The breakdown of Zion Williamson’s shoes on national television drew attention to the technical craftsmanship of sneaker design – specifically, what incidents could have caused the Duke star’s foot to rip through his size 15 Nike?
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Zion Williamson’s shoe size.
The freshman player of the year contender sprained his knee in the first minute of the highly anticipated UNC-Duke contest at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The shoe’s malfunction caused the game’s best-known viewer, President Barack Obama, to say, “His shoe broke!”
The shoe chosen by Williamson for Wednesday night’s game was Nike’s Paul George 2.5 model. Duke’s contract with Nike allows players a variety of shoe options. They’ve even been credited with the next-generation Nike automatic lacing shoes to try on earlier this season. These shoes are valued at around $ 400 a pair
The PG 2.5 shoes that failed at Williamson are much more economical at $ 90 to $ 100 a pair. Named after NBA star Paul George, the shoes are described on Nike.com as “light but strong, with a support strap and a comfortable cushion that responds to every quick and focused step.”
The shoe’s failure in a game that ESPN said drew the third-largest domestic audience for a regular-season college basketball game since the network started following them in 2002, has pushed Nike wondering what was wrong. âWe are obviously concerned and wish Zion a speedy recovery. The quality and performance of our products are of the utmost importance. Although this is an isolated event, we are working to identify the problem. “
But consider this introduction to shoe construction from Jesse Rademacher, who studied industrial design at NC State University and, until last week, worked on basketball shoes for Adidas. He watched the first 33 seconds of Wednesday night’s Duke-UNC game like it was Zapruder’s movie.
It’s already arrived.
The shoe explosion that brought down Williamson looks a lot like Manu Ginobili’s dysfunction in the 2014 San Antonio Spurs game against the Detroit Pistons. Ditto for Aaron Gordon of Orlando Magic in a dunk contest in 2016.
Both wore Nike, and Rademacher said the swoosh had a bad run with this type of shoe issue. But Nike also has more shoes on the court.
What really happened?
The shoes come with three main parts:
âª the superior, which consists of the tongue, toe area and all the soft material that wraps around the foot. A key part of the rod is the strobel, a thin sheet of tissue that connects the rod to …
âª the midsole, made of plastic and foam materials that provide both cushioning and durability.
âª the outsole, the rubber bottom that provides grip and traction.
To Rademacher, Williamson’s shoe appeared to have come loose where the strobel was sewn to the upper.
Why the dysfunction?
âª Zion Williamson is 6 feet 7 inches tall and weighs 285 pounds, and he’s stronger and faster than the typical sneaker wearer.
âIt only takes a small incident like a production run to create a defect,â Rademacher said. âOn most people, this flaw may not be exploited. On someone of his size, he unfortunately finds the weak point.
âª He’s technically an amateur athlete and Nike may not have as much data on him as an NBA player. Thus, his shoes may not be as suitable for his physical requirements.
âª It is likely that Nike will provide Duke players with unique and unique pairs of shoes. These may not be tested to the same level as sneakers intended for the market.
âª Some brands take a calculated risk. A player may want a more flexible shoe, while a coach wants something designed to prevent injury.
âMaybe Zion Williamson should wear a tank top for a shoe,â Rademacher said. âBut it’s not going to sell, that’s not what the consumer wants. There is a calculated risk of balancing product quality with athletic needs.
This story was originally published February 21, 2019 5:15 pm.