Nike says it’s investigating why Duke freshman Zion Williamson split a shoe open during a game against rival North Carolina. But the sportswear giant says it’s an “isolated occurrence.”
The Beaverton, Oregon-based company says it’s concerned and says quality and performance of its products are of “utmost importance.”
The shoe malfunction, which forced Williamson to leave the game with a knee sprain, happened in front of a crowd of celebrities, including former President Barack Obama and Spike Lee.
Williamson’s left shoe fell apart as he planted hard near the free-throw line. The blue rubber sole ripped loose from the white shoe from the heel to the toes along the outside edge, with Williamson’s foot coming all the way through the large gap.
Williamson was wearing the Nike PG 2.5 PE.
Nike quickly became the target of ridicule on social media, which presents challenges for the sportswear brand.
Nike’s shares were down 1 percent, or 84 cents, to $84 in early morning trading Thursday.
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.
“We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery,” Nike said in an email to Bloomberg. “While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.”
While the incident, which occurred during one of the most anticipated college basketball games of the year, is certainly embarrassing, it likely won’t affect Nike’s prominent standing within the sport, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Chen Grazutis. If you combine Nike and its Jordan brand, the company has more than 90 percent of the basketball market. Nike reported $4.35 billion in wholesale equivalent basketball sales in fiscal 2018, about 14 percent of its overall sales.
“They might get a lot bad press over the next couple days, but I don’t think it will have a direct impact on the shoes,” Grazutis said.
Companies like Nike and Adidas pay tens of millions of dollars for the exclusive right to outfit high-profile college programs like Duke, meaning their athletes are required to wear uniforms and shoes made by the team’s sponsor. Though Duke’s contract with Nike isn’t public, the Durham school is one of Nike’s most important basketball partners.
The malfunction might hurt Nike’s ability to sign Williamson once he decides to go pro. College athletes can’t sign endorsement deals, but competition for elite draft prospects is fierce every year. Last year’s No. 1 pick, Deandre Ayton, signed a deal with Puma SE that was reported to be the largest rookie deal since Kevin Durant’s seven-year, $60 million deal with Nike back in 2007.