Inside Zion Williamson's injury, a busted shoe and a busted knee

Zach Brook
NBC Sports Washington

Inside Zion Williamson's injury, a busted shoe and a busted knee originally appeared on nbcsportswashington.com

In the opening moments of last night's matchup between the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tar Heels at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the sports world came to a standstill.

The most anticipated clash of the season between two of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball made this the big-ticket event that you did not want to miss. 

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Tickets for the bout reached astronomical numbers, rivaling the Super Bowl that took place just weeks ago. Waiting until the morning of the event to purchase a seat? $2,755 on StubHub.

With Ken Griffey Jr., President Barack Obama, and Spike Lee in attendance for the highly-touted scrum, Durham, North Carolina, was the place to be.

And then just like that, thirty seconds after the tip, the sports world stopped.

Dribbling around the key, on the first possession of the night, Zion Williamson's shoe disintegrated in front of the world. The defect caused him to slide, his knee buckling as a result of it and he landed on the floor in pain.

Williamson, the presumed #1 Pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the most brute, physical specimen that college basketball has seen in decades, became human. 

James Gilbert, a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon at The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics who has served as the team physician for Duke Sports Medicine, US Soccer, DC United, the Dallas Cowboys and the Dallas Mavericks, was watching the contest at Cameron Indoor on television last evening and saw the event in real time.

"I don't know if there's ever been an event bigger than this directly in the public eye," said Gilbert. "I've seen it occur in soccer because they have studs in the turf, but never on a basketball court. He's a one in a generation athlete."

Despite being a lifelong fan of his alma mater and wanting to see the most polarizing force in recent memory, Gilbert trusts the judgment and decision to keep Zion out for the remainder of the game.

"I know the doctors at Duke; they would never jeopardize an athlete," he said. "He's lucky the end result is just a knee sprain, it could have been a lot worse. It's good that the main hospital is only 200 yards away from where he fell."

After Coach Mike Krzyzewski announced that Williamson had suffered a knee sprain, many people wanted the details. How bad was it? How long is he going to be out? 

As in consistent Duke fashion, no info was revealed on the injury and no specifics were given. 

Speculation about the injury began to go mainstream. Questions arose about his future in college basketball, whether he should or should not sit out the rest of his freshman, and likely only season, at the collegiate ranks to prepare for the NBA Draft.

"I've met Zion, I'm sure he wanted to go back in," said Gilbert. "He's had no prior knee injuries to my knowledge and it appears to just be a result of the defective shoe. These shoes are made to grip and cut. They need to start making shoes for larger than average athletes like him."

Gilbert doesn't expect Williamson to be out long, he believes the team was extra cautious in handling last night's situation. 

Zion Williamson will have all the time he needs to recover, and college basketball will be ready for his return, whenever that may be. 

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