Commentary

Duke Star's Nike Basketball Shoe Disassembles On National TV

The Nike PG 2.5 shoe that Duke University’s Zion Williamson was wearing on his left foot split apart less than a minute into a nationally televised game with North Carolina Wednesday night, sending the star freshman to the bench with a mild knee sprain, the Twitterverse into a frenzy -- and Nike’s stock into a mild tumble.

“The fallout for the world’s largest sportswear brand was immediate. Twitter lit up with jabs from fans and rival brands, making ‘Zion’ and ‘Nike’ trending topics within the social media network,” writeBloomberg's Eben Novy-Williams, Michael Sin and Tim Loh in a story picked up by the Chicago Tribune, among other publications.

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“We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery,” Nike tells them email. “While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.”

Its stock was down 1.05% yesterday, trading less than a dollar off Wednesday’s closing price.

Indeed, “the repercussions for Nike … were immediate, if not severe,” report Cindy Boren and Jacob Bogage for the Washington Post. “That was better than the dire prediction from Sonny Vaccaro, a veteran shoe executive, who said Wednesday night (via Yahoo’s Pete Thamel) that video of the moment was ‘already all over the world while we’re still watching the game he got hurt in. They’re going to show it until we die.’” 

Probably not, although he stage for the mishap could not have been more unfortunate.

“It was the most highly anticipated college basketball game of the season: Duke was facing archrival North Carolina, with the spectacular talents of Duke’s freshman sensation Zion Williamson on display. Former President Barack Obama was there. Tickets for the game were reselling for more than $3,000 -- Super Bowl prices. Duke’s exuberant student section, known as the Cameron Crazies, was extra hyped,” Uri Berliner points out for NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

The “PG” in the product name stands for Paul George, the Oklahoma City Thunder star. He said yesterday that he’d “reached out to Nike to find out ‘what went wrong’ with his PG 2.5 signature shoe,” ESPN.com's Royce Young reports. He also contacted Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to check on Williamson and wish him a speedy recovery.

“Nike outfits around two-thirds of the NBA’s players, and nearly 40 have worn the PG series each season since it launched three seasons ago -- the highest of any current player's signature shoe in the NBA. A few weeks ago, George and Nike released the latest iteration of his signature shoe, the PG 3, though most players aside from George are still wearing PG 2 and PG 2.5 from summer and fall 2018,” Young adds.

“If Williamson’s injury leads to lasting or permanent impairment in his ability to excel as a basketball player, Williamson could argue that Nike is liable for manufacturing a defective sneaker that caused his injury. Like other sneaker companies, Nike is legally obligated to market footwear that is of reasonable quality for its intended purpose,” Michael McCann observes for Sports Illustrated.

“Endorsement deals with star athletes, including LeBron James and Serena Williams, and sponsorships with pro sports leagues and top college basketball and football teams are a crucial part of Nike's growth strategy,”  Nathaniel Meyersohn writes for CNN Business. “Nike spent $11.5 billion, nearly a third of its sales, on marketing and endorsement contracts last year. Nike and its Jordan brand sponsored 85 men’s and women's basketball teams in last year's annual NCAA tournament.”

In case you’re wondering, the No. 8-ranked UNC Tar Heels beat the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils on their home court, 88-72. 

In other woes, purchasers of Nike’s brand-new $350 self-lacing Adapt BB smart sneakers have reported “that they are unable to connect both of their shoes to the Nike Adapt app, meaning it cannot be used to tighten the pair of shoes,” Ben Tobin reports for USA Today. “On a webpage for the Adapt BB smart sneakers, Nike gives users several recommendations for how to troubleshoot their shoes. … Nike has also been responding to certain reviews on the Nike Adapt app in Apple’s App Store,” but it did not respond to a request for comment.

The Wall Street Journal’s Justin Lahart reminds us that when the insoles in Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge’s custom Nike sneakers kept coming out during the Berlin Marathon in 2015, “he was denied world record he almost certainly would have gotten if his shoes had remained intact.” But, as Lahore points out, when Kipchoge did finally break the world record at the Berlin Marathon last September, “he was wearing Nikes.”

Funny how fleeting a bad experience can be when you’re getting paid the bucks to run in -- and push -- “head-to-toe Swoosh apparel."

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