Here’s What Hyped Duke Baller Zion Williamson Would Bring to the New York Sports Scene

Minus a short stint when the team had Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire on the court, the New York Knicks have been abysmal for decades. But the franchise has a shot tonight to change its fortunes for years to come with the NBA Draft Lottery.

The three worst records in the 2018-19 season were held by the Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns, who each have a 14% shot at securing the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. (The Knicks had the worst record at 17-65.) The pick will almost certainly be used to select much-hyped Duke star Zion Williamson.

And if N.Y. lands Williamson, experts believe the basketball shoe business in the Big Apple, and the city’s retail in general, will be booming.

The NPD Group Inc.’s senior sports industry analyst, Matt Powell, told FN that N.Y. is “the best possible place for him to land.” The sneaker industry insider, who has been critical of the basketball shoe market, believes the pairing of Williamson and the Knicks would help the sluggish sneaker category.

“I would expect whatever shoe he’s wearing will get a lot of attention, sales should be robust on those products,” Powell said. “And obviously, his jersey sales will be strong. I’m sure he will also be doing other endorsement things as well, and whatever products he’s endorsing should see a positive lift.”

Although Powell is sure the sneakers he wears on the court would see a sales boost in N.Y., he is unsure of the impact Williamson will have on sales nationally.

“I’m not sure basketball sales overall pick up, but I think he’ll have his greatest impact in N.Y.,” Powell said. “But clearly, he’s going to be getting some national attention. I think we’ll see support for him around the country, but N.Y. is really the place to win, and he can have a positive impact there.”

And sales could use a lift. According to data provided by NPD, basketball sneaker sales have been on a steady decline for years, with sales dropping 12% and 7% in 2017 and 2018, respectively. As of March, basketball shoe sales are down 21% for the year.

Famed YouTuber Mr. Foamer Simpson — a Knicks fan — said Williamson represents hope and would bring an electricity to New York that it hasn’t had in a long time.

“Zion in N.Y. would mean everything. It would ignite the city. Zion is the type of player that could turn things around instantly,” he said. “[And] his sneaker deal will be huge no matter where he goes — obviously in NYC, even more so. His jersey sales are going to be insane. But if he goes to the Knicks, he will be a legend.”

But Ankur Amin, CEO of TGS (the parent company to retailers including Extra Butter), isn’t sold on Williamson’s potential impact on the city’s retail landscape just yet. But it’s not because he doesn’t believe in Williamson’s marketability.

“I’m not sure if [Williamson on the Knicks] boosts brick-and-mortar retail that much. [But] it should certainly shift the conversation towards basketball in the city,” Amin said. “Zion is a marketing dream and has infinite potential. But his overall impact for business in NYC, especially the lasting power of that impact, would depend on the brands he chooses to partner with, the products and marketing strategy they implement around his products — and to a large extent, how the Knicks leverage his presence into putting a consistently compelling product on the basketball court at MSG.”

Although Amin is skeptical, there is an example of a big name in basketball landing in a major market and boosting area retail: LeBron James joining the Los Angeles Lakers.

Sportie LA owner Isack Fadlon told FN in October that he couldn’t remember a time where licensed product was selling as well as it did when James joined the Lakers. “We’re selling more, we’re getting more people into the store looking for items to celebrate their teams,” Fadlon said. “And in doing so, they’re buying other things, as well — we’re seeing an impact on footwear.”

After declaring for the NBA Draft via Instagram in April, experts predicted Williamson would create a monumental bidding war among sneaker brands to have him endorse their product.

“Zion arguably is literally bigger than life. He has a major physical presence on the court that one could say belies his athleticism and agility — and ability to defy gravity with his jump skills. And he is undoubtedly a rising star who seems to be likable,” B. Riley FBR analyst Jeff Van Sinderen told FN. “Those are important qualities as they relate to being a brand ambassador.”

During his one and only season playing college hoops, the 6-foot-7, 284-pound baller was given the 2019 Wooden Award, an honor bestowed upon the best player every year. But the biggest headline attached to Williamson came in February when his Nike PG 2.5 sneaker split on the court against the rival North Carolina Tar Heels.

The 2019 NBA Draft Lottery will take place tonight in Chicago and will air live on ESPN starting at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Watch the behind-the-scenes video below of NBA star Carmelo Anthony’s cover shoot.

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