Duke Basketball: Zion Williamson risks $1 billion by playing for Blue Devils

Duke basketball forward Zion Williamson (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Duke basketball forward Zion Williamson (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

At this point, the Duke basketball program needs Zion Williamson considerably more than he needs it.

Duke basketball freshman Zion Williamson could decide today to never play another college game and still be one of the first few picks come the 2019 NBA Draft.

Based on his play — through 10 games, the power forward is averaging 20.4 points, 9.0 boards, 2.1 steals, and 2.0 blocks while shooting 66.1 percent from the field — Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman and a host of others currently peg him as the top overall prospect for the draft.

If Williamson does continue playing for the Blue Devils, though, and injures one of his limbs beyond repair while doing so — as high as he flies, he constantly runs that risk — he will miss out on a career that likely would have added at least $1 billion to his bank account before it was all said and done.

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“Zion Williamson’s going to make $1 billion playing basketball effortlessly,” ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla said a few weeks ago, as reported by Forbes SportsMoney’s Adam Zagoria.

While Fraschilla’s estimation adds up based on the ever-increasing NBA contracts and ginormous endorsement deals — Williamson’s smile and freakish athleticism make him a dream spokesperson — nobody is going to pay him a dime for playing basketball or to have his own line of sneakers if he is physically unable to actually play basketball.

Put yourself in his sneakers. What would you do?

The 6-foot-7, 285-pound viral sensation out of Spartanburg, S.C., could go ahead and quit the Duke basketball team, and although he couldn’t start playing in the NBA right away, he wouldn’t need to in order to start earning millions; he could instantly hire an agent and then start signing lucrative endorsement deals left and right.

But what would he do between now and the draft in June?

Whatever he wants to do. Hang out at home. Hold private workouts for scouts. It doesn’t really matter as long as he stays healthy.

The upside to his game is no secret. Any downside to his game, outside of his shooting from beyond the arc (14.3 percent at the moment), is tough to spot.

Scouts aren’t going to forget the once-in-a-generation talent exists if he stops appearing in Duke games. Yes, that decision would likely be frowned upon by some and have the potential to knock him down a spot or two in the draft, but his unique frame and skillset assure that any franchise would salivate at the chance to add him to its roster.

Two of Zion’s fellow freshmen standouts, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, could also bail on the Blue Devils today and still probably end up as lottery picks. The difference, though, is that Barrett and Reddish could only make a fraction of what Williamson could make from endorsement deals right away.

Now, understand this:

I. Do. Not. Want. Zion. To. Stop. Playing. For. Duke.

I just do not understand why he is still playing for Duke.

But I’m not him. I’m about six inches shorter, 100 pounds lighter, and my vertical leap is less than his by somewhere in the range of 30-40 inches. Also, I have a tendency to look for the easy way out in life.

Zion doesn’t seem to do that. He works hard at everything he does — as if he is addicted to doing exactly that — evidenced by his aggressive style of play on both ends of the court for the Blue Devils thus far.

So while it may be true that Zion doesn’t need to keep putting on the Duke jersey to maintain his draft status, I imagine that he does need to keep competing in order to maintain his sanity.

And, as a lifelong fan who is still in shock that this guy plays for the Blue Devils, I’m comforted by the observation that Williamson seems to have his sights set on cutting down nets in Minneapolis in April before even thinking about fattening his bank account.

I guess I don’t have to understand it. But I certainly do appreciate it.

Next. Duke's top 10 plays (most include Zion) from first 10 games. dark

Zion and the rest of the No. 2 Blue Devils (9-1) play host to Princeton on Dec. 18 at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.