ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Last night's game between Duke and North Carolina was set to be one of the biggest match-ups of the college basketball season. President Obama was sitting on the sidelines. Like millions of other fans, he was ready to watch a spectacular Duke freshman named Zion Williamson. And less than a minute into the game, this happened - as described on ESPN.
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UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #1: Zion Williamson is down. He blew through his shoe.
UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #2: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #1: Look at his...
UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #2: Wow.
UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #1: Look at his left shoe. He blew completely threw the shoe.
SHAPIRO: The heel ripped right off his shoe. Zion Williamson was down and out for the rest of the game. NPR's Uri Berliner is a basketball fan and also covers business for us.
Uri, what was your reaction to this?
URI BERLINER, BYLINE: Just amazing. This was a game that everyone had been looking forward to. As you said, it was Duke-North Carolina, the biggest rivalry in college sport. Duke was rated No. 1. But then, on top of that, was Zion Williamson. This is the player everyone is obsessed with right now because he's so spectacular. He's going to be a great NBA player. And here he is at a less than a minute in the game. Boom - his shoe just falls apart. He's making a pretty routine play - dribbling, and his shoe just shreds.
SHAPIRO: Now, his coach says the knee injury is not that bad. And he is expected to make a full recovery before the end of this season. But this could have been much worse. Right? And then his entire future in the NBA is in question.
BERLINER: Right. I mean, it could have been a devastating knee injury. And that would have just been crushing for him. Zion Williamson possesses a very unusual combination of power, speed, leaping ability and basketball intelligence. He's breathtaking to watch, especially when he's running full steam down the court dunking the ball. And this has made him very likely to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
SHAPIRO: Meanwhile, Nike is being torn to shreds on Twitter - much like their shoe last night. What does this mean for this company, which could not have paid for worse advertising than this catastrophic collapse one minute into this game everyone was watching?
BERLINER: It would've been bad if anyone had blown out a Nike shoe. But Zion Williamson in the big game of the year - you know, a terrible embarrassment for them. Their stock price was lower today. It fell a bit. Now, I don't know if this is sort of a kind of reputation-breaking event for Nike. This is a huge global brand - very popular, successful. I don't think that people in Bangkok, for example, are going to stop buying Nike shoes because Zion blew out one of his shoes. But what's really going to be tough for them is - you know, when Zion Williamson goes pro, every sneaker company...
BERLINER: ...Is going to say, we want to sign you to wear our shoes.
BERLINER: We want to pay you millions of dollars to wear our shoes. We're going to put you on posters.
SHAPIRO: He'll say, will they fall apart?
BERLINER: Is Zion Williamson going be thinking - well, if I pick Nike, are they going to fall apart? And this is what Nike has to be worried about right now.
SHAPIRO: But you know, we're talking about whether this could have cost millions of dollars for Nike. The guy wearing the shoes, who is bringing all the attention to Nike, is a college athlete who doesn't get paid a dime.
BERLINER: That's right. This game must bring in lots of money for ESPN. Fans were paying thousands of dollars to see it. It was a moneymaker. Zion Williamson, as a college athlete, doesn't get paid even though he's the main attraction. And he takes the risk of injury every time he goes out on the court as an unpaid athlete.
SHAPIRO: What does this mean for Zion Williamson's future?
BERLINER: Well, thankfully, it looks like the injury does not appear to be serious. They said it's a mild right knee sprain. The question, though, now becomes - will Zion Williamson play the rest of the season at Duke - in college, even if he's pretty healthy because there's so much to protect, his health and his financial future in the NBA. There's already the debate - should he sit out if he's healthy?
SHAPIRO: NPR senior business editor Uri Berliner. Thanks, Uri.
BERLINER: You're welcome.
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