Duke basketball star Zion Williamson returned to the court on Thursday, March 14 following a six-game absence in which the Blue Devils went just 3-3. Williamson’s absence was due to a minor knee sprain after a freak accident which saw his Paul George-model Nike sneaker explode on the court.
As you would expect, Williamson changed his sneakers for the return in the ACC Tournament.
Instead of the Paul George signature sneaker, Williamson decided to shift to a custom edition of the Nike Kyrie 4s, the signature sneaker of Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving. The extensive measures that Nike went to appease Williamson, however, are quite shocking for a college athlete.
According to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, Nike sent its “top people” to Durham to investigate why Williamson’s shoe malfunctioned. Then, the Nike crew went to China to custom make a more supportive shoe.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) March 15, 2019
Yes, Nike sent people to China just to make a custom sneaker for the top player in college basketball.
“They came back within a week with different alternatives to make sure that it was done right,” Krzyzewski said, via Yahoo Sports. “So their immediate, great response was appreciated and it was something that we have grown to expect from our relationship with them.”
Williamson was also more than happy with his new sneaker.
“I couldn’t really specifically tell you if I wanted to,” the potential No. 1 pick noted. “I just know they’re a little stronger than the regular Kyrie 4s, so I want to thank Nike for making these. They felt very comfortable.”
Zion Williamson will play tonight in Kyrie 4s. pic.twitter.com/2h0YgEBmKg
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) March 14, 2019
The decision by Nike to send a special crew for one college player did raise eyebrows, however.
“So a shoe company can send people to China to build one Duke player a better shoe, but if one of those same people gave him $1,000 his college career would be over,” quipped Stewart Mandel of The Athletic on social media.
And he does have a point.
Of course, Williamson is no ordinary player and there isn’t a single player in the NBA who wears “off the shelf” sneakers when they take the court. So could Nike be angling to sign Williamson when he signs an NBA contract? Absolutely. Is this a gray area in college sports? Absolutely.
Next up for Duke is a third meeting with the rival North Carolina Tar Heels in the semifinals of the 2019 ACC Tournament.