The Loop

Zion Williamson just killed the one-and-done rule

February 25, 2019
North Carolina v Duke

Streeter Lecka

Nobody wants to hear a loathsome Duke fan like me whine about the worst losses in school history—I get that—but the truth is the truth, and Wednesday night's disaster against North Carolina was an all-timer. Not only did our biggest rivals crush us at Cameron Indoor Stadium in front of Obama (who curses us every time he shows up), but our precious divine superman, Zion Williamson, went down with a knee injury that, for all we knew, might keep him out for the season and destroy our title hopes.

Aside from tournament losses, which are always crushing to some degree, this was the worst game I can remember since Kyrie Irving got hurt his freshman season and broke up one of the greatest teams in college basketball history. The fact that this happened against the Tar Heels made it even worse.

More than disappointment, though, I felt dirty. The hype attending the game, the stupidly high ticket prices, the endless ESPN commercials, even Obama's presence...a lot of it was because of Zion. He has already made his school and ESPN so much money. Hell, if you saw his name in the title of this post and clicked the article, that means he's indirectly made me money. The only person who isn't getting paid? That's right: Zion Williamson.

This tweet pretty much sums it up:

I've spent a lot of time complaining about the one-and-done rule in college basketball (on this very website!), and how it's unfair to players, and how it's ridiculous in general to tell an 18-year-old human being that he can't get paid for a highly marketable skill in a supposedly free economy. But did I boycott college basketball? Nope. Did I tune in to see Duke vs. North Carolina? Hell yes. Here's how I rationalized it to myself: As bad as the system is, at least Zion Williamson is going to be rich as hell in a year.

But for a long time on Wednesday night, it seemed like even that might not come true. And that's when I started to feel dirty.

I wasn't alone—in the aftermath of that game, debates raged. A vocal contingent argued that regardless of the injury's extent, Zion should shut it down and take the rest of the season off, which was an easy sentiment to get behind in the immediate aftermath. Others took the opposite view, and inevitably the debate turned to the nature of the NBA's one-and-done rule itself, which states that a player can't go straight from high school into the league, which forces the player to sit out, play internationally, or—the option most choose, in order to maintain the highest possible draft stock—play for free in college.

When I wrote about the absurdity of the rule in November, there were already plans in motion to end it by the 2022 draft, but there was still conflict between the league and the union on certain details. Then, on Thursday—the day after Zion went down—it was announced that the NBA had officially submitted a proposal to lower the minimum draft age from 19 to 18 and kill the one-and-done era once and for all. The timing was apparently "coincidental," to which I say: amazing coincidence! The USA Today report came from a "person with knowledge of the proposal," and if that's not an NBA-approved source who is both A) putting out the public relations fire reignited by Zion's injury and B_ using the opportunity to pressure the players' union into accepting their terms, I will eat my nonexistent hat.

Which, if I'm right, means that Zion isn't just the most exciting college basketball player in recent memory, and he isn't just Duke's only hope of winning another title—he's the man who leveled the death blow on the one-and-done rule, and all it took was a sprained knee and a busted shoe.

Your Other Future Superstar of the Week: Felix Auger-Aliassime

You like speed? You like power? You like exciting young players that have the electric intangible that makes you think "this is greatness"? Then you, my friend, will love 18-year-old Canadian sensation Felix Auger-Aliassime.

FAA, as I'm calling him, is just 18 years old, and this week in Rio he made his first ATP final (which he lost in a tight match). He was the seventh youngest player in history to ever win an ATP Challenger event (tennis' second division, basically) at just 16 years and 10 months, and he's one of just four players to have captured three titles before his 18th birthday. The other three? Richard Gasquet, Juan Martin Del Potro, and Novak Djokovic. That's some good company! And this week in Rio, he's proved that unlike basically every American hopeful in existence, he's going to be an all-court player. Remember that nonexistent hat I promised to eat a few paragraphs ago? Well if FAA doesn't win a French Open in the next decade, I'll eat it again.

He's still figuring things out here at the start of his professional career, but if you're looking for the kind of prodigy who can live up to the incredible standard set by the Big Three over the last two decades, this is the brightest hope yet.

Clutch Basketball Poetry-in-Motion Man of the Week: DeAngelo Russell, Nets

First, watch this, as Russell singlehandedly destroys the Charlotte Hornets on the road:

Then read this weird but fun story about a poet named Mikko Harvey who is obsessed with Russell, to the point of forcing his literary interviewers to watch YouTube highlight reels, and why he thinks Russell is actual human poetry. I promise, you won't regret it.

Bad Soccer Playing of the Week: These Guys

We end with some bad soccer men. Bad keeper, bad striker, bad all around. BAD:

This was so bad that we have to ask the question: Is soccer itself bad? I vow to keep investigating.