It’s got to be the shoes.
Nike is “working to identify the issue” after Duke freshman Zion Williamson had his shoe burst apart mid-game Wednesday, forcing the star to leave the nationally broadcast event against rival North Carolina with a sprained knee as a packed house -- that included former President Barack Obama -- looked on.
"We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery," Nike said in a statement obtained by ESPN. "The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue."
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski described the injury as “a mild knee sprain” and said it was “stable.” He said information on how much time the 18-year-old could miss would be available Thursday.
Thirty-six seconds into the game, Williamson grabbed his right knee in pain after slipping awkwardly and falling when his left shoe split apart as he planted hard while dribbling near the free throw line. The blue rubber sole ripped loose from the white shoe, with Williamson's foot sliding through the gap.
Obama, who was watching from the stands, was seen on camera pointing and exclaiming, “His shoe broke!” He later tweeted a personal get-well message for Williamson after leaving the game to rousing cheers from the crowd.
“Zion Williamson seems like an outstanding young man as well as an outstanding basketball player,” the former president wrote. “Wishing him a speedy recovery.”
Nike, once known for its popular “It’s Gotta Be the Shoes” 1980s ad campaign with Michael Jordan, was skewered on social media following the footwear debacle.
Puma, a competing sportswear company, appeared to tweet and later delete a post to its Puma Basketball account that said: “Wouldn’t have happened in the pumas.”
Nike has had issues with basketball apparel before. Since becoming the official NBA uniform supplier in 2017, multiple players have had their jerseys rip, Bloomberg reported.
Nike stock was marked 1.61 percent lower in pre-market trading Thursday morning as the company begins to grapple with the public relations nightmare following the sneaker incident, The Street reported.
After Williamson limped off the court, No. 8 North Carolina took advantage of the freshman phenom’s absence to beat the Blue Devils 88-72.
"We miss him as a player, but it's not just that,” Duke forward Cam Reddish said via the team’s Twitter page. “He is also the source of our energy. So, without him on the floor, that energy is missing. We have to be back in the gym tomorrow, figuring out how to find that energy while he is gone.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.