Rovell: Jordan Brand Makes Necessary Bet With Zion Williamson’s Shoe Deal

Jul 25, 2019 08:00 PM EDT
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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Zion Williamson

  • Nike has officially signed Zion Williamson to a shoe deal, moving him under the Jordan brand.
  • After Williamson blew out his shoe and injured his knee against North Carolina in February, Nike had to sign him for a variety of reasons, and he made more money because of it.

Zion Williamson has signed with Jordan. But it became a technicality that his shoe paycheck would come from Nike five months ago.

That’s when Williamson’s shoe blew apart in the biggest regular season game of the year against Duke’s arch rival, and ironically Michael Jordan’s alma mater, North Carolina.

Williamson was subsequently shelved with a right knee sprain and remained out until the ACC Tournament.

Nike was likely the favorite to sign Williamson before. They have the Duke deal. And Coach K, thanks in part to his coaching Team USA, is their highest paid coach.

But when Williamson got injured, this much was clear: Nike HAD to sign him. The world’s biggest shoe and apparel giant flew the busted shoe to its Oregon headquarters and said it was evaluating the issue, but never released its findings in a move that could have been seen as protecting its relationship with Duke and Williamson.

When Williamson got hurt in the spectacular fashion that he did — in the most watched regular season college basketball game of the year — Nike was in a rough position.

This wasn’t some vaguely negative brand issue. It was their product, on the biggest player to come to the college game in as long as we can remember.

And in the way it went down, in a strange way, Williamson made millions of dollars more on his shoe deal.

We don’t know the terms yet, but insiders say the shoe blowout made the stakes of landing Zion that much greater. For Nike, signing Williamson would mean the shoe incident would never have to be talked about again.

On the flip side, Williamson became more valuable to any Nike nemesis. Can you imagine an adidas or Puma ad recapping the blown shoe? It’s something that Nike would have a hard time responding to. For the right price, Williamson could have trashed Nike.

Nike did what it had to do and also made the right decision by shifting him to Jordan, a different brand under the parent company. (Williamson’s blown shoe was the PG 2.5).

It also makes sense because Zion’s favorite player is Jordan. As a kid, he caught up on MJ’s moves on YouTube.

“Since I was a kid, I dreamed of making it to the league and having the type of impact on the game Michael Jordan had and continues to have today,” Williamson said in a statement. “He was one of those special athletes I looked up to, and I really can’t express how happy and excited I am for this journey.”

So, surely, is Nike, which can finally breathe a sigh of relief that Zion is officially on its team.

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