Looming Zion Williamson Lawsuit Deposition Could Attract Unwanted Attention From Nike And NCAA

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Looming Zion Williamson Lawsuit Deposition Could Attract Unwanted Attention From Nike And NCAA

Christopher Dodson

Zion Williamson is facing his toughest professional challenges in a North Carolina federal court and a Miami-Dade County Circuit court, not on NBA courts. In both Florida and North Carolina courts, Williamson is battling Gina Ford and Prime Sports Marketing to void a representation contract, in effect protecting $100 million of Williamson’s earnings. However, there are several other parties concerned with Williamson’s lawsuits. The FBI and the NCAA will be following these proceedings closely, as will Nike and other brands that Williamson endorses. 

United States Magistrate Judge Joe L. Webster ruled against Williamson’s motion to begin the discovery process in the North Carolina lawsuit against Prime Sports and President Gina Ford. The ruling means it is far more likely that Williamson will be compelled into a deposition covering his recruitment and eventual signing with Prime Sports. Should the parties fail to settle, Williamson will be deposed and would be called as a witness at trial. His answers could be detrimental to his future marketing opportunities, Duke University, Nike, the Jordan Brand, and even his AAU program. 

Many legal minds were curious about the college basketball bribery scandal that led to former adidas executive James Gatto serving time in prison. Some prosecutors were even surprised there were not more indictments issued considering the nature of the college hoops recruiting circuit. None of the main players in the adidas scandal approach the celebrity status of Williamson.

These two lawsuits involving Williamson’s signing of a contract with Ford will interest the NCAA because of their softening of rules concerning athletes getting paid. Williamson signed with Primed Sports just days after leaving Duke University. Williamson is effectively accusing Ford of being misleading in negotiations to the point of fraud. The FBI will be watching to see how much money crossed state lines, and if it was a legal transaction.

To be sure, this could evolve from a civil suit to a federal investigation depending on what Williamson reveals in a potential deposition. The FBI set that precedent when they successfully prosecuted Adidas executives. No one will know until Williamson is deposed and possibly takes the stand. The parties could also choose to settle the matter out of court at any time.

Williamson will make $61,866,400 on his rookie contract should play through his qualifying offer. Most every top draft pick with potential signs an extension instead of playing out his fifth season on a below market value one-year deal. Should he maintain his current production, Williamson will sign two or thee maximum-level contracts before his NBA career is completed. Not including endorsement contracts, Williamson could reasonably earn more than $300 million on NBA contracts alone before he is 30 years old. 

Ford is seeking one-third of Williamson’s possible NBA earnings for breach of contract and damages, for good reason. Even if he losses the full $100 million to Gina Ford and Prime Sports in a nasty court trial, he will still be marketable well past his prime. Williamson could earn more off the court than by playing on it. 

Jordan Brand has Williamson signed to a deal worth $75 million. Gatorade is paying seven figures. Mountain Dew, 2K Sports, Panini America, Mercedes-Benz, Beats by Dre, Fanatics, and Marvel all had competition to sign Williamson. His deal with Jordan Brand is for five years. Williamson’s rookie contracts for endorsements are larger than his contract to actually play basketball.

That is the money Ford is going after. It is why Ford wanted to represent Williamson in the capacity spelled out in the initial contract. This side of the ‘Business of Zion’ was more lucrative. Ford argues she did not need to be certified by the NBA or NBPA to represent Williamson for shoe and beverage deals, especially since the contract was signed before he was officially a player in the NBA. 

Nike and the Jordan Brand could see a substantial hit to the bottom line. Shares of adidas were hammered once the full scope of the bribery scandal was known and charges were filed. Depending on Williamson’s answers in a deposition, Nike could lose more than $100 million in sales and stock value. The Jordan Brand will have to bid for Williamson’s endorsement again in five years. The taint of a criminal scandal could see Williamson jump to another brand, which would be a costly hit to brand value.

Endorsement money can top employment money at the professional level. It could be the only money available at the amateur level. Right now that money goes under the table. It is the money the NCAA wants to keep out of the game, and out of athletes’ pockets. This is done through archaic rules on players being paid for likenesses and product endorsement. 

Williamson could have made millions while playing for Duke University if allowed to shop his marketing talents on the open market. Now, due to that unfortunate one-and-done arrangement, Williamson’s professional dealings could taint his college legacy and taint his professional future. The NCAA will be under pressure to change the rules that force athletes into these circumstances. The athletes will demand it, or as has been the case more frequently, take their talents abroad for a season. 

The more that is revealed in these lawsuits, the more Williamson is at risk of losing his fun-loving and innocent perception to the public and the money that comes with marketing deals. Any under-the-table dealings directly involving Williamson, should there be such an instance, would be a reason for brands to terminate their endorsement contracts with Williamson

Everyone except the FBI and possibly Gina Ford wants to avoid Williamson getting deposed, to see a settlement before the next NBA season starts. The less that is said, the better. Some would argue that without NCAA rules, these lawsuits could have been avoided. That is not the situation, however. Now Williamson is learning that even with his dynamic personality and welcoming smile, sports marketing is tough while dealing with court proceedings. 

It is all the more difficult when the NBA season is on an indefinite hiatus. His great talent and smooth-talking negated by on-going lawsuits, without highlight dunks to fill the time. Now it seems Williamson will be playing defense in legal courts again before he and the New Orleans Pelicans can hit the hardwood in any capacity. 

I have covered Louisiana high school and college basketball in spurts for a decade. A basketball lifer from the bayou, I’ve reached the big leagues by writing about the

I have covered Louisiana high school and college basketball in spurts for a decade. A basketball lifer from the bayou, I’ve reached the big leagues by writing about the New Orleans Pelicans. My gumbo stirring form matches my elbow jumper celebration. Fast enough for varsity hoops, tall enough for a soccer scholarship. I have words, and will travel, just not on the court.