Zion Williamson busting through his shoe and twisting his knee in the first minute of a storied rivalry game on national TV made for a neat encapsulation of everything that’s broken with big-time college sports. Here was an unpaid player that everyone with one functioning eye can agree belongs in the NBA right now, playing in a game that had ticket prices on par with the Super Bowl, suffering a scary-looking injury because the apparel company that has a multi-million-dollar deal with the school he plays for put an exploding shoe on his foot.
The good news, according to Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, is that Williamson only suffered a “mild knee sprain” and that his knee is “stable.” We’re supposed to find out more today about when Williamson might be able to return to action, but whatever recovery timetable Duke’s doctors come up with should be moot. Williamson has nothing left to gain from college basketball.
So long as the NCAA goes on refusing to pay athletes for their labor and the NBA adheres to its bullshit one-and-done rule, the only sensible argument to be made in favor a player like Williamson participating in college basketball (rather than going to play in Europe or taking a year off) is that it a provides a talent showcase. Everyone knew that Williamson was a spectacular athlete based on his high-school clips, but one could argue that he didn’t become the consensus future No. 1 pick until he showed his dominance in Division I college games.
It’s almost March now, and Williamson is averaging 21 points and eight rebounds per game while routinely producing highlights that appear to be CGI-aided; his undeniable abilities have been fully showcased, and he will absolutely be the No. 1 pick in June even if he never plays another game for Duke. Sure, it’s possible that some NBA GMs would rate him lower for “quitting” on his team, but that would just mark them as incredible morons.
The decision of whether or not to play another college basketball game is ultimately Williamson’s to make. By all accounts, he is a great competitor and teammate who loves playing basketball and would surely want to keep doing so as long as he is healthy. In a fair system, his decision would be a simple one, based only on his own desire and physical health. But because college sports are designed to take everything from players like Williamson while offering no safety net in return, his choice becomes complicated. Having to weigh his desire to play against his health and professional prospects is just another cruel aspect of amateur sports that Williamson will now be forced to navigate. That’s how you can tell this whole scam is an effective one: The inequities just keep compounding, and it’s always the players who end up in the most vulnerable and least desirable positions.