CHARLOTTE—When Zion Williamson went down and clenched his knee in the opening minute against North Carolina Feb. 20, the college basketball world froze.
"NikeGate" made all the headlines as Paul George's "PG 2.5" shoes could not handle the athleticism of the 285-pound freshman.
Williamson was forced to leave the contest and would miss the following five games after being diagnosed with a mild knee sprain. The Spartanburg, S.C., native was dominant in his return Thursday—with a 29-point, 14-rebound performance—and discussed the aftermath of his injury following his team's 84-72 win.
"When it first happened, I went to do my spin move and kept going. I immediately felt something in my right knee. When I looked at my left foot, I was through the shoe, but the shoe was my last concern," Williamson said. "I’m looking like, ‘I hope I’m alright with my right knee.’ So I stay on the ground, pull the shoe off my foot and Marques helps me up. I took a few steps and was like, ‘Yeah, I have to come out of the game.’"
The injury instantly hampered Nike's reputation as the company's stock dropped more than a percentage point when the markets opened the following morning.
Looking to immediately amend the situation and maintain its strong relationship with Duke Athletics, which has a contract with Nike through 2027, Nike officials flew to Durham the next morning in order to assure the team their products would not be a cause of concern going forward.
"Right after the event they sent their top people out here to figure out what went wrong, the next day. And then those people went to China to actually look at the making of a shoe that would be very supportive and then they came back within a week with different alternatives to make sure that it was done right," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "So their immediate, great response was appreciated and it was something that we have grown to expect from our relationship with them."
The Feb. 20 incident was actually not the first time Williamson had blown through a Nike product as a Blue Devil.
The 6-foot-7 forward mentioned that he broke a pair of Duke Kyrie 4 shoes—of different material than the pair he wore Thursday—during the summer. Williamson was not hurt during that incident and did not think the situation was related to the one in February.
"I wore them for like two-and-a-half [hours] each day, we were scrimmaging and I’m at the free-throw line when Nolan [Smith] walks on the court and looks at the toe of them," Williamson said of the summer incident. "The shoe was basically ripped open and he said, ‘Yeah, we need to get you some more shoes.'"
Despite the incident and related injury, Williamson has no hard feelings towards Nike. The freshman phenom looked as dominant as ever during his return Thursday and will need to stay in his shoes if the Blue Devils hope to cut down the nets in Charlotte and then Minneapolis.
"I’d like to thank Nike for taking the time out of their schedule," Williamson said. "I really appreciate that. They make some very comfortable shoes for me."
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