Equipment malfunctions happen all the time in sport.
- Duke basketball star Zion Williamson sprained his knee after his Nike shoe split open
- Nike said the incident was an “isolated occurrence”
- 18-year-old Williamson is one of the hottest prospects in basketball
But they are rarely as costly as the trainer explosion that left one of the hottest prospects in basketball writhing in agony, clutching his right knee on Wednesday night (local time).
Nike shares fell by more than 1 per cent on trading the day after the incident occurred, wiping around $US1.46 billion ($2.06 billion) from Nike’s market capitalisation.
But how could a split trainer have such a huge impact on Nike’s share price?
Simply put, one of Nike’s trainers disintegrated live on prime-time TV, in one of the biggest college basketball games of the season.
The trainer belonged to Zion Williamson, one of the top young players in the country who is getting NBA team owners very excited ahead of this year’s draft.
He was playing for Duke — the top-ranked team in college basketball — in a game against key rivals North Carolina.
Williamson’s trainer, the Nike PG 2.5 from Oklahoma City Thunder star Paul George’s signature sneaker line, tore apart, leaving a gaping hole in the shoe and the 200-centimetre-tall power forward sprawled awkwardly on the ground.
Williamson wears that model — which was launched in 2018 and sells for $US95-$105 on Nike’s website — frequently during games and had not previously had any obvious problems.
But when the 127-kilogram Williamson planted hard near the free-throw line, the blue rubber sole ripped loose from the white upper from the heel to the toes along the outside edge.
Williamson’s foot came all the way through the large gap and he immediately clutched his right knee, before walking to the bench and then to the locker room, leaving the offending shoes under his chair.
It later emerged that he suffered a “mild” knee sprain.
The worst possible time
Trainer malfunctions are not uncommon, but this one came at a particularly bad time, with the sporting spotlight focused on the 18-year-old sensation.
You Tube: Manu Ginobili breaks his shoe
“I’ve seen guys bust through shoes, but not sprain their knee,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
“He’s gone down a couple times where he’s slipped and saved the ball. That’s what I thought happened. He goes so fast that maybe if there’s something slippery, that happened.”
The match between the intrastate rivals was one of the most anticipated in years thanks to the presence of Williamson, with last-minute tickets selling for as much as $US3,000 — around the same amount as tickets for the Super Bowl.
Williamson’s impressive debut college season has professional NBA teams counting down the days until he is eligible for the draft and has elevated him to being the current poster-boy in a long-running controversy over whether student athletes should be remunerated for their athletic feats.
Williamson has been projected as the number one draft prospect for the NBA draft later in the year, adding to the interest of a bumper crowd littered with celebrities including Spike Lee and former president Barack Obama.
Stock price hit
Soon after Zion Williamson’s shoe ripped apart, Nike’s stock price took a hit.
By Thursday morning the company’s stock price was down 97 cents to $US83.87 during midday trading as the sportswear manufacturer became the target of ridicule on social media.
Sports Illustrated tweet: Introducing Nike’s new sneaker sandal hybrid The Zion 1
A spokesman said Nike had begun an investigation into what it called an “isolated” event.
“Shoes have failed before, but not as visibly,” said Matt Powell, a senior industry advisor for sports for the NPD Group, a market research firm.
NBA player Paul George, who lends his name to that particular line of shoe, said he had talked with Nike to see what went wrong and what happened to the shoe.
“It hasn’t happened to me as long as I’ve been in this shoe,” George said.
“We’ve made three generations, going on four now of my shoe, of being successful. So I didn’t necessarily feel any way about that part — the negative part of it. My only concern was for Zion, honestly.”
“We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery,” Nike said in a statement.
“The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.”
Analyst Brian Nagel said he was optimistic “any lasting damage to the company and its shares will prove minimal”.
Customers visiting Nike’s flagship store in New York City said they did not blame the shoemaker.
“I’ve seen players break through shoes occasionally, but it’s like once in a lifetime for everyone,” said Ben Leive, a Nike customer from Syracuse, New York.
“So I mean Zion getting injured that’s just kind of like, luck of the draw. I feel like it’s not Nike’s fault at all.”
Nike is Duke’s exclusive supplier of uniforms, shoes and apparel under a 12-year contract that was extended in 2015 and has had an exclusive deal with the private university since 1992, ESPN reported.