Duke’s Zion Williamson faces major decision after Nike shoe injury

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The most talked about and coveted young basketball phenomenon since LeBron James suddenly fell with an injured knee on Duke’s court because his Nike sneaker collapsed. It’s national TV. The camera shows former President Barack Obama, sitting at the edge of the court, saying, “His shoe broke!

It is quite remarkable. But what happens next could be more important:

Will Zion Williamson play another match for Duke?

Should he?

Why should he?

Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski called it a “slight sprain in the right knee”, but it looks like the consequences could be anything but slight.

Duke’s No.1 ranking and his role as favorite to win the National Championship may well be gone. Not because of the 88-72 loss to North Carolina in Game of the Year, but because of the much bigger loss if Williamson decides to end his season and his college career – like he has all the rights and so many reasons to do so.

How close did Williamson get to an injury that wasn’t slight but very serious? With what’s on the line for him, the thought of not risking another injury must be heavy enough right now. He would be hugely criticized for his selfishness if the sprain was indeed mild, and he was ready to play fairly quickly but simply said no. He would also protect his own extraordinary interests.

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Duke’s Zion Williamson (1) falls onto the pitch under Luke Maye (32) of North Carolina, injuring himself and damaging his shoe in the opening moments of the game in the first half on Wednesday, February 20, 2019, at the Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina Robert Willett TNS

He would put his own financial security before that of the university which does not pay him (except in an education which he will leave behind during the NBA draft in June). The same college that forces him to wear Nike sneakers due to the contract that enriches Duke without a dime going to the likely national player of the year.

We saw the mighty Nike rush into damage control mode on Thursday night. A rival company quickly tweeted: “That wouldn’t have happened in the Pumas” – shortly after removing the sneaky dig. On all social networks, Nike’s iconic slogan “Just Do It” has become “Just Blew It”. Nike stock fell by one ticker overnight.

All of this will be temporary for the company. What happened to Williamson will be considered an abnormal event that will not happen again. Nothing bumps Nike. His controversial advertisement for Colin Kaepernick last September was so polarizing it was supposed to hurt the company. Nike was so worried that they overtook Kaepernick this week by issuing a new jersey in his honor.

The fact that the broken shoe was worn by the top player in the college game and caused an injury amplifies the embarrassment, but Nike will be fine. (Does Zion’s busted sneaker already have its own Twitter site? Will the now famous shoe be auctioned off for charity? An investigation team from ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” will determine – the infamous sneaker was assembled in China by an old woman earning six yuan a day?)

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A coach holds Duke’s Zion Williamson’s shoes after Williamson left the game with an injury during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina in Durham, Carolina North, Wednesday, February 20, 2019. Duke might have to figure out what the Zion Show will look like without its namesake. All because of an abnormal injury to college basketball’s most exciting player. As his Nike shoe exploded, Williamson sprained his right knee in the first possession of what became Duke’s 88-72 loss to No.8 North Carolina. Gerry Broome PA

The plot is all that crosses the mind of 18-year-old Williamson and the family and counselors around him.

Since LeBron has such a young player, it hasn’t created so much electricity in the sport.

He’ll be one at Duke and be the No.1 overall selection in the June draft, barring a serious injury, of course. The Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks are trying to outdo each other to secure Williamson’s draft rights. Their coaches and general managers grabbed beads as their golden ticket fell to the ground Thursday night.

Put yourself in Williamson’s shoes (pun intended in part).

Your priority is either an allegiance to Duke and Krzyzewski or to your family and your future. You can have both, but not without risk.

If your “light” sprain heals, you can play Duke’s remaining five games in the regular season (including March 2 against the Miami Hurricanes), then in the ACC tournament, then in March Madness.

You probably will. Maybe you should.

But I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t.

“Light” sprains can be tricky things, so who knows? Zion Williamson’s knee might not be in perfect health until the night he takes the stage as the new NBA superstar in June.

This story was originally published February 21, 2019 12:33 pm.

Greg Cote is a Miami Herald sports columnist who, in 2018, was named one of the Top 10 Columnists by the Associated Press Sports Editors. Greg also appears regularly on the Dan LeBatard Show With Stugotz on ESPN Radio and ESPNews.

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