By now we know what goes on in college basketball. It’s a story as old as the sport. Schools are desperate to win and garner attention. Boosters want their programs to be on TV and play deep into March Madness. Athletic departments demand the money keeps rolling in. The coaches need to keep their jobs. It all amounts to a sport ripe for corruption and cheating. Paying for players is the easiest way to do so.
Almost every power program has run afoul of the rules at some point. Syracuse has ’80s “free meals/cash in the Christmas cards” and Fab Melo scandals. North Carolina has the recent academic fraud saga. UCLA fired Jim Harrick for violations. UConn had stolen laptops. Michigan had to take down the Fab 5 banners. UNLV had a dynasty short-circuited. Memphis vacated its trip to a championship game. The list is too long to write.
It’s always been amazing that Duke has slid under the radar, never caught in any wrongdoing, avoiding even a whiff of scandal, despite being the best program in basketball for 35 years. Sure, winning begets winning. Yes, Coach K is obviously an excellent coach. But scandal has caught up to every program from elite academic institutions, to four-year diploma mills. It’s hit the blue-bloods and the never-weres. It’s seemingly unavoidable for every program that ever tried to win.
The recent Adidas scandal has lassoed Kansas, Louisville, LSU and Arizona. Unsurprisingly, sneaker reps fed cash to recruits to direct them toward certain schools that wore Adidas apparel. The FBI found out. Everyone got caught. The coaches all knew, the only question has been whether you can prove it. If the coaches didn’t know (which is impossible to believe), they certainly deserve blame for allowing their assistants to be embroiled.
And then there’s Duke. And the Adidas scandal has now splashed ink on them too.
“Court documents filed as part of a civil lawsuit between former college player Brian Bowen and Adidas detail a series of payments the company allegedly made to (Zion) Williamson’s family in 2016 and 2017 prior to his Blue Devils’ career.” – Raleigh News and Observer
Adidas’ own lawyer admits Adidas “is aware of the following documents suggesting that certain fund transfers to Mr. Williamson or his family may have occurred.” The letter details “potential transfers from (Adidas executive) Chris Rivers that may have been to Lee Anderson, Zion Williamson’s step-father.”
Adidas paid Zion’s step-dad to steer the biggest star in high school hoops to one of their schools? Sounds logical. There are nine payments that amount to about $5,500. At this time, Lee Anderson coached Adidas-backed South Carolina Supreme basketball, where Zion played. This team played on the Adidas Gauntlet circuit. So Adidas just so happened to employ Zion’s step-dad during Zion’s extremely competitive recruitment. Convenient way to launder the cash.
Oh but there’s more.
“Rivers may have transferred $3,000 per month to the Williamson family for an unspecified period of time… Rivers may have transferred (another) $1,000 to the Williamson family. Adidas does not know the specific purpose of these transfers.” – Adidas lawyer
Again, even Adidas is admitting their own executive paid Zion’s family, but claim no to know the reason. Hm, that’s interesting. Why would a sneaker rep just happen to pay a player without the knowledge of his company? Duke is a Nike school, you say? Two years ago, celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti said Nike also arranged payments to Zion to attend Duke. “The documents and the hard evidence do not lie,” Avenatti told The News & Observer then. “Zion Williamson was paid to attend Duke.” Zion and other stars deserve to get paid. They create millions in revenue. They are the reasons Duke gets to hang banners. But don’t do it and then pretend to take the moral high-ground (we’re looking at you too, Rick Pitino).
Avenatti was subsequently convicted of attempting to extort $25 million from Nike. But during his trial text messages were entered into evidence showing three Nike executives discussed offering Williamson $35,000. Again, pretty convenient.
So if the going rate for Bowen was $100,000 to attend Louisville (which is what the investigation uncovered), how much was market value for Zion? He had millions of social media followers, and would immediately give national buzz and attention to the program. He also was nearly unguardable because of his size, was a human highlight-machine, a surefire NBA lottery pick. $200,000? $300,000?
So we are supposed to believe that Adidas was paying his step-dad, the money never reached Zion, and that Williamson chose Duke for free despite likely getting hundreds of thousands of dollars elsewhere? He left hundreds of thousands on the table (and suffered a scary knee injury) all while we have evidence Nike execs offered him money? That’s some stretch. At best, Zion was likely ineligible when he played his one season at Duke. The program should probably have to forfeit those wins. At worst, the Blue Devils are guilty of major recruiting violations. But because of the ivory tower that Duke and Coach K reside in, and overall apathy toward college hoops underhandedness, the nation yawns. The Blue Devils are caught in the web like every other school, but no one cares to notice.