Last night, in front of a national audience and with Barack Obama sitting courtside, future Number One NBA draft pick Zion Williamson fell and had to leave the game due to injury when the sole on his Nike sneaker gave out, tearing at the seam down the length of the shoe. With Williamson ruled out less than 35 seconds into the game, the top-ranked Blue Devils lost on their home court to rival UNC. But obviously the bigger story of the night was the health of the player being touted as the best prospect since LeBron James and the best college prospect perhaps since Michael Jordan.
The Internet, of course, had a field day with the photo (below) of Zion on the floor with his shoe torn apart. Memes of former President Obama mouthing “His shoe broke!” appeared everywhere. As did those depicting representatives from the other sneaker companies celebrating, as this unfortunate fall could potentially give underdogs like Adidas, Under Armor, or even new entrant Puma the opening they were looking for.
Sure enough, today Nike (NKE) stock is falling, with all headlines pointing to last night’s accident. Nike even put out a statement saying they are looking into what happened. After the game, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski gave the update that relieved all basketball fans, classifying the injury as a “mild knee sprain” that would be evaluated on a day-to-day basis. Sports talk today is filled with debates on whether Zion should sit out the rest of the season as a precautionary measure.
But while college basketball fans missed out last night, I believe Zion may end up looking back on the roughly 30 seconds he played as perhaps the most lucrative of his life. We already know he will be rewarded with the maximum NBA contract a rookie qualifies for, but given the hype surrounding him and the million-plus Instagram followers he brought from high school, Zion will likely make more from endorsements than from any NBA franchise. The sports media has speculated that he will make over a billion dollars in endorsement in his lifetime, many of these predictions coming after only a handful of games in college.
In my opinion, there is no way Nike can miss out on this opportunity. They don’t get everyone, but they seem to get the ones that count, specifically one name, generational talents like Jordan, LeBron…and perhaps, Zion. There was a very good chance that Nike’s offer would be the highest and most all-encompassing before last night. But as handicappers downgrade their chances after last night’s high-profile incident and with photos of a busted Nike sneaker garnering millions of views, likes, and comments today, it is only more likely that Nike will land Zion in my opinion.
They will increase their offer. By a lot. They may even promise him a signature shoe, one that they put their best technology into to ensure it supports his unique frame. Billboards, commercials, clothing. Probably all things they were going to roll out eventually but have now become guarantees in their opening bid.
Certainly Zion and his advisors are discussing last night’s events and weighing their options moving forward. Family making sure he’s healthy from last night’s injury. Friends and coaches debating the pros and cons of playing again this season. And, I’m guessing, a savvy advisor already working on turning last night’s Nike publicity nightmare into a gigantic bargaining chip.