The implications of Zion Williamson’s shoe blowout and resulting injury Wednesday night were felt far and wide across the world of college basketball.
As shares of Nike tanked Thursday and the company shed almost $1.1 billion in valuation, schools whose players wear Nike and, in at least one case, the same shoe that Williamson was wearing — the Nike PG 2.5 — came out in support of the brand’s apparel.
A number of players at Middle Tennessee have worn the shoe at some time during this season, a spokesperson for MTSU told the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal. “Nike has made a tremendous product for years and you think about how many basketball games were played on (Wednesday) alone wearing those shoes," the spokesperson said. "I think their track record really shines as being the leader in the footwear industry, and I’m confident that they’ll look and see whatever caused (Wednesday's) problem and correct it."
Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Memphis also released statements saying they’re not concerned about their players wearing Nike shoes going forward.
"We are in continuous conversations with our apparel partners to ensure that the best and safest products are provided for our student-athletes to perform at a championship level," a Vanderbilt statement said. "Vanderbilt is proud of its great partnership with Nike, we and look forward to continuing our relationship for many years to come."
For its part, Nike apologized and said it's looking into the matter.
"We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery," Nike said in a statement. "The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue."
Former NBA star Charles Barkley, a paid spokesman for Nike, defended the company's shoes on NBA on TNT, going so far as to place some of the blame for the mishap on Williamson himself.
"I hate the people who are trying to talk about Nike. Yes, I'm on Nike's payroll. We don't have no problem with our shoes," Barkley said. "We have about the best shoes ever. This was a fluke thing, or our shoe would do that all the time. The rumor now is he's been playing in the same pair of basketball shoes all year. You don’t do that. I used to switch up every week."
“That’s what we do, we play basketball.”— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 22, 2019
Charles Barkley weighs in on Zion Williamson's situation at Duke. pic.twitter.com/7foEecc6la
The projected No. 1 draft pick’s injury brings to the surface a number of issues facing the world of high school and college basketball. Coming as the injury did on the same day that the NBA proposed lowering the draft age to 18, the incident highlights the big money involved in apparel contracts and the fact that college players don’t get paid.
It's partly for that reason that some are asking whether the smart move for Williamson would be to sit for the rest of the season and not risk further injuring his knee before the draft. For his part, Barkley panned the idea, saying people are too concerned about money and noting that Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan and Magic Johnson, among others, all played multiple years in college.
"I don’t ever want to see anybody get hurt. This kid looks like he's going to be a fantastic player," Barkley said. "But I get so mad when people act like money's the only thing that matters in the world. Like, 'Oh dude, you're going to go in the NBA. Don't play.’ I mean, that's ridiculous."