Duke Basketball: Zion Williamson could own shoe company

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

The first name of the Duke basketball program’s gifted giant could also become the business name of the next giant in the apparel industry.

With a successful return from injury, culminating with a national championship on April 8, Duke basketball freshman Zion Williamson would hold the key. All he would need to do is turn it, put the moneymaker vehicle into drive, and floor it.

Rather than settling for a shoe-endorsement deal worth roughly $10 million annually — chump change — the potential perfecter of James Naismith’s invention would have the option to launch a shoe company that could potentially land him on the list of multi-billionaires by age 25 (if not years sooner).

Said company could be his if he wants it — well, the lion’s share of it — without having to touch his own bank account to start it.

First, though, what should he call it?

There’s no debate:


All caps. Z for short. An emphatic announcement of a sea change to the shoe industry. A four-letter warning of doomsday for Nike and Adidas.

Next, here’s a suggestion for the company’s simple slogan that would also serve as a suggestion — a punch to the gut — to Nike:

“Do Better.”

Sub-slogan: “Zion tested. Zion approved. Zero blowouts.”

But what about the finances, designs, manufacturing, distribution, etc.?

Small potatoes.

The simple solution to take care of the details is for Williamson — the surefire No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft who possesses a made-for-TV smile and personality — to not have to lift a finger by finding the right investor with sufficient resources and connections.

Although he would not likely need to — as investors may be knocking at his door, without invitations, after the season — he could pitch the idea on Shark Tank. Or talk to Marcus Lemonis from The Profit. Or post the idea to his Instagram account with 2.6 million followers and see who responds with a serious offer. Or reach out to the wealthiest Duke alums. Or all of the above and more.

First, though, in order to maximize his potential as an entrepreneur, the 6-foot-7, 280-pound native of Spartanburg, S.C., must reassume his position under the spotlight on the court this week and do whatever it takes for the Blue Devils to win the ACC Tournament on Saturday and then the Big Dance on April 8.

Cut down a couple of nets for the world to see. Give thanks and say goodbyes to Duke basketball fans. Leave the college game with a lasting image that, even if he suffers a career-ending injury just after the tip to his first NBA game in the fall, would cement his legacy and thereby reduce the risk of failure for his company.


Williamson, the ACC Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year as of Monday, is a mere 18-year-old with season averages of 21.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals, and 1.8 blocks while shooting an insane 68.3 percent from the field. He has been out of action because Nike failed him. His blown-out left shoe left him with a mild right knee sprain on Feb. 20 less than a minute into Duke’s first of two losses to UNC.

Without Williamson, the now-No. 5 Blue Devils (26-5, 14-4 ACC) went 3-3. But he participated in contact drills — without a hiccup — during practices all this week. All signs point to his playing tonight when Duke plays Syracuse to tipoff its quest to surpass its own record with a 21st ACC Tournament title.

But back to the future.

Following what would be the program’s sixth national title, Williamson would have 72 days until the draft.

No need to talk to teams or show up for the combine at the end of May — not worthy of his time. No need to listen to agents blabber — no use to him considering essentially everything about him sells itself and does all the negotiating for him. No need to talk to other apparel companies — they will soon be, like the NCAA is now, the sole enemy whose sole goal is to limit his earnings as much as they can get away with while maximizing their own profits (besides, any of the big-name companies would be more than happy to be his backup plan if his business plans went awry).

He should use the months of April and May to seal the perfect partnership with an investor or investors. Williamson should aim to keep 75 percent of ZION, without putting in a dime, simply because his being the spokesman would be the sole reason millions of actual kids and adult kids would jump at the chance to buy anything with his name on it.

The investor(s) should be able to quickly put together a team to start spreading the news while designing a shoe that can withstand a pivot move — without tearing at the seams — from the basketball version of the Incredible Hulk.

By capping off his college career with a title, Williamson would become — if he isn’t already — the only teenager who has ever been in such a unique position to brand an uber-successful startup shoe/apparel company. His star power far exceeds that of an 18-year-old Michael Jordan. His worldwide influence far exceeds that of an 18-year-old LeBron James because 1) Zion jumps higher, 2) Zion smiles bigger, 3) Zion is bigger, 4) Zion is a Duke basketball player, and 5) the phrase “social media” simply referred to a chatty newsroom when LeBron was 18 in 2003.

The only potential derailment — i.e., what seems to be the lone risk of going the route of starting a company rather than signing a guaranteed deal with a company like Nike — would be a career-ending injury to the potential GOAT soon after his NBA playing days begin.

Well, Williamson could also be a bust at the next level. But the chance of that happening is about the same as the NCAA apologizing to the young man for essentially stealing all the money he could have earned this season (by having in place an outdated rule that disallows student-athletes to profit from their likenesses).

ALSO READ: NCAA owes Zion Williamson a public apology

But if it was an injury that roadblocked Williamson’s career before he had a chance to put the pedal to the metal and become an NBA legend, the ZION brand would still have a chance to survive. After all, YouTube highlights will still exist from Williamson’s high school days, Duke days, and however many days he plays in the NBA.

Simply put, the public won’t soon forget his name or his aerial displays. In fact, if he did suffer a devastating injury, the discussion of what might have been will start to grow, which in itself could brand him a legend and help him sell plenty of shoes to keep the company afloat.

No matter where fate leads his career, the story of Zion Williamson isn’t going anywhere for decades to come.

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Plus, considering Big Baller Brand — a creation resulting from one man’s vision and financial backing from investors — is still surviving despite no legit stars as endorsers and a brand name that few men over the age of 30 would be caught dead wearing because it’s one of the all-time cheesiest names for an apparel company, ZION should do well.

Obviously, naysayers are bound to argue that starting a shoe company built for success just isn’t so simple.

But Williamson specializes in doing what nearly every other human on the planet cannot begin to fathom:

Dunking after taking off from behind the foul line. Blocking a 3-pointer — to help seal a win on the road against arguably the nation’s best team — after standing about 20 feet away less than a second before the ball left the shooter’s hand. Maintaining humility and sanity despite having a name that has appeared in seemingly every headline in existence since his arrival at Duke.

Finding the right team of investors to quickly turn him into a billionaire shouldn’t be an issue.

Look, more power and best wishes to Williamson if he doesn’t win a title for Duke or, even if he does, decides to go the other route and sign with Nike, Adidas, Puma, Under Armour, or even Big Baller Brand. If he does talk to those companies, though, he should at least claim he’s considering starting his own company to aid his negotiations.

Ball Durham just wants to make clear the options for the once-in-a-lifetime Blue Devil while offering more incentive — even if he obviously doesn’t need it — for him to further advance the popularity of his name by flooring it the rest of March and into April in order to help deliver nets from Minneapolis to Durham on the morning of April 9.

Next. Five sweetest comeback wins of the Coach K era. dark

If he does take advantage of any of the ideas outlined above in starting his own company, he can just send this author of the ideas 0.1 percent of all future profits. Thanks in advance. Actually, scratch that — the sight of Zion winning a national title would be payment enough to this lifelong Duke basketball fan.