Duke Basketball: Zion Williamson’s number belongs in Cameron’s rafters

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

Whether or not the Duke basketball program hangs a national championship banner as a result of this season, a banner with the name “Williamson” above the number “1” deserves to hang inside Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Imagine some future Duke basketball player appearing in a game while wearing a jersey with a “1” on its front and back.

At this point, that just doesn’t seem fair to the poor kid, right?

Well, maybe it would be if he possesses all of the following: the weight of an offensive lineman, the vertical leap of an Olympic high jumper, the handles of an NBA point guard, the strength of Paul Bunyan, the smile of Mickey Mouse, and the determination of The Little Engine That Could.

But that’s just not realistic, right?

Well, maybe it is, but that person hasn’t been born yet — because his name would have to be Zion Williamson Jr.

So the only sensible solution is to spare all future Duke freshmen — other than potential descendants of current diaper dandy Zion Williamson, of course — from the embarrassment that would result from their having to wear Williamson’s jersey number.

Not only does the jersey number match the pick in the 2019 NBA Draft that is likely to be used on the Spartanburg, S.C., native, but it also matches the rank of his freakish level of talent compared to all Blue Devils who came before him — and almost assuredly all those who will follow him, considering that the one-and-done era appears to be nearing its conclusion.

Also, that number has a realistic shot of matching the spot of Williamson’s game on the ranking of all humans who have ever picked up a basketball. Sure, he must first hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy more than a handful of times to earn such a ranking, but anyone who doubts that is possible obviously hasn’t watched the commanding presence of the mere 18-year-old across his 17 games as a Blue Devil.

In other words, the Duke basketball program would make a fool of itself by not retiring the jersey number of the guy who seems destined to become its all-time greatest ambassador.

With every game, his following rises. With every game, the fear level of his opponent rises. With every game of late, his scoring average rises — following his 27-point performance during No. 1 Duke’s 72-70 home win against No. 4 Virginia on Saturday night, he is averaging 21.5 points while shooting 66 percent from the field for the 15-2 Blue Devils; the previous game, a home overtime loss to Syracuse, he finished with a career-high 35 points.

He is on pace to be the most efficient player on offense in NCAA history.

And his defense isn’t far behind, as evidenced by the video below, which shows that with every game, his head rises farther above the rim:


It’s not just his dunks, blocks, steals, drives, scoop shots, awareness, or overall intensity.

It’s his character. It’s the way he responds to tough questions with respectful answers that prove his character must be a reincarnation of that of a person from a different generation.

For instance, following the win over Virginia, when asked to respond to Scottie Pippen’s suggestion from last week that he stop playing for Duke right away and sign what would likely be the most lucrative shoe deal in history while waiting for the draft in June — you know, what most any other Millenial in his shoes would do — according to Yahoo Sports, Williamson said this:

"“I can’t just stop playing. I’d be letting my teammates down. I’d be letting Coach K down. I’d be letting a lot of people down. If I was going to sit out, I wouldn’t have [gone] to college. I came to Duke to play. I’m thankful that Coach K gave me the opportunity.”"

So Zion risks injuring himself and losing out on a professional career that could net him more than $1 billion, and he does it just so that he doesn’t let down the Duke basketball program or any of its fans?

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

By not retiring his jersey number at the end of the season, the program would be letting Zion down — although he would be way too classy to gripe. On top of that, though, the program would be tarnishing its tradition of retiring jersey numbers.

Here’s what may happen if Duke doesn’t retire Zion’s number:

Imagine Christian Laettner bringing his future grandson to Cameron Indoor Stadium in 20 years — after just buying him a new pair of Nike Zions — and trying to show off the hanging banner with the number “32” and the name “Laettner” printed on it. The boy looks at the banner and all the others — 13 in the present day — and says the following to his grandpa:

I thought Zion Williamson played for Duke.

In the eyes of the boy, the meaningfulness of Laettner’s retired jersey — no matter how the grandpa responds to his grandson’s statement or how many times he tries to show him “The Shot” — will be shot.

Note: If Duke does cut down the nets on April 8, the program should also go ahead and toss R.J. Barrett’s number (5) in the rafters.

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Currently, Barrett — who is averaging 23.8 points but is not delaying nearly as lucrative endorsements as Zion by staying at Duke til season’s end — and Zion own the top three combined scoring totals for a freshmen duo in a Duke basketball game (61 against Kentucky, 58 against Syracuse, and 57 against Virginia).

And the percentage of Duke’s points from Williamson and Barrett against Virginia (79.2) ranks second all-time for any pair of Blue Devils in a game — just ahead of the percentage of points (76.3) from Jason Williams and Shane Battier against UCLA in 2001 and just behind the percentage of points (82.9) from J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams against Southern in 2006.

By the way, the jersey numbers of the four former Blue Devils mentioned in the previous paragraph are hanging in Cameron.

Next. Top 10 game-winners of the Coach K era. dark

Just saying. Times have changed. The best players aren’t likely going to stay and graduate. But insane talent and dominance still deserve the utmost respect.