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Everett: If healthy, Zion should play again for Duke this season

| Friday, February 22, 2019

It seemed like everyone was watching No. 1 Duke host No. 8 North Carolina on Wednesday night.

Then, just thirty seconds into the game, Zion Williamson suffered an injury.

The freshman phenom planted hard with his left foot, broke through his Nike shoe and subsequently injured his right knee. The atmosphere of the game deflated without its best player present. After the game, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters that the forward has a mild knee sprain, and that he doesn’t know how long Williamson will be out.

Lots of people reacted — everyone from Nike regarding their malfunctioning shoe, to professionals regarding how players should be allowed to leave for the NBA out of high school (or at least earn money in college), to analysts and fans as to whether or not Zion should play it safe and sit out the rest of the season in preparation for the NBA Draft this spring, a decision which many NBA players support.

While the other two subjects are interesting and deserve a take, I’ll focus my efforts on the last point, and argue that Zion Williamson, if healthy, should absolutely return to the court and play the rest of the season — not only for Duke, Coach K and his teammates — but primarily for himself.

Look, I get the argument from those who believe Zion should, even if healthy, simply not take the risk and wait until the NBA to play — a league that will actually pay him a lot of money for his services and the stardom he so spectacularly represents. At least from a financial perspective, Duke and the NCAA aren’t doing much of anything for Zion, so why should he contribute to their financial goals? Doesn’t seem like much of a reciprocal relationship there. Instead, it appears more and more like exploitation.

So yes, college athletics has serious problems. But to then argue that Zion Williamson should quit on his teammates, coaches and Duke — a team that has the best shot of winning the NCAA Championship this year with Zion in the lineup — shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what sports are supposed to be about, what injuries represent and, most importantly, who Zion Williamson is.

Well, what are sports supposed to be, Joe? Well, check back with me in 10 days once my senior thesis is complete. For now, I’ll just say sports are simply not about the individual quest for glory; while that’s part of their allure, it’s within the team dynamic of sport where we really flourish as athletes and as people. Sports are all about sacrificing oneself and one’s self-interests for the good of the team, and recognizing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Sports are about building community, and cultivating the value of friendship and loyalty within that community. If you watch Zion Williamson interact with his teammates and those around him, one can immediately recognize the strength of the community within the Duke basketball program. This team has the chance to do something special— not just in its quest for a national championship, but in the way it builds community and cultivates relationships that go beyond basketball.

Secondly, within this entire discussion there seems to be an overly irrational fear regarding injuries above all else. Every athletic activity involves the chance of getting hurt. Obviously, we try to limit it as much as possible, but there will always be inherent risk.

The Nike shoe that Williamson blew through was Paul George’s PG 2.5. Remember what happened to Paul George? He snapped his leg practicing for the Olympic team, and it was doubtful whether he would ever be the same player again. If we take the logic applied to Williamson’s case, why should NBA athletes play in the Olympics at all? There’s no financial incentive, so the cause must be something higher. Paul George believed in that cause, and unfortunately suffered a gruesome injury because of it. That didn’t stop him, however, and today he’s stronger for it, now in the discussion for MVP of the NBA.

Lastly, Zion Williamson loves playing basketball. He could have sat out this entire season if he wanted to, but he hasn’t. Why? After suffering a minor injury against Virginia Tech a month ago, Zion said, “I just can’t stop playing. I’d be letting my teammates down. I’d be letting Coach K down. I’d be letting a lot of people down. If I wanted to sit out, I wouldn’t have went to college. I came to Duke to play.”

We fall to pick ourselves back up again. Zion, go finish what you started.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Joe Everett

Joe is a senior PLS major and hails from the thriving metropolis of South Bend, IN. In addition to formerly serving as Sports Editor at The Observer, Joe is a RA in Stanford Hall and a past champion of the Observer's Fantasy Football league.

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