By Weston Blasi
Duke University basketball star Zion Williamson suffered a knee injury during Wednesday night’s game against rival the University of North Carolina as one of his Nike /zigman2/quotes/203439053/composite NKE +2.67% shoes ripped open and he fell to the floor clasping a twisted knee. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called it a mild knee strain after the game, but the severity of the injury is uncertain.
Williamson, an 18-year-old freshman, is the presumptive No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft, and one of the most highly regarded prospects since LeBron James. The 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 21.6 points a game, and his thunderous dunks are frequently featured on ESPN.
Even if a worst-case scenario does not materialize, it’s possible Williamson will have played his last collegiate game — it could be decided he should be shut down for the season as a precaution ahead of the NBA draft in June. If Williamson misses any significant amount of time, though, and questions hang in the air over his knee’s condition, it could cause him to be drafted lower than No. 1 and impact his potential earnings.
For example, in the 2018 draft, the No. 1 pick was given a contract for $40 million and the No. 3 pick was given a contract for $32 million. So if Williamson drops a few spots because of concerns over his knee, he could lose out on at least $8 million from the get-go. NBA draft-pick contracts are predetermined and scaled such that the lower a player is selected, the less money he earns.
Those not convinced that Williamson could dip below past the top pick, note there is precedent. In 2014, Joel Embiid was projected by many as the first overall pick in the draft. He slipped to No. 3 after he struggled with back and knee injuries that February of that year. Perhaps there wasn’t quite as much hype surrounding Embiid in 2014 as there has been about Williamson in 2018 and 2019, but it’s a comparison worth mentioning.
Another area where Williamson could possibly lose out on future earnings is if he decides to sue Nike. It’s unclear whether there is any legal action that he could or would take, but suing the top basketball-shoe brand could cost Williamson money down the road if he burns bridges with the swoosh brand, which typically pays players more than rivals do. Nike pays Duke for the right to provide its sports teams with apparel and footwear.
In the now apparently unlikely event that the injury is catastrophic, Duke reportedly bought an insurance policy worth $8 million for Williamson. The policy reportedly would be triggered if he slips past No. 16 in the draft.