Nike was in damage control mode Thursday after college basketball star Zion Williamson injured his knee when his shoe ripped in a high-profile game attended by Barack Obama and Spike Lee among others. .
The Duke University forward, who is expected to be the top pick in the June NBA Draft, was injured just 36 seconds into Wednesday night’s rivalry game against the University of North Carolina.
Williamson, 18, who averaged 22.4 points per game, dribbled near the free throw line in his team’s first possession when he planted his left foot and his basketball exploded.
The blue sole of his Nike high tops tore, and Williamson’s foot pierced the bottom of the shoe.
The dynamic freshman fell to the floor, wincing in pain and holding his right knee. He limped off the pitch and was taken out of the game, which was broadcast nationally on ESPN.
Initially it was feared Williamson suffered a serious knee injury, but Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game it was a “slight sprained knee”.
âI’ve seen guys go through shoes without spraining their knees,â Krzyzewski said. “We don’t know how long he will be away.”
Duke, who was the top-ranked team in college basketball before the game, ended up losing 88-72 to eighth-placed North Carolina.
The 6ft 7in (2.01m) Williamson was the most sensational player of this year’s NCAA season, delighting fans with thunderous dunks and displaying incredible agility and jumping ability for a heavyweight player. 285 pounds (129 kilograms).
Nike, whose shares fell 1.06% on Thursday to close at $ 83.94 in New York City, said it was trying to figure out what had happened.
“We are obviously concerned and wish Zion a speedy recovery,” the sportswear giant said in a statement. âThe quality and performance of our products are of the utmost importance.
âAlthough this is an isolated event, we are working to identify the problem,â Nike said.
Among those who sent their best wishes to Williamson were NBA superstar LeBron James, a Nike customer, and Obama, who was among the celebrities attending the sold-out game between the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels.
âI hope the young guy is doing well! James tweeted. “He literally blew in his (shoe).”
Obama could be seen pointing from his seat at the edge of the court when Williamson’s sneaker tore and said “His shoe broke!”
âZion Williamson appears to be an exceptional young man as well as an exceptional basketball player,â Obama said later in a tweet. ” I wish him a speedy recovery.
Spike Lee was also present at the game, the director whose TV commercials with NBA great Michael Jordan for Air Jordans helped take Nike soar.
Nike, which has an exclusive 12-year contract to supply Duke with shoes and other equipment, is engaged in an ongoing battle with rivals Adidas and Under Armor for the loyalty of the top stars in the sport.
Adidas recently managed to hook NBA top scorer James Harden from the Houston Rockets, last year’s MVP.
The incident with Williamson’s shoe is not the first with Nike products.
Nike replaced Adidas in 2017 as the official supplier of NBA basketball jerseys and there have been complaints of tearing of the jerseys.
Nike has also faced a boycott campaign after signing Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who began kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and social injustice.
The boycott does not appear to have had much of an impact on Nike sales, however, and Kaepernick tweeted on Thursday that a “True to 7” tribute jersey had been sold to him.