Why Zion Williamson Would Be Wise To End His Duke Career Early
If you are Zion Williamson, do you suit up to play another game in a Duke uniform? At a minimum, do you strongly consider sitting out the remainder of Duke’s regular season (five more games), knowing that your school is destined to make the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens during the rest of the calendared season?
Williamson injured himself close to tip-off during a nationally televised match-up against the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill on February 20. It was a bad dose of public relations for shoe manufacturer Nike, which saw the shoe on Williamson completely tear apart after thirty-three seconds of play. It was worse for Williamson, who was undoubtedly struck with fear when he went down, never to return to the rivalry match-up.
Jokes aside, such as the tweet sent out (and later deleted) by PUMA Basketball stating, “Wouldn’t have happened in the pumas,” participation in any game by a blue chip prospect should be a calculated decision. The latest 2019 NBA Mock Draft published by nbadraft.net on February 9 has Williamson as the first overall selection. That should not change based on Williamson’s injury, which has been characterized as a mild knee sprain by Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Even if Williamson’s draft stock is negatively affected, one would hope that Williamson obtained an insurance policy that covers loss-of-value. Whether Williamson would be able to collect on the policy is debatable, particularly depending on the extent of the injury suffered and link to his potentially diminished profile. Further, many of these policies fail to cover the extent of damage in the case of a much more severe situation that what Williamson went through on February 20.
Williamson’s timetable for a return is expected to be announced today. I would not be shocked if he is benched for at least the final games of Duke’s regular season. If I were a Duke fan, or otherwise, I would also not be dissapointed in Williamson’s decision to completely stop playing in anticipation of being one of the top picks in the 2019 NBA Draft.
The NCAA prohibits Williamson from earning any money in exchange for the services he provides to Duke. While Williamson will be issuing the same talent and services to a professional team in mere months, and be compensated handsomely for same, he is restricted from earning a salary or other form of compensation while deemed to be a “student-athlete.”
Worse, Williamson cannot even find his own opportunities to exploit his publicity while he wishes to retain his intercollegiate athletics eligibility. The Association precludes him from licensing his name, image and likeness to third parties in exchange for any compensation. That all changes once Williamson no longer cares about holding on to any ability to play for Duke.
The value of Williamson’s services on the court and attached to his publicity rights is a byproduct of his health and performance. He risks both every time he goes to play on the court from here on out as a “student-athlete,” unable to receive any compensation beyond his cost of attending Duke University. How could you possibly blame him if he chooses to not play again and prepare for his actual career where an NBA team will guarantee him millions of dollars before he ever plays a game for the franchise?
NBA great Scottie Pippen said the following in January,
I think he’s done enough for college basketball that it’s more about him personally. I would shut it down. I would stop playing because I feel he could risk a major injury that could really hurt his career.
Now that Zion Williamson has received at least a scare, Pippen’s prescient proclamation is even more relevant.