One of the frustrating things about covering college sports is that we spend way too much time arguing about stupid debates that never have a clear-cut solution. Should college athletes be paid a salary? Is it time to expand the College Football Playoff to eight teams? How the hell did Tom Crean get himself another good job so quickly?
Ok, that last one isn’t really a big-time debate, but the rest are, and the latest debate that we can’t seem to escape is the one about players sitting out games to protect their health and draft stock. We’ve seen it across college football these last few years, where plenty of guys have elected to skip meaningless bowl games to protect their health (Of course what no one talks about is the number of guys who do elect to play in meaningless bowl games. You know, like Kentucky’s Josh Allen, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins and LSU’s Devin White. Just as an example).
And now apparently we’re seeing the debate extend to college basketball too.
That’s because on Wednesday, Scottie Pippen dropped an all-time awful take when he said that Zion Williamson should sit out the rest of the college basketball season to protect himself. Here’s what Pippen said:
“I think he’s locked up the biggest shoe deal, I think he’s definitely going to be the No. 1 pick, I think he’s done enough for college basketball that it’s more about him personally. I think for him as a young player, I would shut it down. I would stop playing because I feel he could risk a major injury that could really hurt his career.”
This take is so dumb, for so many reasons that I’m going to get to here in a moment.
But before I do that, let me say one thing: I really hate this crap. I really hate when adults (especially those who don’t cover college sports) project themselves onto kids that they’ve never met, and act like they know what is best for them. The bottom-line is that Zion Williamson has two more months and about 20 games of college basketball where he can enjoy being a kid. Then he will be thrust into a grown man’s world in the NBA where there are contract demands to meet and sponsors to please. And because of it, I wish Pippen and all the other “experts” who think they know what’s best for Williamson would just leave him alone and let Zion enjoy these final few moments of being a kid.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to all the reasons why Pippen’s take is idiotic. To use the famous quote, “Let me count the ways.” And believe me, there are many.
For starters, the number one thing that drives me crazy about this “injury debate” is that there actually is no “debate” at all. The bottom line is that I’ve been watching college basketball for well over 20 years now, and unless I’m forgetting something, I literally can’t remember one instance of a player suffering a career-ending injury in college. There have been nicks and bumps and injuries that have cost players a game, or the remainder of a season, but never their entire career.
I’ll go ahead and avoid going into each gruesome injury one by one, but I feel pretty confident saying this: There isn’t a single injury that Zion Williamson could suffer on the basketball court that would end his career. Not one. This isn’t 1968. It’s 2019. Modern medicine is too good. So let’s stop with the “injury risk.” There is no real risk at all.
As a matter of fact, I’ll take it a step further: Not only is there not an injury that Zion can suffer that will end his NBA career, I also don’t think there is a single injury that could even hurt his draft stock. Even if, God forbid something bad happened to him on the court (and again, I’m not going to get into particulars) I see absolutely zero scenario where he would fall beyond the second pick in the draft. None.
Sound crazy? Let’s back it up with a little thing I like to call “facts.”
And those facts are this: Does anyone remember what happened during the 2013 college basketball season? When Nerlens Noel went down with a season-ending ACL injury. It was an injury which in 1968 would have cost Noel is his career, but thankfully was easily fixable 50 years later. It was such a non-issue as a matter of fact, that despite Noel missing the end of his college season and the risk that he wouldn’t be ready for his rookie year, he still went No. 6 overall in the NBA Draft. A major injury literally had no impact on his draft stock at all. Same thing a year later with Joel Embiid. He missed all of the Big 12 Tournament for Kansas and their two NCAA Tournament games that year too. By the time the draft rolled around it was clear that he would miss his rookie year as well. And he still went No. 3 overall. And some people still thought at that time it was too low.
So again, the narrative that Zion could suffer an injury that could cost him his career just isn’t accurate. Even if something bad were to happen (and again, we’re all praying it doesn’t), he has too much talent and too much marketability go any worse than No. 2 in the draft. And that’s only if some team is head over heels in love with R.J. Barrett.
Now, beyond just the fake “injury debate” that doesn’t exist, let’s also consider another thing that Pippen seemed to miss on. I’m going to assume that part of his “Hey, Zion should shut it down” hot take comes from seeing all those football players sit out bowl games.
Except here’s the thing: Let’s never forget that while we’ve had plenty of guys sit out meaningless bowl games, we still haven’t had a single player sit out of a College Football Playoff game. So you’re telling me that football players, with less market value and greater risk of injury, are willing to play for a championship, but Zion shouldn’t be? Get the hell out of here.
Now look, it’d be one thing if Zion had a growing list of nagging injuries or there were real concerns about his ability to stay healthy. I’d never blame him if he wanted to protect his future if that were the case.
But those things don’t exist. So asking him to sit out when his team has a shot to compete for a championship basically goes against everything that every athlete has ever been taught. I’m not trying to get on my whole “Put the team before yourself” soapbox, because I don’t buy that. I do think however it’s easy for Pippen to sit in a TV studio and say things that he doesn’t really believe. For example, Pippen has a son who just committed to Vanderbilt. Let’s say one day his son is good enough to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. Assuming his son is healthy, do you really think there is any chance that Pippen would tell his kid to shut it down and get ready for the draft?
I’m sorry, but I just don’t think he would. Which makes the take even worse. It’s disingenuous and it was said to make a headline rather than because it’s what he really believed.
The good news is that by all accounts, Zion doesn’t seem like that kind of guy. He seems to genuinely enjoy playing at Duke and genuinely enjoy playing with his teammates. And I just can’t imagine any world where he decides to shut it down unless something unexpected happens.
Which makes me happy.
Not just because I enjoy watching him play. But because as I said at the top, Zion only has about 20 games and two months to enjoy being a kid, before he will be off to a grown man’s world.
And I hope he enjoys every last second of it.