Zion and Nike

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

20 March 2019

Zion Williamson, the shoe explosion and the Nike brand

It’s that time of year again. March Madness is upon us. And, with Temple (my alma mater) losing last night, I’m most looking forward to watching that freak of nature, Zion Williamson.

Zion is the Duke freshman with the potential to be the next in the lineage of truly great basketball players. By all accounts we are talking Michael Jordan and LeBron James great. And he just happens to be the catalyst for a very interesting episode for Nike.

ZionAbout a month ago, Duke was playing rival UNC in the first game of the yearly series. Very early in the game, Zion quickly changes directions and his Nike PG 2.5 literally explodes. It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. But maybe no shoe can withstand the power of an elite athlete standing 6-7 and weighing 285 pounds with that much explosion (no pun intended).

Zion left the game with a knee sprain, sitting out the next five games before returning for last week’s ACC tournament. He simply took over that tournament, and is a lock to be the number one pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

But more interestingly, Nike seems fine too. Better than fine, actually. After an initial hit to its stock price, it has rebounded like a certain Duke freshman with a stock price now up about 4.5%.

Nike, for its part, did all the right things. It met with Zion and Duke, figured out what happened then oversaw production of a custom shoe for Williamson.

“Players and teams were more than willing to give Nike the benefit of the doubt because the Nike brand is so entrenched and honestly adored. Even its theme of Just Do It says to ignore the nonsense.”

Nike did right by Zion, and its brand

But what really shows the power of the Nike brand is how the rest of the sporting world reacted.

They didn’t.

There was no panic. No players burning their PG 2.5’s in displays of faux rage. There was literally nothing.

Sports announcers with an axe to grind with someone or something were largely silent on the issue too. Some of the competing shoe manufacturers like Puma took some digs at Nike, tweeting, “Wouldn’t have happened in the Pumas.” And there was a bit of shade thrown out at Paul George, the namesake of the exploding shoe was wearing. But that was it. We all just wanted Zion back on the floor.

Players and teams were more than willing to give Nike the benefit of the doubt because the Nike brand is so entrenched and honestly adored. Even its theme of “Just Do It” says to ignore the nonsense.

To most, it was an aberration. A freak athlete doing something in a shoe that for all intents and purposes isn’t supposed to be done by someone who weighs nearly 300 pounds.

Nike did what it needed to do. It immediately addressed the shoe issue. The rest of the sporting world took care of its PR by not freaking out about it and continued playing in Nike shoes and jerseys as if nothing happened.

Just do it, indeed.

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