In a perfect world, Zion Williamson would be protected from any and all risk of injury between now and the NBA Draft on June 20. Of course, in a perfect world, Zion, his Duke teammates, Duke’s opponents and all the other athletes on the planet would be protected from all injury as well.
Also, French Silk pie would be as healthy as broccoli and no more fattening.
As we know too well, this is not a perfect world. And it doesn’t come equipped, apparently, with perfect sneakers. And, as much as anything, its population sometimes operates with less-than-ideal logic, which is why we hear so many involved in the sport of basketball claiming Zion’s best course after his slip in the early stages of Wednesday’s game against North Carolina led to a mild knee sprain is to “shut it down.”
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What does that mean? It plainly means to no longer play basketball at Duke.
On ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption program, host Tony Kornheiser said he hoped Zion would suit up again for the Blue Devils because he enjoys watching him, but the “prudent” move would be to shut it down. Trae Young said on Twitter that Zion needs “to chill out” the rest of the season. (Young, curiously, did not take his own advice a year ago while playing for Oklahoma, playing until the Sooners were eliminated in the NCAA Tournament. In overtime.). Golden State Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins said “college does nothing for you at this point … get ready for the next level.”
Indeed, if Zion were to no longer play basketball at Duke, it would be a certainty that he would not sustain an injury … while playing basketball at Duke. Or practicing, for that matter. It would not mean he wouldn’t be susceptible to an injury while playing basketball.
Oh, wait, those saying he should “shut it down” don’t really expect him not to step on a court for four months, right? Zion is 19 years old. He has played this game his entire life, become perhaps the best at his age in the entire world, and they don’t want him playing the game at all? Or they’re OK with him playing pickup games and the like, because doing so wouldn’t benefit Duke or the NCAA. Better an injury happen in a half-empty gym, I suppose, without Duke’s elite training and medical staff to cope with any potential calamity that could occur.
Between “shutting it down” and the commencement of the NBA Draft process, Zion would be susceptible to injury in running, jumping, lifting weights — activities expected of a player preparing for his professional career — and any basketball he allowed himself to play. He would be at the greatest risk, in terms of a genuinely career-altering injury, while traveling to participate in these activities.
So those advising Zion to “shut it down” are being irrational.
And, thus, they’re being irresponsible.
Because if you advise a young man to give up an activity he clearly is enjoying and obviously loves, there ought to be some sort of reward for him in making that sacrifice. Ceasing to play for Duke offers none.
To be clear: No one here is telling him what choice to make. We merely are clarifying there is no upside in choosing not to compete.
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He is at no less risk of injury, but forfeits all the rewards: playing with teammates, competing for a championship that has been earned by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, David Thompson, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan — as well as Christian Laettner and Shane Battier at Duke — and being honored for stellar performances with awards that bear names like Naismith, Wooden and Robertson.
He can continue to learn the game under coach Mike Krzyzewski, to gain lessons that come from competing against great opponents in high-leverage situations and to process the disappointment of defeat or the elation of triumph. He should give up all that to change the venue in which he might potentially be injured?
“Where did we get to the point where you got clowns on television saying, ‘Oh, don’t play.’ That’s what we do: We play basketball,” former Auburn star Charles Barkley said on TNT’s Inside The NBA. “I don’t want to see anybody ever get hurt. This kid looks like he’s going to be a fantastic player. But I get so mad when people act like money’s the only thing that matters in the world. ‘Oh, dude, you’re going to go into the NBA. Don’t play.’ That’s ridiculous.”
It is not a perfect world. We saw that clearly when Zion fell to the court, reached for his right leg and sent a ripple of horror through the basketball world. He may be 6-7, 285 pounds and capable of leaping to heights perhaps no one his size ever has reached, but he is human. He is vulnerable to injury.
But this is not why Michigan State coach Tom Izzo believes that Zion should, in his words, “hang it up.” Appearing on ESPN’s “Get Up” program, he said he is “100 percent” for him walking away from the remainder of his college basketball career.
“I think he should hang it up,” Izzo said, “and the only reason I do is it gives the rest of us a chance to win a national championship.”
Izzo struck the perfect note there. Because the idea of a healthy Zion Williamson “shutting it down” is a joke.
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