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Zion Williamson freak injury ripples in basketball, business worlds

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 21, 2019, 6:10 p.m.

A trainer holds Duke’s Zion Williamson’s shoes after Williamson left the game due to an injury during the first half Wednesday  against North Carolina in Durham, N.C. (Gerry Broome / AP)
A trainer holds Duke’s Zion Williamson’s shoes after Williamson left the game due to an injury during the first half Wednesday against North Carolina in Durham, N.C. (Gerry Broome / AP)
By Anne D’Innocenzio Associated Press

DURHAM, N.C. – Soon after Zion Williamson’s shoe ripped apart, Nike’s stock price took a hit.

The freak injury during one of the college basketball season’s marquee games immediately sparked debates about everything from the shoe manufacturer to insurance issues and whether the likely NBA lottery pick should risk his professional future by continuing to play for the top-ranked-for-now Blue Devils.

Williamson is day to day with a mild right knee sprain and is progressing as expected, team spokesman Mike DeGeorge said Thursday night.

By Thursday morning, Nike, which manufactured the shoes Williamson was wearing, also was feeling the impact of the injury.

The company’s stock closed down 89 cents at $83.95 on Thursday as the sportswear manufacturer became the target of ridicule on social media. A spokesman said Nike has begun an investigation into what it called an “isolated” event.

“Shoes have failed before, but not as visibly,” said Matt Powell, a senior industry adviser for sports for the NPD Group, a market research firm.

Playing before a crowd littered with celebrities – from Spike Lee to former President Barack Obama – Williamson was hurt in the opening minute of the game as his Nike PG 2.5, from Oklahoma City Thunder star Paul George’s signature sneaker line, tore apart. Williamson wears that model frequently during games and hadn’t had any obvious problems.

The 280-pound Williamson is one of the most powerful players in the game, and he tried to plant with his left foot as his right foot was slipping. The blue rubber sole ripped loose from the white shoe and Williamson’s foot came all the way through the large gap. He ended up in an awkward almost-split, clutching the back of his right knee. He walked to the bench and a few minutes later headed to the locker room, leaving the wrecked shoe under his chair.

George said Thursday that he has talked with Nike to see what went wrong and what happened to the shoe.

“It hasn’t happened to me as long as I’ve been in this shoe,” George said. “We’ve made three generations, going on four now of my shoe, of being successful. So I didn’t necessarily feel any way about that part – the negative part of it. My only concern was for Zion, honestly.”

Since Duke is a Nike-sponsored school, Williamson has his choice of that company’s footwear.

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