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Zion & His Nikes

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Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Last week, The University of North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils, one of the most heated rivalries in sports, matched up at Cameron Indoor Stadium (Duke’s home court). Roughly thirty seconds into the contest, the basketball world stood still, as Zion Williamson was attempting to make a spin move around a defender when he blew through his Nike basketball sneaker and went down with an apparent knee injury. The five-star recruit is hoping to be selected as the first overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, the reason there has been such an uproar around this. The situation brings up issues of what shoe he was wearing and why it tore up, all the way to the age requirement in the NBA and back to whether or not college athletes should be getting paid.

Zion was wearing Paul George’s Nike sneaker the PG 2.5. George is an NBA player for the Oklahoma City Thunder and is in the MVP race this season. George reached out as soon as he heard the news and tried to communicate with Nike as to what happened and show support for the young star. Zion is an eighteen-year-old that is 6’8’’ and weighs in at about 280lbs. He is so powerful with every cut, spin and jump that it really doesn’t surprise me that he blew through his shoe and honestly I am shocked this hasn’t happened more often. Zion splashed on to the scene when he was pulling off NBA slam dunk contest type “jams” in high school basketball games.

Since Zion was diagnosed with a low-grade knee strain, it looks as if he will be sitting for the rest of the season to ensure he doesn’t injure his knee again or sustain another injury, although nothing has been finalized. This is exactly what NBA coaches wanted to hear as this will essentially keep the top prospect out of harm’s way and allow him to be healthy come draft day. Just days after this whole situation the NBA decided to propose a change to the age limit from 19 to 18. This would allow players to be eligible for the NBA draft right out of high school. Back in 2006, the NBA had changed their age eligibility to 19, meaning that all drafted players must be at least 19 years of age forcing them to attend college for at least one year or test their talents overseas. The new proposal would be going back to the age of 18 as the age of eligibility, allowing young athletes to pass up on the college experience and more importantly education. The main reason for the change back in 06’ was to ensure these young athletes would be given a chance at higher education. My stance on the proposed age change back to 18 is that if you are talented enough to play in the NBA coming out high school, you should be able to enter the draft. Unfortunately, these players won’t have access to that free education offered to them out of high school.

Duke offered Zion Williamson a full scholarship at the college basketball powerhouse right out of high school. To me, this is important because even if Zion gets drafted into the NBA he still has access to gain an education from Duke. This brings me to the last issue this whole mishap resurfaced, the issues surrounding whether or not college athletes should be paid or not. This is an ongoing debate and this goes for all college athletes across all sports. Part of the reason these athletes want to be paid is the amount of revenue they bring into the colleges — anything from ticket sales, to jersey sales, athletic gear, and even enrollment. I know tons of kids who went to their respected colleges simply for their sports teams. The real reason the athletes want to be paid is that they are risking their promising futures by competing in college.

When an athlete like Zion comes along, everyone knows they are heading to the big stage, and when something like this happens there’s always an uproar. What it boils down to is that he could ruin his career in an instant, and he would be left with nothing. I’ve heard about players like Zion taking out huge insurance policies just in case something career-ending happens, and there have been discussions about opening college athletes up to sponsorship opportunities. Another good idea, but once again only the cream of the crop would be receiving these opportunities, leaving all other athletes with nothing. The best idea I’ve heard is turning athletics into a work-study program, which would allow all athletes to be paid the same hourly rate or salary. I like this idea and think it makes a lot of sense and shows potential. Not entirely sure why it’s not already a thing as I feel it could be implemented across all college sports, college athletes, in all divisions. I wish Zion the very best in his extremely bright future in the NBA, as well as a speedy recovery, the New York Knicks and I look forward to having you become a part of the team!

One more thing before I go, and this is something that has been completely overlooked. Nike took a beating after this, not only in the press and on social media, but most importantly in stock value. Nike’s stock value dropped over one billion dollars! To a multi-billion-dollar company they might just see this as a fluke but how do they recover? Do they make Zion a sponsor? Create his own indestructible shoe? Also, who is to say this won’t happen again? And what if Zion was seriously hurt? How would Nike bounce back? Call it a freak accident? Say it was Zion’s fault? Nike will be alright, but just thought I would flip the script and give you some insight as to what might be going on at Nike headquarters. Is all brand awareness good brand awareness?

Ryan Leonard is a sports PR specialist at Maracaibo Media Group, a full-service boutique PR firm.