Months before Zion Williamson is scheduled to make his NBA debut, he is facing his first controversy. In a report by ESPN Senior Writer Mark Schlabach, he states that a Nike employee at least approved under-the-table payments to former Duke star Zion Williamson and ex-Indiana star Romeo Langford when they were still in high school in February 2017.
The alleged offers — $35,000 or more for Williamson and $20,000 for Langford — were purportedly discovered among “text messages, e-mails and other documents from 2016-17 … proving that Nike executives had arranged for and concealed payments, often in cash, to amateur basketball players and their families and ‘handlers,'” according to the motion filed in U.S. District Court in New York.
Such an act is prohibited by NCAA standards, but the practice is anything but nonexistent. As for Zion and Nike in this case particularly, there is no actual evidence any cash sum was paid out.
There is no evidence that the offers or payments were made to Williamson, Langford or their families. Williamson played one season at Duke and was the No. 1 pick by the New Orleans Pelicans in this year’s NBA draft. Langford also was one-and-done at Indiana and was the No. 14 pick by the Boston Celtics.
The motion, filed by Michael Avenatti, is set to expose misconducts by Nike and others in the schemes of player payments. The history goes deep, and Avenatti has already lost a battle with the global athletic brand before.
Avenatti was arrested and charged by federal prosecutors in March with attempting to extort up to $25 million from Nike by threatening to expose the shoe company’s alleged improper payments to high-profile players in its grassroots basketball league, the EYBL.
No doubt, this sort of behind-the-scenes money throwing can have serious consequences on both Nike and Zion. Avenatti, in trying to dismiss his case, is claiming both the company and everyone involved is trying to cover up their tactics.
“The evidence shows I should have never been arrested, let alone charged,” Avenatti told ESPN on Wednesday. “I was targeted. Nike, Zion, Duke and many others have a lot of explaining to do.”
The reputation and status of everyone involved are at stake.