This question arises as a Nike basketball shoe went to pieces on the feet of Duke’s highly touted Zion Williamson as he made a hard cut during a game with rival North Carolina.
Worse still, it appeared Williamson might have injured himself. On the play, Williamson appeared to do the splits, when the sole of one shoe came apart. Some gave the Williamson incident tongue-in-cheek identification -- a “shoe malfunction.”
Good news: He only has a mild knee strain.
The failed shoes? Stuck under a chair near the Duke bench. Camera zoomed in for a close-up. And you could feel the worry lines of Nike marketing executives developing.
Probably not the TV product placement Nike wanted. Nike’s stock closed down 1% on Thursday to $83.95, the day after the game. For its part, Nike said it was an “isolated occurrence.”
All this comes as Nike would probably be a major part of Williamson's future. Almost assuredly, he is leaving Duke after one season to go to the NBA. A move where he would make a big professional playing salary and even more for sponsorship deals -- from Nike.
Concerning the Williamson incident, one Nike competitor piled on. Puma tweeted (then deleted): "Wouldn't have happened in the pumas." Some companies offered sympathy. In a tweet, restaurant chain Buffalo Wild Wings, said: “Yo @Nike, you guys need a beer?”
Duke has a corporate deal with Nike, so all basketball players on the team have to wear Nike shoes. Williamson is a big guy -- 6’ 7” and 285 pounds. He moves quickly, which puts a lot of pressure on shoes. This wasn’t a “test” shoe, just a Nike regular produced product for college basketball players.
Maybe there is an opportunity here for Nike. Look for it to improve quality. Nike will no doubt tell us about it in an entertaining way, in a series of iconic TV commercials.
While this incident is rare, you might wonder if college players (and their future reps) might now push harder for what has been talked about for some time: paying college basketball players.
Supporters say players have been helping college programs pull in big multimillion revenue contracts -- from TV right fees, in-stadium ticket sales, and yes, shoe companies like Nike.
True, those players get a nice education from full college sports scholarships. But why can’t there be a bit of real revenue-sharing here for the work? The soul of college basketball may be counting on it.