Zion Williamson is a phenomenon. Already, at the age of 18. He belongs to a group of athletes where you only have to mention the first name, and everyone knows who you’re talking about. For many, he’s the future of basketball. He’s the reason people go to watch a basketball game, just like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James before him.
After the Draft Lottery of May 14, which stipulated that New Orleans had the first pick in the draft, over 3000 season tickets were sold by the Pelicans fans within 24 hours. Before they’re even certain that their team will pick Zion in the Draft. In the first hours after the flood of request for tickets, the team’s management decided that the Pelicans’ office would also remain open at night, to give as many people as possible the opportunity to purchase a ticket.
The Draft Lottery itself had to do with the Zion effect as well. The 2019 Lottery was the best viewed lottery ever. There were 77% more viewers than in 2018. Up until that point, 2015 held the record for most basketball fans watching the Lottery. That was the draft with Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis and Devin Booker.
Williamson is still young, but he shoots, scores, jumps, blocks, rebounds and dunks as one of the best, and then you don’t even describe half the things he does on the court. His jump power is phenomenal and sometimes he even has to retract his head in order to not bump into the ring with his head. There were already votes to invite Williamson to the Dunk Contest during the All-Star weekend of the last NBA season. An arrangement would have to be made between the NBA and the NCAA to ensure that no amateur rules were broken, but unfortunately it did not happen. Hamidou Diallo was a great winner but Williamson would have crushed him.
The attention for the jump miracle is therefore insanely great.
During the All-Star break LeBron James and his teammate Rajon Rondo already came to see him play basketball in the top game between Duke and Virgina. And James and Rondo were served at their beck and call. They were present at perhaps the most beautiful performance of the basketball season.
Williamson already has some spectacular actions to his name in his first and only year with Duke, but what he did against Virginia was phenomenal. It was arguably one of the most athletic plays ever. And it wasn’t even a dunk or an acrobatic score, no it was a defensive action.
In the final phase of a close game, De’Andre Hunter from Virginia, 6 foot 7, got a completely open three pointer in the corner. Within a meter or four, there was no Duke player in sight. Hunter was already going up for his shot when Zion came in running. When the shot was already underway, Zion went up … and up … and up. It seemed impossible, but Zion blocked the ball at the highest point. Hunter didn’t stand a chance.
That Zion action was an instant hit on social media. The jump has been shared hundreds of thousands of times, on YouTube the action is viewed thousands of times every day, and on Twitter, Zion was trending for almost a week.
But that is nothing new to him. Social media and Zion seem to have found each other. In his short career as a basketball player, YouTube has watched his actions for more than 70 million times. That’s about 50 million times more than any other freshman in college basketball.
This is not really a surprise. Zion has been doing well in the market since he played in high school. Look at these facts.
As a 16-year-old, he was already on the cover of Slam Magazine. A video with Crazy Dunks from Zion at that age has been viewed more than 400,000 times on YouTube. At that age, he had 12,000 followers on Instagram, but after that it went up fast. Within a year, that number grew to 125,000. In May of 2018, he already had 1.5 million followers and after he chose Duke he got more than 680,000 followers in the few months that he played there. His university, Duke, also benefited from his arrival. In the one season that Zion played with Duke, the university got 285,000 extra followers on Instagram.
This is nothing new for Zion. He was just a high school player when rapper Drake was already walking around in a shirt with the name of Williamson on his back. At that moment, everyone was already confused by his insane dunks and blocks. Not surprising, because in high school he easily won dunk contests by taking off from the free-throw line. Zion now has more Twitter followers than NBA players like Robert Covington, Aaron Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Nikola Vucevic and Jamal Murray. Not yet the real NBA top, but not bad for a freshman in college. In a Duke game against Princeton, Zion bumped his head against the board in an attempt to block a shot from an opponent’s player. In no time, that action got more than a million viewers on YouTube.
All television stations also benefit from the presence of Zion. NCAA basketball was watched much more this season than just a season before. Overall, there was a growth of 6% viewers in the 2018-2019 season, but when Duke played there was a 30% increase! That amounts to more than 2 million viewers per game. Another nice fact: in the top six of NCAA’s best viewed matches last year, there are five Duke games.
In the NCAA tournament, it became even crazier in the television world. Three Duke games during March Madness attracted more than ten million viewers. In the (lost) game of Duke against Michigan State in the Elite Eight, there were even 16.2 million basketball fans in front of the television. And in every round of the tournament, the Duke game was the best watched.
The biggest proof of Zion’s impact was in Duke’s home game against North Carolina on February 20, a game also attended by former President Barack Obama. 3 seconds into the game, he made a move that ripped him out of his Nike shoe. Zion then sustained a knee injury that kept him out of several games. But the consequences for Nike were even greater. The huge sports company was blamed that the shoe on which Zion played was not good and the result was that Nike’s share on the stock market fell by 1 percent in the days that followed. One percent represented a value of $ 1.46 billion. A bizarre observation that a mild sprain to the right knee on an 18-year-old can have so many financial consequences. Even the Wall Street Journal paid extensive attention to this. And all because a kid tears off his shoe.