If you’re a sports junkie like I am, you are familiar with the ongoing debate about whether or not the recently injured Zion Williamson, Duke Blue Devils star, should try to heal and come back and play this season. He’s the best player in college basketball, the most electrifying NBA prospect since Anthony Davis (and Kevin Durant before him, and Lebron James before him), and he will go number one in this June’s NBA draft. But he was injured in a freak shoe-tear a few weeks ago. And now people are saying, “Should he just sit out the rest of the year and get ready for the draft, or should he return to Duke?”
Advocates saying he should not play argue that these players who help their universities make millions and millions and millions of dollars every year should be making money themselves. Since Zion doesn’t see any money directly, he should therefore protect himself for his NBA career where he’s guaranteed to be a multimillionaire.
Advocates saying he should play argue that he’ll be immortalized if he
returns and helps Duke win the national championship. Further they rightly know that competitors – and if you’ve ever watched Zion, you know he is a fierce competitor – want to play.
Pay the Players?
The operative issue is the ongoing discussion about college players and whether or not they should make money. It seems to me that they should, but I’m not sure exactly how it should work, because the scholarship players, as conservative commentators argue, are in a sense being paid with free college. Of course, guys like Zion aren’t going to need their degree (and so most of them won’t finish it), because the second he’s drafted number one, he’ll be guaranteed a salary of over $6.5 million (and increasing) each of the next several years, a shoe deal, and many more millions from endorsements.
But we’re in a time of changing definitions – it used to be that college sports were exactly that: college sports– extracurricular competition for those attending college. But now, especially college football and basketball are an institution in themselves – a type of professional sports audition leagues, where the college part is secondary.
But by definition college basketball is NOT a sport’s league. It is still an extra-curricular competition league for those attending college. And this is why the NBA is considering lowering the minimum age to 18, so that players who are ready can come into the league straight out of high school. This will effectively change college basketball for forever (as it was in the process of doing before the NBA raised the minimum age to 19 in 2005). And potentially, it may be best if it does happen.
Nothing is Perfect in a Fallen World
But if you ask me, it seems that what is driving the “Zion needs his money” narrative is the common liberationist belief that there are systems ran by rich people purposely set up to keep talented individuals down. And I’m not a conspiracy theorist like so many today, young and old, are. I just think things are the way they are because life in a fallen world has challenges and injustices all over the place. Therefore the creation groans to be liberated from the effects of the fall (Romans 8:22-23). Until that day, nothing in life is without thorns, thistles, pain, and futility (Genesis 3:17-18). Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward (Job 5:7). Nothing we can do today will change the trouble that is around every corner. As a Christian, I believe the only hope we have is the resurrection of Jesus which is making all things new, so that those who seek refuge in Him will be kept until (and prepared for) the new creation where true righteousness dwells (Ps. 91:1, 2 Peter 3:13).
People forget that Zion’s year at Duke is what has made him a household name, and has made him the number one prospect in this year’s draft. So what happens if he comes back and plays and wins a championship? Won’t it be more so? But one may retort, what happens if he comes back and gets injured again? I’ll tell you: He’ll still go in the top 5, because NBA teams will want to take a chance that their training staff can keep him healthy. And he’ll still get his money, and likely be an all-time great anyway.
By the way, if you’ve not watched Zion Williamson, go over to Youtube and get dazzled. Even if you don’t like basketball, you may like it after watching him. I’ve been watching basketball my whole life, and seriously, his highlight reels are like watching old Michael Jordan and Larry Bird reels. It’s so fun. I hope the next time we see him on a basketball court is in a Duke uniform. My Boiler pride won’t let me say, “I hope he wins the championship.” (Boiler up, Purdue is currently #11 in the country after losing 4 starting seniors last summer, and about to win the Big Ten for a record 24th time). But I confess; even as a historic Duke-despiser, I find it impossible not to root for him. I just think the best thing for him will be winning the championship and not taking the easy way out, regardless of what the talking heads on TV say. Something tells me he thinks so, too.