As I’ve previously written about here and here, I’ve been closely following the developments in the Zion Williamson sneaker-ripping saga. The story combines basketball, sneakers, and the business of sports, all things I keep a close eye on.
Yesterday, in the hours before Zion was about to make his return from what amounted to a 6 game absence, reports came out that he would be wearing the Duke Kryie 4s – a Nike sneaker. My initial reaction was to think that Zion was making a mistake by not wearing a sneaker made by any other brand to effectively put out the message that perhaps he was no longer confident that Nike – the heavy favorite to land him this summer in what could be a gigantic endorsement deal – makes sneakers that support his unique frame.
I must admit that I have no idea if Duke basketball players are required to wear Nikes, as it is common for sneaker companies to sponsor college teams. However, it was my belief that if Zion returned to action before leaving Duke for the NBA, he would use his sneakers as a negotiating ploy – perhaps wearing another brand and taping over their logo as has been done by athletes in other situations for a variety of reasons.
Things became clearer later in the day it when Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski stated that specialists from Nike flew in right after Zion injured himself against North Carolina and got to work on a stronger and more stable sneaker for the star to wear. These “top people” from Nike then made a trip to China to oversee the manufacturing of these sneakers, returning a week later with new product in hand.
In his return last night Zion was a perfect 13-for-13 in a win over Syracuse, showing no hesitancy in his movement, jumping out of the building once again to slam home alley-oops on the break.
In the big picture, this indicates to me that negotiations this summer may be quicker than I had expected in the wake of Zion’s injury. Nike responded quickly and, assuming there are no other sneaker issues throughout the ACC and NCAA tournaments, Zion will again feel confident that the brand has his best interests in mind.
I still expect the sneaker-ripping incident will serve to drive up Nike’s offer, but the company’s response likely reduces the opening Adidas, Under Armour and Puma may have sensed.
Who knows, maybe next year Nike will attempt to recoup some of the extra endorsement dollars they will be forced to shell out by offering consumers two versions of Zion’s signature shoe – the standard one and a custom version with upgraded strength and stability for people with bulkier frames?
(Photo courtesy of William Howard/Icon Sportswire)