It was the most highly anticipated college basketball game of the season: Duke was facing archrival North Carolina, with the spectacular talents of Duke's freshman sensation Zion Williamson on display.
Former President Barack Obama was there. Tickets for the game were reselling formore than $3,000— Super Bowl prices. Duke's exuberant student section, known as the Cameron Crazies, was extra hyped.
And then a mere 33 seconds into the game, on a routine play, Williamson dribbled near the foul line when his left leg buckled, his left blue-and-white Nike sneaker ripped apart at the seams and he tumbled to the floor, grabbing his right knee in pain.
Williamson limped off the court. Hearts sunk everywhere. Obama visiblymouthed "his shoe broke."And in mere seconds, Nike was facing a marketing nightmare. The offending shoes were stashed away by a trainer. But the images of the young star being felled by his footwear couldn't be erased. Nike's shares were down about 1.7 percent in late morning trading — not good news, but not a major selloff.
At a mere 18 years old, his skills, athletic ability and court demeanor are already being compared to LeBron James'. Companies will be vying fiercely to sign him to a multimillion-dollar shoe deal. And when he plays his first NBA game, likely later this year, millions of people will be watching; many will be looking at the brand of sneakers he's wearing.
Nike had better hope the memories of what happened 33 seconds into the North Carolina game don't stay top of mind for Williamson.