It was late January 2018, when Williamson, then a five-star recruit at Spartanburg Day School in South Carolina, was about 24 hours from choosing where to play college basketball during a nationally televised ceremony on a Saturday in prime time. Yet, Williamson faced a more immediate decision before Spartanburg Day’s Friday game.
Which sneakers would he wear the night before making his college commitment?
The No. 2-ranked high school player in the nation found the answer in a 33-second Nike spot released in 1985, a decade and a half before he was born in 2000, featuring a young Michael Jordan in a black and red pair of his debut signature sneaker, the Air Jordan 1.
“In high school, and even now, I like to go back and watch those old-school Jordan commercials,” Williamson, now 20 and an All-Star for the New Orleans Pelicans, told The Undefeated. “I remember there was a lot going on with my college decision. I came across the Banned commercial, saying [the NBA] banned that colorway. So I was like, ‘You know what? I’m gonna have some fun with it tonight.’ So I laced ’em up and went out there and hooped.”
Williamson broke out his retro pair of “Banned” Air Jordan 1s that his mother, Sharonda, bought him. “Those might’ve been the only Jordans I had,” remembered Willamson, whose high school and AAU teams were both sponsored by Adidas. That night, he took the court for warm-ups as the only player for Spartanburg Day not wearing Adidas basketball shoes. Lou Bezjak, a reporter with The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, took notice of the switch-up and snapped a photo that he posted to Twitter.
“He wasn’t in any trouble,” recalled Lee Sartor, Williamson’s head coach at Spartanburg Day. “I certainly wasn’t going to police what he wore. It was his night. When you’re playing basketball, what’s on your feet means a lot. So if he wanted to play in some Jordans, I let him, especially if he was gonna continue to play at the highest level. Which he did.”
With 1s on his feet, Williamson dropped 36 points, including a half-dozen poster dunks, in a 90-59 Spartanburg Day win. The following night, he committed to Duke University, where he played a one-and-done season before emerging as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft — and the most sought-after rookie by global sneaker companies since LeBron James in 2003.
Similar to James, Williamson decided to roll with Nike — but instead with Jordan, a sub-brand of the company that he joined in July 2019 with a multiyear footwear and apparel deal. Read the full story here.