Duke Blue Devils vs North Carolina Tar Heels

The stage was set for what had been touted as the biggest game in the college basketball season with millions of viewers watching live on ESPN. In addition to the expectant crowd that included the likes of Spike Lee and former US president Barrack Obama, no one could have predicted the events that were about to transpire and ultimately cost Nike £844 million. The game, contested between the Zion Williamson and Duke Blue Devil’s against the North Carolina Tar Heels.

To most, this game is considered the best rivalry in college basketball. The excitement and intrigue surrounding this matchup had been intensified in no small part by the inclusion of basketball prodigy and predicted No. 1 overall pick, Zion Williamson – described as a once in a generation talent. The Duke University Power-Forward has been sighted as the primary reason for the spike in ticket demand for the game. Which has led to an average ticket price of £758, an all-time high eclipsing even the Super Bowl.

Zion Williamson injury

All eyes were on the court, and more importantly, all eyes were on Zion Williamson. The young phenom wearing a pair of Nike PG 2.5’s that, unfortunately, stole the headlines for all the wrong reasons. 36 seconds into the much-anticipated fixture and Williamson falls, while in possession of the ball, lays on the ground clutching his knee. Barrack Obama sitting courtside was quick to react to the unfolding events. Caught on camera immediately pointing and saying “He broke his shoe”.

From the instant replay, you could clearly see, as Zion plants his foot to turn his foot slid across the floor with his entire forefoot bursting through the toe box of his custom Duke Nike PG 2.5, rendering him unable to continue. Speaking after the game. Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters that Zion suffered a “mild knee sprain” and could not comment on his recovery time. It seems Nike’s own rehabilitation following these events may also take some considerable time.

Nike PG 2.5

The trainer in question, a Nike PG 2.5 is by no means a prototype silhouette. The signature shoe of established NBA star Paul George is one that is worn extensively across both College basketball and the NBA courts. With the first iteration in the series, the Nike PG 1 being worn by a chart-topping 42 players in the NBA in the 2017-2018 season. That’s more than any other. The Nike PG 2.5 is notably favoured in college programs. With Kentucky recently partnering with Nike for an exclusive Team colourway. Following in the footsteps of Zion’s team Dukes who have a similar deal.

The widespread use of this Nike model does raise questions as to whether the products should be recalled to prevent similar incidents. On the first inspection, it appears this could be potentially more of a freak accident than a fundamental flaw. Most NBA players will switch into a new shoe every three to five games. Many star players wear a new pair every game. Williamson appeared to be wearing the same pair throughout the season. That naturally could mean that the shoe was merely just worn out. After all, we’ve all known what it is like to literally wear a pair of trainers to death. Not to mention that sometimes these things just happen. In 2016 Orlando Magic Power-Forward and Dunk Contest star Aaron Gordon planted and tore through the forefoot of his Nike Zoom Rev.

Nike Value tumbles by 1.7%

The hangover from that Thursday evening’s event is still reverberating around the heads of the bosses at Nike headquarters. However, with the elevated buzz surrounding the game prior to tip-off attributed to the form of Zion Williamson, naturally fans everywhere were quick to vent their frustrations and level criticism at the famous sportswear company as being solely responsible for the freak occurrence and ultimately for Zion’s injury. For people to take to Twitter and express dissatisfaction is nothing new, but the sheer scale of the uptake in negative publicity Nike are receiving from this event is already being called one of the most expensive apparel failures in history. Nike has seen its value tumble by 1.7 per cent with £844 million being knocked off their stock value as the fallout continues, and from a writer’s perspective. I find it hard not to highlight the broader narrative.

Zion Williamson: the young talent, the future star. Someone who Nike would have earmarked for his signature once he inevitably turns professional – a deal that would be worth potentially millions for both parties, is playing for Duke University. The biggest rival of the University of North Carolina from which Nike’s greatest ever asset, Michael Jordan was plucked from. From which one of Nike’s signature colourways is based. It is during this very game that Zion falls. Like something out of the third Matrix film. The backlash from this echoing around the footwear industry, that Nike have shot themselves in the foot quite spectacularly. Wearing the signature shoe of one of their other athletes. Playing against a team synonymous with their most iconic signing, have they lost the signature of their next great star?

Zion Williamson potential future deal

In the days just after the incident oddsmakers had made Adidas (5/4) favourites to sign Zion Williamson to their brand leading Nike (3/2). With Puma who claimed last year’s No. 1 NBA Draft pick Deandre Ayton having a pop at Nike tweeting “Wouldn’t have happened in the Pumas”. The Swoosh’s misery looked set to continue but the repercussion of that Thursday night in North Carolina might not be as detrimental as first assumed. In the recent NBA All-Star Game, half of the 26 players wore Nike trainers. Another five wore the Jordan Brand. The company’s monopoly on the court still makes them a more than likely destination for Williamson, it really is just a question of at what price.

Every company looking to sign Zion is expected to offer him a signature shoe. Allowing him to follow the path carved by Michael Jordan 40 years ago. The issue for Nike becomes if they feel obliged to match that offer when they have stars like Russell Westbrook, one of the best players in the game right now, still wearing Air Jordans. Regardless of if his name is on the side of it. Nike is in genuine danger of upsetting the apple cart in a bid to secure Williamson as one of their ever-growing stable of talent.

This elevated risk is something Nike will not shy away from. Jordan made Nike £2.4 Billion in 2017, and their stranglehold on basketball puts them a fair distance ahead of their next closest competitor. The saying goes “no publicity is bad publicity”, and although in the short term Nike may have taken an ‘L’. At the end of the season I would be astonished if they don’t come out on top. The money a Zion Williamson court shoe would make for the company, will more than cover the deficit.

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