During his one-and-done season at Duke, Zion Williamson was a must-see event. ESPN showcased as many of the Blue Devils games as possible last year, and young Zion never failed to deliver with his typical jaw-dropping array of highlight-reel dunks and general dominance over his opponents.
But his lone season in the collegiate ranks wasn’t without its controversy. In their first showdown against rival UNC in February, Zion made a move to the basket that resulted in his Nike sneaker (the Paul George 2.5) tearing apart and sending him to the court with a knee sprain that would cause him to miss several games.
It was scary seeing a budding superstar’s entire career flash before our eyes because of a defective shoe. Naturally, the basketball world promptly raked Nike over the coals, which spurred them to launch an immediate investigation and make an “emergency” trip to China to design a better and more durable shoe for their prospective client.
Nike ended up jockeying against Puma, Adidas, and others for the chance to sign Zion to a massive shoe deal. It was terrible publicity, to say the least. But oddly enough, it may have also helped them seal the deal, as Zion has signed with Jordan Brand to reportedly the largest rookie deal in the company’s history.
Via Nick DePaula of ESPN:
Ironically, Williamson’s worst moment in a Nike sneaker turned out to be one of the best moments for the company. When his PG 2.5 fell apart 33 seconds into the nationally televised showdown with North Carolina, Nike was able to give Williamson an early firsthand look at those vast company-wide resources. They sprung into action to design a custom sneaker for the rest of his college career that would support the needs of Williamson’s unique blend of speed and power. The personal attention they were able to give him gave Williamson and his family a comfort level with Nike they might not have had otherwise.
Though Nike began and ended as the front-runners in the race to sign Zion, they faced stiff competition from Puma and adidas, who both made massive offers. But it wasn’t just the company’s state-of-the-art facilities in Oregon that sold Zion on joining the brand. According to the report, it was also Nike’s longstanding reputation for mythologizing their athletes and turning them into iconic, otherworldly figures. When it comes to sheer clout in the marketplace, the company has few rivals.