(Reuters) – Nike Inc has signed Zion Williamson, the No. 1 NBA draft pick and rising 19-year-old basketball star, to its Jordan brand, the world’s largest sportswear maker said on Tuesday.
Williamson, the reigning college basketball player of the year, dominated in his only season at Duke University, breaking several school records, including most 25-point games by a freshman.
The New Orleans Pelicans signed Williamson after picking him first overall in the National Basketball Association draft.
Williamson, who has drawn comparisons to former NBA great and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, is known for his athleticism.
With his uncommon blend of leaping ability and wide, muscular build, Williamson churned out a string of highlight plays in his lone season at Duke, including 360-degree slam dunks, towering rebounds and stunning blocked shots.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed by Nike. Its shares rose 1% to $86.81.
The 6-foot-7-inch (2 meters), 285-pound (129.3 kg) forward was involved in a social media storm earlier this year after a Nike sneaker he was wearing split during a game causing him to suffer a mild knee sprain. Nike apologised for the malfunction.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama was in attendance at that game in February against Duke rival University of North Carolina and later wished Williamson a speedy recovery in a tweet.
Willamson’s signing with Nike comes as no surprise given the loyalty and reputation the company has in the basketball community, Jane Hali & Associates analyst Jessica Ramirez said.
“His signing with Jordan just proves how important the brand is becoming for Nike as they continue to revive it,” she added.
Nike’s Jordan Brand, named for retired basketball icon Michael Jordan, already counts NBA stars such as Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul in its roster.
“He’s an essential part of the new talent that will help lead the brand into the future,” said Jordan, the six-time NBA champion and five-time league Most Valuable Player.
Williamson made only a brief appearance in his NBA summer league debut earlier this month, but still wowed fans with a ferocious steal and dunk.
Williamson plans to skip taking part in Team USA training camp later this summer to focus on preparing for Pelicans training camp, ESPN reported this week.
(Reporting by Uday Sampath and Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru and Lewis Krauskopf in New York; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, David Gregorio and Bill Berkrot)