Former President Barack Obama mouthed what became evident soon after Duke freshman phenom Zion Williamson crumpled to the court during the most hyped regular-season NCAA basketball game in some time.
“His shoe broke,” cameras caught the nation’s 44th president saying as he pointed toward the fallen presumed No. 1 pick of the NBA draft.
The shoe – a Nike PG 2.5 PE – soon became the focus after Williamson left the game early with a knee injury. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after his top-ranked team dropped an 88-72 decision to No. 9 UNC that Williamson suffered “a mild knee sprain.”
“For a shoe to fall apart – completely fall apart – came in one of the most highly anticipated games in a long time,” legendary sports executive Sonny Vaccaro told USA TODAY Sports. “This magnifies it. There was no NBA game going on and Zion had as much hype as anyone in a while. Tickets were going for thousands of dollars. The moon and the stars aligned and everyone in the world saw it.”
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At 6-foot-7, 284 pounds, Williamson has been compared with Charles Barkley, another big man who had finesse and control. But there have been plenty of players over the years with those dimensions whose shoes remained intact.
“We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery,” Nike said in a statement (per Bleacher Report). “The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.”
Vaccaro only recalled one other time he saw such a shoe malfunction, which was a Fresno State game when the late Jerry Tarkanian coached at the school two decades ago. Vaccaro would know. He not only led the revolution of shoe contracts with pro athletes in the 1980s – most notably linking up Michael Jordan with Nike – but also changed the landscape of shoe deals with colleges while at Nike, Adidas and Reebok.
Both Duke and UNC have long been associated with Nike, although UNC was a Converse school when Jordan played there. Duke has been a Nike school since 1993.
“I could feel the strain that was inside Mike (Krzyzewski),” Vaccaro said. “I felt it personally myself.”
Athletes are typically bound by contracts between schools and athletics companies against wearing competing brands. While Duke is a private school and its contract with Nike is not subject to public records requests, contracts with other schools do allow for alternate equipment due to injury.
It’s common practice for shoe companies to be on hand for major events, where shoes would be inspected. Companies frequently switch out models of shoes. The model Williamson used – the PG stands for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Paul George – retails for $110.