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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Zion Williamson

Michael Avenatti alleges Nike approved payments for Zion Williamson

basketball

Attorney Michael Avenatti is once again accusing Nike executives of improper conduct, including approving illegal payments to Zion Williamson and other players.

Avenatti was arrested on March 25 and charged by federal prosecutors for attempting to extort Nike. Avenatti allegedly was threatening to hold a press conference in which he would unveil improper activities between Nike and high school/college programs unless they paid him $25 million.

Avenatti hired legal representation for the extortion case and is seeking to have the charges dismissed on grounds of vindictive and selective prosecution. His attorneys filed a motion in U.S. District Court in New York on Wednesday that included numerous allegations, according to ESPN’s Mark Schlabach.

According to the motion, Avenatti has evidence Nike executives approved cash payments to be made to handlers and family members of amateur players. The payments are often made in an effort to steer an amateur player to a college program sponsored by the shoe company. Adidas was at the center of a college basketball scandal over the past two years for this issue. Avenatti says Nike has engaged in similar practices.

Avenatti claims to have evidence showing a Nike employee was willing to make a $35,000 payment to Zion Williamson, $20,000 for Romeo Langford, and $15,000 for another player. Williamson played his freshman season at Duke, which is a Nike-sponsored school, while Langford went to Indiana, an Adidas school.

Avenatti claims to have gained the evidence and information through former amateur coach Gary Franklin. Franklin coached the California Supreme, a Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) team. Franklin alleges Nike tried to funnel payments through him intended for the handlers and/or family of several players on his teams, such as Deandre Ayton. Franklin retained Avenatti’s services after claiming to have been forced out by Nike once he no longer felt comfortable going along with their scheme.

In April, Avenatti also accused Nike of making payments to the mother of Williamson, who ended up going No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft.

Zion Williamson’s presence nets Pelicans 20 nationally televised games

Zion Williamson

It’s fair to say that despite the presence of Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans have not been a national TV staple in recent NBA seasons. That will change with a vengeance in 2019-20.

The NBA’s schedule release Monday revealed that the Pelicans will have 20 nationally televised games between ESPN, TNT, and ABC. Their two ABC games will be their first on that network since 2009, while three of their first five games will be shown to a national audience.

This is unprecedented for the Pelicans, and numbers like that would be more associated with big-name NBA franchises like the Los Angeles Lakers or Golden State Warriors. It’s pretty much all down to Williamson, but it’s worth remembering the young players the franchise has acquired to complement him who are excited to get a taste of playing with him.

Zion Williamson on RJ Barrett: Knicks are ‘getting a killer’

RJ Barrett

Zion Williamson continues to speak highly of college teammate RJ Barrett.

Williamson was at the Panini NBA Rookie Photo Shoot on Sunday and was asked by SNY’s Ian Begley about Barrett. Williamson described his fellow lottery pick as a “killer.”

“(Knicks fans) can expect that they’re getting a killer,” Williamson told SNY. “For the people that are trying to look down on him, RJ’s been through worse. He knows how to battle through it and he’s going to bring the city everything he’s got.”

Williamson and Barrett were close friends during their time together at Duke. The two entered college as highly-regarded recruits. They left with Williamson viewed as the best player in college basketball and runaway favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the draft, which he became. Barrett had a fine season but didn’t quite live up to his billing as a freshman. He still was picked No. 3 overall by the Knicks, who are hoping he will become the game-changer they have lacked.

New York had a quiet offseason. They failed to land Kevin Durant as they were hoping (or not hoping?) and ended up making several under-the-radar signings such as Julius Randle, Bobby Portis and Marcus Morris.

Zion Williamson to compete with Drew Brees in Saints QB challenge

Zion Williamson

Zion Williamson has the type of build that makes people think he could excel playing in the NFL, but you might be surprised to learn how far he can throw a football. We’ll find out how far that is, exactly, when he goes head-to-head with Drew Brees.

Over the weekend, New Orleans Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin told Jeff Duncan of The Athletic that Williamson can throw a football 65 yards. Brees wants to see that in action, so he challenged Williamson to compete in the Saints QB Challenge. The No. 1 overall pick accepted.

Brees and the Saints have gone out of their way to welcome Williamson to New Orleans, with the Pro Bowl quarterback signing a jersey for him with a great message and Saints head coach Sean Payton recruiting the 19-year-old to change sports. Now, they’ll get a real chance to see what he can do.

Given how strong he is, we would not be surprised if Williamson can throw a football more than half the length of a field. But can he put it between the numbers like Brees? If so, the 40-year-old may want to watch his back.

Report: Zion Williamson made millions more from Nike due to shoe malfunction

Zion Williamson shoe

A malfunction with a pair of sneakers made by Nike may have cost Zion Williamson some time during the college basketball season earlier this year, but it sounds like it actually turned out to be a good thing for the former Duke star.

Williamson announced on Tuesday that he has signed an endorsement deal with Jordan Brand, which is of course owned by Nike. While the terms of the deal were not initially known, Darren Rovell of The Action Network reports that Williamson blowing out his shoe on national TV “made the stakes of landing Zion that much greater.” Rovell estimates that Williamson made millions more on his endorsement deal because the embarrassing sneaker malfunction made Nike that much more desperate to sign him.

Williamson suffered what initially looked like a serious injury in Duke’s game against rival North Carolina back in March when his shoe literally fell apart during play. It was a public relations nightmare for Nike, which sponsors Duke and produces their athletic gear.

As many as seven shoe companies expressed interest in signing Williamson before he was drafted No. 1 overall by the New Orleans Pelicans, and some wondered if the blown out shoe would impact his decision. He fueled that buzz when he was spotted wearing a different brand a few months back, but in the end it sounds like the deal worked out for everyone.

Kendrick Perkins warns Zion Williamson to avoid New Orleans food

Zion Williamson

One of the concerns surrounding Zion Williamson now that his NBA career has begun is his weight, and Kendrick Perkins thinks the former Duke star will have to work extra hard to avoid culinary temptations in New Orleans.

Perkins, who spent a season with the Pelicans, said there are going to be people in New Orleans offering Williamson good eats everywhere he goes. The retired big man said the Pelicans better lock Zion away if they want to keep him in shape.

Williamson is listed at 285 pounds, which is heavy for a player who is about 6-foot-6. Most of that has to do with his incredible strength, but he suffered a knee injury in his first Summer League game and also got hurt during the NCAA Tournament back in March, though that injury was more of a fluke. The Summer League injury was the result of knee-to-knee contact, so it’s hard to argue that either had to do with Williamson’s size.

Like any other star player, Williamson will have to keep an eye on his weight and conditioning. While his strength is an asset, he can’t let one too many bowls of gumbo turn his impressive stature into a liability.

Lonzo Ball calls Zion Williamson a ‘freak’

Lonzo Ball

Lonzo Ball seems pretty excited to play with Zion Williamson.

Ball was full of praise for his New Orleans Pelicans teammate on Saturday, describing him as a “freak” and raving about his mobility.

“Man, I’ve never seen somebody that size move like him,” Ball told ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk. “… He’s only 19, right? He’s definitely a freak. I’ve never seen nothing like it.

“Honestly, you just got to run the lane, set screens and roll. With his game and with him getting a full head of steam, it’s going to be very tough to stop him. So I think we play fast and get out on the break as soon as possible.”

Ball has already thought about how to best bring out Williamson’s talents, which is a good sign. It seems he has a much higher opinion of his new teammate than his father does, which is really all that will matter to the Pelicans.