Last Saturday, I had the privilege of joining my faithful friend, farming phenom, and set shot swami, Rocky Kenworthy, at the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s Girls Basketball State Finals. It was the 44th annual championship event, and darned near the forty-fourth time we sat court-side.
A lot of the small talk in the media room still centered around the fallout from the high-profile shoe malfunction in the Duke-North Carolina college game the previous weekend.
If you did happen to miss it, just 33 seconds into the contest, 6-foot 7-inch Zion Williamson of Duke was cutting across the top of the key to receive a pass. When he planted his left foot, his
Nike brand “Paul George” 2.5s sneaker shredded. It sent the 285-pound center sprawling, twisting his right knee.
The consensus All-American, and presumed No. 1 draft pick in the NBA next season was left clutching his right knee in front of a stunned crowd, and millions of viewers who tuned in to see the marquee game.
It was more than an embarrassing moment for Nike. The shoe company, who pioneered product placement and high profile endorsements to catapult sales, saw their shares drop two percent overnight, as investors contemplated the repercussions.
Speculation swirled that Williamson, who could lose millions if his knee injury doesn’t respond, might have a product liability case worth a fortune. At the very least, the best NBA prospect in several years has yet to decide what shoe he will endorse in the professional ranks, and the decision means millions in sales to the winning shoe company.
That led Rocky, the Google-search-before-Google, to recall another less-famous basketball shoe blowout.
On the first night of the 1969 Indianapolis Star Indiana-Kentucky All-Star series, Indiana’s Mr. Basketball, George McGinnis, was locked in a punishing battle with Kentucky’s Joe Voskuhl, a 6-foot 8-inch, rawboned brawler. McGinnis, who had already achieved most all of his 6-foot 8-inch hardiness coming out of high school, planted to cut and tumbled to the ground when his Converse All-Stars sneaker exploded.
McGinnis would say years later in a 1975 Indianapolis News interview, “I’m very hard on shoes. When I cut, they rip.”
McGinnis was stunned by the fall, and didn’t have much of a game that night, leading Voskuhl to decry in the newspapers something to the effect of “McGinnis is overrated”.
The next night in the rematch McGinnis erupted for 53 points and 31 rebounds, in 32 minutes of play — records that stand to this day. Big Mac moved on to stardom in college, the ABA, the NBA, and ultimately to a 2017 enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Joe Voskuhl played three seasons at Tulsa, and averaged 7.6 points per game.
In this historical context, I’m certain then that Zion Williamson is going to come out in the long run smelling like a rose — a far better fragrance than can be expected from any basketball shoe.
John O. Marlowe spent most of his career as a “pine-time” player, and was football's first DH (dummy holder) for Wabash College in the late 1970's. New to the art of the sports beat writer, Marlowe has spent forty years – and nearly $11,000 – following Indiana high school sports.