Duke Basketball: NCAA owes Zion Williamson a public apology

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Duke basketball freshman Zion Williamson is easy to like, and he makes it easy to see the absurdity that is the NCAA’s refusal to let college athletes cash in on their likenesses.

Thanks to a free autograph session by the Duke basketball players in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Dec. 29, anyone interested in obtaining some spherical synthetic rubber with Zion Williamson’s chicken scratch on it can now hop on over to eBay.

At the time of this article’s publishing, there’s even one signed ball available for the dirt-cheap price of $500.

Better hurry, though, for the demand is sure to soon soar as high as Williamson did to pull off his now-viral 360 during the No. 1 Blue Devils’ 87-68 home win against Clemson on Saturday night — in case someone somehow missed the dunk, here are five looks at it:

Warning: Do not seek out Williamson on the Duke campus and try to offer him a lower price than the one on eBay to sign a ball for you.

Do. Not. Give. Zion. A. Dime.

The NCAA strictly forbids that. And that small group of mostly old men has the final say on everything.

Or does it?

News flash: Without the fan — aka, the consumer, the obsessive tweeter, the average guy, gal, girl, or boy — there are no brands, there is no revenue, and there is no exploitation of the most popular college athletes.

And due to the fans’ existence providing a reason for the existence of money in sports in the first place, it is the fans’ responsibility to speak up when something about the distribution of the money seems way out of place.

Though mobs of fans have spoken up in the past about the injustice of the NCAA’s amateurism rules, apparently, the quantity, the loudness, and the quality of arguments just haven’t been enough. And so this fan at Ball Durham is simply doing his best to add a voice to the mix today after noticing how seemingly everyone — except for Zion, of course — is earning revenue today from using Zion’s name, face, and mid-air rotations.

Whether a business involves selling signed basketballs online, crafting catchy headlines, or turning highlights into top-10 videos, today is an ideal day to attach The Zion Brand to it.

Williamson, a 6-foot-7, 285-pound 18-year-old who is the leader on the track to be his generation’s gem, is averaging 20.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 1.9 blocks and 1.2 gazillion mentions across social media per game (the Blue Devils are 12-1).

Against the Tigers, he dropped 25 points on 9-for-11 shooting from the field (perfect 8-for-8 from 2-point range) and also collected 10 rebounds, flew for two blocks, snagged two steals, and dunked a ball so magnificently that the planet has combined to watch it 1.2 gazillion times ever since.

No other face on the planet has a more endearing smile. No other legs on the planet make a more compelling argument that Inspector Gadget could be nonfiction. No other game on the planet has more potential to be the one that, 30 years from now, all grandpas will have to tell their grandkids about.

Yet despite his bringing joy to so many (even to many fans of other programs, believe it or not), the world is punishing Zion for choosing to go to college for a year in lieu of waiting to be drafted by an NBA team in June by simply sitting at home — and sitting on a wad of millions that he would already have from inking what could end up as the endorsement deal of the century in the shoe industry.

ALSO READ: Zion Williamson risks $1 billion by still playing for Duke

Do not mistake this as a suggestion that the schools pay the players. That’s not a good idea. The answer is to do what the Olympics do — the don’t-pay-but-let-be-paid method — by simply letting athletes have the freedom to make a buck from their popularity.

Right now, Zion must be the least-compensated person among those on this planet who have more than a million social-media followers (he has 2.2 million on his Instagram account alone at the moment).

Nobody else on the planet right now has a better chance than Zion to double some lucky shoe company’s revenue after he is allowed to sign a deal. And nobody else on the planet has a better chance to put smiles on little kids’ faces by giving them the opportunity to make their parents buy them a new pair of first-edition ZIONS.

Question for the NCAA: Why do you insist on keeping little kids from smiling?

More from Ball Durham

While the moment should have arrived a long, long time ago — there are no arguments to the contrary that are strong enough to supersede the argument that Zion, as well as the rest of his teammates and student-athlete peers, should have the same capitalistic rights as his fans — the next best moment for the NCAA to change the rule is right this moment.

Unfortunately, the NCAA isn’t suddenly going to decide to do the right thing just because of one amazing dunk or one amazing athlete or one attempt from a fan to write an article about it. In all likelihood, the NCAA is never going to change the rule.

So here’s another question for the NCAA:

Can you just publicly apologize to Zion for your reaping the rewards from Zion-induced record popularity for early-January college basketball while refusing to let Zion sniff out his own financial reward?

Didn’t think so. But it was still worth another shot.

Next. Predicting scores for Duke's 18 ACC games. dark

Zion Williamson and the Blue Devils’ next opportunity to stuff the bank accounts of old men comes on the road against Wake Forest on Tuesday at 7 p.m. (on ESPN).