While these college kids aren’t allowed to see a single cent sent their way, college athletics have turned into a multi-billion dollar industry.
Some college football stadiums can hold over 100,000 fans, while March Madness has turned into one of the most exciting, and lucrative, betting events. Unfortunately, the kids playing in these events don’t see a dime.
Tickets Went For How Much?
Yes, that is what the CHEAPEST ticket went for in this historic rivalry. Now, to be fair, Cameron Indoor Stadium isn’t the largest stadium in college basketball, holding just under 10,000 fans. That being said, the ticket prices were just short of Super Bowl-level prices.
Again, it cannot be understated just how important Zion was to marketing this game. As the favorite to be drafted first overall, playing his first game in this rivalry, at a time when NBA players are still relaxing during the NBA All Star break, meant that there would be an immense spotlight on this game.
Players Were Blown Away By The Hype
While college basketball players may be putting in the time until they can move on to professional basketball in the NBA or abroad, it doesn’t mean that it’s not a lucrative business. While tickets ranged from $3,000 to over $10k, an NBA game between Cleveland and New York was going for $2.
Yes, those might be two of the most uninspiring teams in the NBA right now, but just a year ago Cleveland was selling out their arena with LeBron while the Knicks are still considered one of the NBA’s best markets.
Luka Never Had To Worry About Playing For Free
While Zion Williamson might be the darling of college basketball, Luka Doncic is putting up a rookie season for the ages for the Dallas Mavericks. His journey is very different from Zion’s, as Luka became a professional basketball player at the age of 16 after signing with Real Madrid as a 13-year-old.
By the time he was 19 and ready to make his way to the NBA, he had already been named the EuroLeague MVP and EuroLeague Final Four MVP, as well as the ACB Most Valuable Player.
Fans Were Obviously Disappointed, But So Were Media Members By The Backlash
Jemele Hill had a name for herself by never being afraid to speak her mind. She worked at ESPN for almost 12 years before moving over to The Athletic, where her voice can be better utilized.
Hill really hit the nail on the head as fans were quick to point out how disappointing it would be to spend all that money to see just a glimmer of Zion’s talent. Instead, we should be focused on his rehab, and how this injury could cost him in his future.
How Should The NCAA Handle This?
The idea of paying players is nothing new, but it has never hit an athlete with the same level of fame as Zion Williamson. All it takes is one injury to change the course of a player’s career, and they have to compete for free while trying to achieve those dreams.
Trae Young is just a rookie in the NBA, but he was the face of college basketball just last year when his scoring numbers were being tracked game-by-game for the entire world to dissect.
Many Are Fearing Zion Might Sit Out The Rest Of The Season
The Extent of Williamson’s injury is still unknown, although he was been diagnosed with just a mild knee strain after the game. However, there is a very real possibility that Zion sits out for a couple of games, and even the rest of the season in order to prepare for the NBA draft.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. Last year, top prospect Michael Porter Jr. sat out nearly the entire season as he rehabbed a back injury, although he did suit up in the final two games of his team’s season.
Isaiah Has A Different Plan
Basketball players used to be able to jump right out of high school to the pros, with the likes of Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James all passing on a trip to college. However, it’s not a slam dunk that these young athletes prosper in the NBA. For every LeBron James, there were plenty of Sebastian Telfair’s who came in with all the hype and couldn’t live up to it.
It’s believed that a year in collage can help these players develop and grow as people both on and off the court, but it also gives NBA teams a bit more scouting on them before they invest millions into their pro career.
While Everyone Focused On The Shoe, Dinwiddie Only Worried About Zion
Spencer Dinwiddie is a different kind of athlete when it comes to his shoes. While many players sign a deal with the big brands such as Nike, Adidas, and Jordan, DInwiddie took a different approach.
The second round draft choice also faced adversity in college where he went from a lottery hopeful to a fringe NBA player thanks to a few notable injuries. He was able to finally put it all together and land a big contract, but instead of signing with a brand, he decided to create his own, K8IROS.
Terry Saw A Chance To Recruit A New Star
Spencer Dinwiddie chose not to focus on the shoes, but Terry saw a chance to help his company build their roster. Puma finally returned to the NBA market this year with their relaunch, and signed a number of noteworthy players, including this year’s two top draft picks, Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III.
The company didn’t just scoop up the best young talent, but they also brought in Jay-Z to work as the creative director of the rebrand.
Luckily, He Was Insured
It’s not unusual for star athletes to get some extra insurance in case their body breaks down on them. Cristiano Ronaldo had his legs insured for over 100 million euro, while Troy Polamalu made sure to insure his iconic hair, especially once he earned an endorsement deal with Head and Shoulders.
It seems as if Zion also has an insurance policy in place, but as Darren Rovell said, he would have to slip past the 16th pick int he NBA draft to get it, which seems almost impossible.
The One Thing The School CAN Pay For
As has been stated earlier, athletes have been arguing for years that college athletes should be paid for putting their bodies on the line for their school to profit off of. While the school can’t actually pay them anything like a salary, they can apparently pay for their insurance policy.
This is excellent news for Williamson, but how many other athletes have sustained a serious injury and not had an insurance policy taken out for them?
Nike Took A Bit Of A Hit
Within moments of Zion’s injury, social media jumped all over Nike. As otherworldly as Zion is, he shouldn’t be able to just bust through his shoe like that. There was speculation that Nike’s stock would take a hit the next day, and sure enough, according to Darren Rovell, that’s exactly what happened.
It might not only be because Zion happened to be wearing a pair of Nike’s when the injury occurred, but this definitely seems like more than just a coincidence.
Nike Is Looking Into It
By the next day, Nike had promised to look into why their shoe fell apart during the most anticipated night of the college basketball season. There was plenty of speculation that the floor might have been wet or that Zion’s sheer size played a role in it, but hopefully this serves as a reminder for just how much faith these athletes put into their equipment.
This will likely go down as a freak accident, but hopefully, all parties can walk away largely unscathed and Zion can continue on his path to superstardom.