Zion Williamson is an insanely gifted basketball player for the Duke Blue Devils. We, the collective, are not as gifted at basketball and certainly do not play for Mike Krzyzewski.
On Wednesday evening, a nation watched as a sneaker was destroyed under Zion’s weight, leaving people saddened, frustrated, outraged, and every other emotion that can be conjured.
All emotions were not created equal.
Prior to this injury against North Carolina, Williamson had stated on the record he would have gone to college even if the one-and-done rule had not existed. Maybe he said that because it was his only option. Maybe he was being polite. It could also just be how he honestly feels. For now, it is probably best to take the kid at his word.
Everyone ignored that, however.
Everyone also ignored the degree of injury he suffered. Why not? People had takes to post online. A lot of them. Most of them carried no real-world relevance in relationship to this specific player and this specific situation. The takes were formulated, cooked, given, devoured, and then recycled.
These takes were not offered within the context of authentic conversations. Just takes and opinions. I’m right, you’re wrong. Nothing else.
People were spouting their thoughts from various soapboxes, preaching to the masses as though the Zion Williamson situation was as much about a belief system as it was about a potentially (seriously) injured player.
To be fair, a lot of the discussions around the NCAA do happen to be about belief systems: pay-to-play or not, or numerous areas which are less talked about but very real. However, from the very little we know about Williamson, few of these discussions were applicable to him. He’s a brand, after all. He is a person who claims to cherish his teammates, Duke University, and time he spends in college.
And yet, who are we to hold dear what another might? Why should the masses — who are, if nothing else, great at telling other people what to do with their lives — remove their own ideals from a situation few people earnestly care about?
Of course people care if Williamson is healthy or hurt. A greater number of NBA fans cherish the idea of the youngster donning their favorite franchise’s uniform following the 2019 NBA Draft. Yet, a person can wonder how many people sincerely care for Williamson’s health. We can and should ask if a given opinion on Zion Williamson is advanced for the sake of the person, not the player.
To be clear, we’re talking about the mental and physical health of the player. Our sympathy shouldn’t be limited to what we presume to be a possible loss of financial gain. Williamson apparently loves college; why were few sad for him? Why were few sad that he might have missed out on that experience as an athlete?
In 2019, it can’t be both, apparently. A person is supposedly not allowed to believe the NCAA system is archaic, the NBA’s one-and-done rule no good at all, AND that Williamson still might fully embrace being a young person in college. It can only be the former two, or just the third claim, but not a combination of the three.
Why? Everyone has long claimed nuance is dead, but so too is good-faith conversations. Not when branding is on the line. Not when the loudest voice gets the biggest return.
It didn’t matter when you logged on social media or checked your favorite college basketball website. We were all witnesses… to people using Zion Williamson’s situation as a jumping point for a separate dialogue he has seemed to consistently want no part of.
When Scottie Pippen said Zion should shut it down for the sake of his NBA Draft stock, Zion downplayed it. When asked if he’d jump to the pros straight of college, Williamson flatly said he’d still go the collegiate route.
But goddamn it, people wanted their opinions to be known, and they didn’t care to allow any wiggle room for a good-faith debate.
There was a time when good-faith arguments were allowed on social media. While hard to pinpoint its exact demise, long-gone are the days of being able to exchange differing ideas in order for each participant to grow as a learner and a whole person with an expanded awareness of other perspectives in the world.
It’s not only a fact that virtually all statements now made online come without good faith; a more specific point of emphasis is that plenty of statements come with a disingenuous tone. A writer might write something which someone else broadly, but not fully, agrees with. Instead of discussing the areas that aren’t black and white, it’s straight to the quote-tweet to praise the piece of work as hyperbolically great — a must-read, even if not fully true.
This is what happened, though inside its own vacuum, following the Williamson injury.
There were only great takes and historically awful takes. Nothing was allowed to exist in between, and lord knows few decided to read beyond the headlines 10 hours removed from a sneaker exploding.
Did I mention he’s Zion Williamson and we are, you know, not?
Joseph Nardone has covered college basketball for nearly a decade at various outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
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