When we think of Zion Williamson, we think of a smiling, pleasant young man who has embraced being the face of the New Orleans Pelicans at the tender age of 19.
We think of an extremely talented player who is only going to get better.
Now, there is at least the question of the integrity of Williamson in play, dating to his college playing days.
College basketball is under intense scrutiny, if not attack.
Recent allegations have been ramped up against Kansas and its elite program which the university rejects strenuously.
Arizona has incurred the wrath of the NCAA for a number of issues pertaining to basketball.
Louisville has been hit with a violation notice most recently.
LSU was not immune to the barbs, per the recording of Will Wade which we have now all heard many, many times.
Now, the squeaky clean, pristine program of Mike Krzyzewski may have some explaining to do.
Perhaps the end result is a settlement. Perhaps it is just a good relationship gone sour with the sour grapes being publicized to result in an agreement.
On the other hand, the story could pose a problem for Williamson, shoe companies and Duke.
Time will tell and the truth should ultimately be revealed.
When it comes to professional sports in New Orleans, the current story is somewhat reminiscent of what happened to another famous athlete who arrived in the Crescent City with great fanfare.
While Williamson was the first overall choice of the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2019 NBA Draft as the best player in the nation, capturing the Naismith award, Reggie Bush was the second overall choice of the New Orleans Saints in the 2006 NFL Draft as the best player in the nation, winning the Heisman Trophy.
In 2006, reports began to surface regarding Bush’s family receiving gifts in violation of NCAA policies. Bush denied any impropriety.
In late 2007, sports agent Lloyd Lake sued Bush and his family in an effort to recoup $291,600 in cash and gifts.
In 2010, the case was settled as the NCAA announced major sanctions against USC, announcing that its discovery was that Bush received lavish gifts from Lake and his partner beginning in 2004.
USC was hit with four years probation, was force to vacate its last two victories of the 2004 season and all of its wins in 2005. USC received a two-year bowl ban and lost 30 scholarships over three years.
What followed is that all memorabilia of Bush tied to USC athletics were removed and Bush was forced to forfeit his Heisman Trophy award.
Now, Williamson is dealing with a former marketing representative is suing him and have confronted him with admitting that his mother and stepfather received gifts from persons acting on behalf of Duke (directly and/or indirectly) to influence Zion to attend Duke to play basketball. Also implicated by the former marketing representative are Nike and Adidas.
Duke also previously stated that it has investigated a claim by attorney Michael Avenatti that Nike paid Williamson’s mother for consulting services while her son was a top high school recruit and found no evidence of wrongdoing. In February, a federal jury convicted Avenatti of attempting to extort as much as $25 million from Nike over threats he would expose misdeeds in Nike’s basketball division. Avenatti faces up to 42 years in prison.
How will it all turn out?
The lingering controversy did not have any measurable impact on Bush’s performance with the Saints. If it was a distraction, Bush handled it very well.
Bush made the NFL All-Rookie team in 2006 as the Saints reached the NFC championship game and he played an important role in helping the Saints win the Super Bowl on Feb. 4, 2010 in Miami.
Bush was a force as a runner and receiver, along with being a dynamic kick return man for New Orleans. He earned induction into the Saints Hall of Fame in 2019.
With the character and unusual maturity at such a young age displayed by Williamson to this point, the expedition is that he can handle the distraction in similar fashion to Bush.
Of course, it would be nice to see the situation settled and settled quickly, rather than watching it drag on in a knock-down, drag-out, Duke-it-out 15-round brawl.
A knockout or technical knockout will likely come first, preventing the case from going to the scorecards, rather than watching Williamson impact the scoreboard at Smoothie King Center sometime in the near future.