It was a game so anticipated, and a rivalry so fierce, that ESPN had a countdown till game time running on its networks Wednesday, reports the Charlotte Observer. Barack Obama, Spike Lee, and Ken Griffey Jr. were among the celebs in attendance. Tickets were selling for thousands. But just 36 seconds into the No. 1 Duke vs. No. 8 UNC basketball game, something most bizarre: Duke's freshman sensation Zion Williamson's Nike shoe "blew up," as plenty of media outlets put it. The blue rubber sole peeled off the white left shoe from the heel straight through the toes along one edge, and Williamson's foot came out the resulting hole. The mishap forced an odd landing, and he "planted hard," reports the AP, injuring his knee in the process. He walked off the court with what is being described as a knee sprain. Duke couldn't manage to shake the blow, and North Carolina took a fairly easy 88-72 victory. More:
- The Observer reports Williamson's Nikes—the Nike PG 2.5 PE—are a type made for the NBA's Paul George. It's a new shoe for Williamson, who played in Adidas in high school. The AP adds Duke has had an exclusive apparel and shoe deal with Nike since 1992 that is set to run for another eight years.
- The AP calls Williamson "arguably the most exciting player in college basketball," and notes he's the ACC's No. 2 scorer, averaging 22.4 points per game. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said it is unclear how long his player would be out.
- Bleacher Report got a statement from Nike: "We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery. The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue."
- USA Today weighs in: "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."
- In a lengthy piece, Sports Illustrated looks at two issues raised by the malfunction: Whether Williamson could sue Nike if the injury ends up being more serious than initially described, and Article X of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, which stipulates when a player becomes eligible for the NBA draft. A proposed change would allow players to go straight from high school into the league (the Washington Post reports Williamson is expected to be the No. 1 draft pick come June)—where they'd have the security of their contract in the event of an injury. The only compensation Duke can provide Williamson is "grant-in-aid" equal to the cost of his tuition, housing, etc.
- To wit, this tweet from Utah Jazz player Donovan Mitchell: "Again let’s remember all the money that went into this game.... and these players get none of it.... and now Zion gets hurt... something has to change @NCAA"
- Speaking of tweets, Puma weighed in with a since-deleted tweet, per the Big Lead: "Wouldn't have happened in the pumas."
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