Pelicans & NBA Basketball

Zion Williamson excites Harlem in brief appearance for Nike

Zion Williamson had only just arrived before he was called to perform his acrobatics.

It was a photo-op for Nike, which was releasing its new Air Jordan's on Saturday, so the youngsters on the Harlem basketball court were told to jump at the same moment took Zion took flight.

Williamson, of course, didn't disappoint. His first jam was a ferocious windmill. The second dunk went under his legs. The Milbank Community Center on 118th St. was going crazy, surrounding the No. 1 overall pick.

But that was it for Zion. He darted off the court and out of sight, whisked away by security while snubbing the planned interviews. Nike had set up an elaborate event to unveil its new Air Jordan sneaker, hyping it up for hours as local AAU teams played scrimmages. Then Zion's appearance lasted 15 minutes.

"He lives a crazy life, that's what I noticed today," said Kia Nurse, the New York Liberty All-Star who was also in Harlem to promote Nike. "That's like too many people around me. That's not for me, I'm good."

Zion is indeed a phenomenon, and Harlem has long represented Nike's go-to site for NBA stars because of its cool factor (retired streetballer Pee Wee Kirkland sat in the front row Saturday).

But there remain concerns about Williamson's viability as a superstar beyond the circus dunk act. His summer league appearance was exciting and very brief, highlighted by multiple ferocious jams against the Knicks.

However, Williamson didn't last beyond the first half and scrapped the remainder of his summer league because of a bruised knee. The Pelicans called it minor and, if nothing else, Saturday's two-dunk showcase demonstrated that it's no longer an issue.

Williamson has not conducted any interviews since Summer League, and his event Saturday took place after Duke concluded an investigation into allegations that Nike paid the power forward during his freshman season with the Blue Devils.

Duke found there was "no evidence" to support the accusation, but the whistleblower – attorney Michael Avenatti – claimed the investigation was a farce and coach Mike Krzyzewski knew about the payments.

"If what I'm saying is untrue, I challenge Coach K and Duke University to file a defamation lawsuit against me tomorrow and we can let the chips fall where they may," Avenatti told the News & Observer.

Regardless, the rulings on Williamson's NCAA eligibility won't affect his NBA career. He has a sweet Nike deal – reportedly worth $75 million over seven years – and represents the most hyped rookie since LeBron James in 2003.

Whether he lives up to that hype will rely heavily on his durability. It's hardly given that a 285-pound high flyer can stay healthy.

But he can dunk better and stronger than everybody else. Zion's a must-see as long as he sticks around, which wasn't very long Saturday in Harlem.

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