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Nike on a tear with mixed PR results

When Duke freshman Zion Williamson returns to the court, the rip seen ‘round the world will make its second lap.

In case you forgot (right), the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft went down less than a minute into the top-ranked Blue Demons’ game against North Carolina last week. The most highly anticipated matchup of the regular season because of Williamson and Duke versus their in-state rivals, the 18-year-old forward slipped, and millions of eyes in and outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium saw his foot rip through his Nike shoe while his knee moved in a way that made us all wince just a bit. A shredded shoe and concern among basketball fans and professionals became a week-long hit to a public relations strategy that showcases the company’s trademark swoosh among hundreds of sports organizations.

Zion Williamson’s foot plowed through a Nike PG 2.5 similar to this one.

Lucky for Williamson – and Duke – he was diagnosed with a “mild knee sprain” and reportedly says he wants to return to the Blue Devils lineup. While OMGs and replays of the terrible tear flew across social media and screens of every kind, concern for brand health had to be top of mind among Nike executives. Nike has a contract to fit Duke athletes with shoes and apparel through 2027, but it may have seen a future contract for one of the most dynamic young basketball players fade with that fall. When Williamson decides to go pro, Nike may well throw loads of dollars his way and assure him that he can help the company craft a better, sturdier basketball shoe, and maybe even put his name on it. That said, if a shoe exploded like that while I was on so much as a walk, I’d switch brands as soon as I could get to the nearest sporting goods store or website. 

Nike stock dipped some the following day, but unless Williamson’s camp decides to sue, it seems doubtful that one of the world’s premier athletic outfitters will suffer much. 

The buzz about Williamson’s shoe dwindled a bit in days after the spill, but know you will see the replay about 10,000 times when he returns to the court. And that will just be during pregame.

Nike managed to generate some positive press with a woman-focused “Dream Crazier” promo voiced by tennis superstar Serena Williams that aired on Oscar Sunday.  It didn’t seem to hold near the attention that a ripped shoe did.

If it decides to pursue Williamson for an endorsement deal, the public will likely be reminded that his wasn’t Nike’s first shoe blast. There were incidents in 2016 and two years prior, which should give any athlete pause. No product is perfect when people are putting a pounding on it, but those shoes are supposed to be designed to withstand the most aggressive use. Athletes have to consider a product’s past to their own durability in the future. All it takes is one (more) rip-roaring mishap to do serious damage to a brand.


©Gail Sideman,, 2019

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