Zion Williamson has all the tools to be a successful (grossly understated) professional basketball player. He’s blessed with size, strength, quickness and agility. A complete “package” of a player who’s destined to make a ton of money, a type of generational wealth that only a few can amass. All he has to do to become the first pick in the upcoming National Basketball Association draft is avoid injury in the NCAA Tournament and simply show up on draft night and smile. Sounds pretty easy, right?
As the eternal pessimist, I’m not so sure all that is as easy as just getting out of bed and showing up, and here’s why: Just a month ago Williamson evaded a catastrophic situation when he sprained his knee in an absolute meaningless game for his team, the Duke [University] Blue Devils. Luckily it was just that, a sprain, but it was clearly too close for comfort when there’s a Brinks truck around the corner with your name on it.
Yes, everyone associated with the debacle known as March Madness will profit from the tourney, that is everyone except Zion Williamson. Sure, the other players don’t get a nickel either, but the financial disparity exhibited in major college sports today is beyond troubling and in my humble opinion, absolutely criminal.
Ever notice how many hats, shirts and other types of merchandise this terror of a player sells in the Raleigh-Durham area? If Duke is the one who cuts down the nets in Minneapolis after the final tournament game, they’ll immediately be donning the official NCAA Champions hat and shirt, you know, the same one you can buy online just minutes after the game has concluded. For those of you who’d like to remind yours truly that it’s a business deal when a player accepts a scholarship, and he’s not entitled to a bigger slice of the billions of dollars grossed annually from major college football and basketball, save your breath. I’ve heard that pathetically stale point long enough.
I get it. No one forced Williamson to accept Duke’s paltry offer of free tuition, room and board, meals and all that slick Nike apparel with the Blue Devils logo on it. And yes, I certainly believe he would’ve been better off playing abroad for a year and getting paid a million bucks, as opposed to taking the substantial and unpaid risk of an injury in his one year of college hoops. He’s guaranteed to make big money from professional basketball, but only if he stays healthy. Running the floor in the NCAA Tournament while carrying the Duke banner can only be described at this point as a highly dangerous proposition for the young man, and no one seems to care, as long as Williamson goes for 25 points and 15 boards a game. When he went down a month ago, I figured that was it, he’d sit out the rest of the season and protect his future. But when the sprain healed, Williamson chose to return to the Duke assembly line, put on his work boots (the ones with a swoosh upon them) and clock in for duty, as it was his decision and without anyone influencing him (wink), right?
Regardless of my opinion, Williamson has every right to do whatever he wants, but it’s simply mind-boggling to think someone close to him wouldn’t have counseled the young man about the dangers of continuing his collegiate basketball career at Duke University. I understand those who say he could suffer a terrible injury in an NBA training camp and never play a pro game as a result. The big difference there is the almighty guaranteed contract, one that will pay him handsomely. This weekend, Williamson will embark on what should be the last six games of his college career. That is unless he gets injured before the final game. That would be tragic, but would anyone really care? As long as there is another standout player in the pipeline, I doubt they would. Hopefully he’ll remain healthy and everything will be just fine come draft day, but the risk being taken is totally unnecessary, and one that could be avoided by watching the NCAA Tournament on television. Williamson has made his final decision, and I wish him well. He seems a lot less worried about what a serious injury could mean to his future than I am. Then again, maybe he’s simply used to no one carrying about it at all.
Danny Bridges, who wishes Zion Williamson and every other player in the NCAA Tournament good health, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.