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Why Zion's broken basketball shoe is such a big deal

The most exciting basketball talent to come along in years hurt his knee when his shoe fell apart during a big game. Here's what it means for Zion Williamson's career, Nike and the business of college hoops.

What it means for the phenom, Nike and the business of college hoops

Destroying a shoe added to the legend of Zion Williamson, but it could also end his brief college basketball career. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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The shoe heard 'round the world

You've probably heard about college basketball superstar Zion Williamson hurting his knee last night when his shoe fell apart during a big game. Here's what happened and why it's such a big deal:

First, some background

Zion (everyone calls him by his first name) is one of the most exciting basketball talents to come along in years. He became a viral sensation with his high school dunks and has delivered more amazing stuff as a college freshman at Duke. There was the time he dented a ball with his grip, and the time he blocked a shot in a way that no 6-foot-7, 285-pound person should be able to:

Last night's game was shaping up to be the biggest of his life. Iconic venue: Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium. Big opponent: archrival North Carolina. Duke ranked No. 1. Carolina No. 8. National TV. Scalpers selling tickets for more than $2,500 US. Barack Obama sitting courtside.

So what happened?

On the first possession of the game, Zion's left foot went right through his shoe as he made a move into the lane. He crumpled to the floor and grabbed his right knee before hobbling off at the next whistle. He left the game right away and Duke got routed 88-72 without him.

Is he OK?

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Zion has a "mild knee sprain." So that seems like a relief. But no one has given a timetable yet for his recovery or return to the court. There's a chance he's played his last college game. Zion may want to play it safe with the NBA draft coming up in June.

What about his future?

This injury (if you take Coach K's word that it's actually "mild") doesn't change Zion's status as the slam-dunk No. 1 pick in the draft. Even if it's more serious, there's a good chance he'd go first overall anyway. Zion is a generational talent, and one of the worst teams is likely to have the top pick, so it's not like they're winning the championship next season. He's not quite as good a prospect as LeBron James was 16 years ago, but Zion is being compared to LeBron because of his rare combo of size and skill. Hard to pass that up.

So why is everyone so angry?

Because this is another reminder that powerful people aren't treating college athletes fairly. Zion is on a full scholarship at Duke, which is a very expensive school. But he doesn't otherwise get paid for his work, even though college basketball is a billion-dollar business. The NCAA, which governs college sports in the U.S., has gone to great lengths to keep from sharing its massive revenues with players.

When you watch video of the Zion injury, it's hard not to notice the advertising signage for big corporations lining the court. The TV contracts for men's football and basketball are enormous — nearly $800 million US per year for the March Madness tournament alone. Salaries for coaches, athletic directors and other top school officials have exploded. Meanwhile, players still aren't even eligible for workers' compensation. So when one of them suffers an injury that jeopardizes his potential to earn the living he deserves in the pros, that seems like an injustice.

Why did Zion even go to college then?

In 2006, the NBA made a rule barring players from entering the league directly out of high school. So Zion could either head overseas to play professionally for a year, or join one of the top college programs, which offer better exposure.

The "one and done" rule is unpopular, and its days might be numbered. The NBA is considering allowing high schoolers back in the draft. It also introduced another option last fall, offering $125,000 to "elite players" who want to join the NBA's developmental league for a year before the draft.

Alright, so what's the deal with that shoe?

It's not common at all for a basketball shoe to break like that, so the fact that Zion destroyed it just adds to his legend. It's kind of like when Shaq wrecked all those backboards early in his career.

But the brand is another reason this story got so big. Nike basketball shoes are expensive, so when one of them fails this hard on this big a stage, people on social media are going to dunk on the company. Plus, there's this: Nike pays a lot of money to be the official shoe and clothing supplier for Duke's men's basketball team — more revenue that Zion and his teammates help generate but don't get a piece of.

Did Nike's stock really drop because of this?

This is the shakiest angle of the story. Yes, Nike shares were down about 1 per cent as the close of trading neared today. But they'd already rallied from down about 2 per cent earlier in the day. It seems reasonable to say Zion's shoe had something to do with the drop, but no one knows for sure. It's a neat little narrative, though, so a lot of people are running with it.

Quickly...

Georges St-Pierre officially retired, even though he seems like he still wants to fight

Canada's greatest-ever mixed martial arts fighter said at a press conference today in Montreal that he's "in the best physical and mental shape of [my] life" but wanted to walk away while he's "at the top and in good health." That's smart. And he won his last 13 bouts, so hard to argue.

But St-Pierre, 37, had also been trying to line up one last big fight. UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov seemed eager to face him, but UFC boss Dana White shut that down. He wasn't happy that St-Pierre vacated the middleweight title he won in his last fight, in November 2017, and then chased one last payday against Nurmagomedov or fellow lightweight star Conor McGregor. But there's still money to be made here for everyone, so don't be shocked if St-Pierre unretires one day.

The Scotties gets serious now

B.C. beat Manitoba in a tiebreaker this morning to claim the eighth and final spot in the championship round. The tournament format changed last year, so here's a refresher: the teams were divided into two pools of eight for the preliminary round and played a round robin among their own pool. The top four in each pool advanced to the championship round, where their records carry over and each team plays the four remaining teams from the other pool. When that's done, the top four advance to the traditional Page playoffs.

The only unbeaten skip right now is Alberta's Chelsea Carey, who's 7-0. Casey Scheidegger's Wild Card rink is 6-1. Three-time champion Rachel Homan of Ontario is one of four skips at 5-2. Defending champ Jennifer Jones is only 4-3.

Legendary college basketball coach Jim Boeheim accidentally killed a man on the road 

Police say the 74-year-old Syracuse coach was driving on an interstate highway last night after a game when he struck a pedestrian. The man had been in a car that crashed into a guardrail. Authorities say Boeheim reported the incident, was not impaired and wasn't speeding. Boeheim has coached at Syracuse for 43 years and won a national title in 2003.

The federal government took a small step toward fighting abuse in sports

It comes a week after a joint investigation by CBC News and CBC Sports revealed at least 222 coaches in dozens of different amateur sports have been convicted of sexual offences involving kids under age 18 over the last two decades. The investigation also found that local sports clubs and associations are generally ill-equipped to prevent abuse.

Today, Minister of Science and Sport Kirsty Duncan said $209,000 will be allocated (sounds  low, but that's the number) for a series of summits aimed at helping develop a national code of conduct. It starts with regional workshops next month, followed by a national summit in Ottawa in the spring. Duncan said athletes, child advocates, safe sport organizations, and national, provincial and territorial sports organizations will be included.

And finally...

Breakdancing in the Olympics? It's one step closer after organizers of the 2024 Summer Games in Paris added it to their wish list of events. Every host is allowed to add a few sports to the core program. Paris also wants climbing, surfing and skateboarding, which you'll see at the 2020 Olympics after Tokyo organizers asked for them. The IOC will make the final call on the Paris events sometime after those Tokyo Games. Breakdancing, which is a product of New York City, was included in last year's Youth Olympics in Argentina. That could boost its chances of making it to the real Olympics.


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