Nike Inc. joined the rest of the basketball world in holding their breath Wednesday night, as the company that once launched an ad campaign on the phrase “It’s gotta be the shoes!” must have been thinking “Pleasepleaseplease don’t let it have been the shoes.”

Duke University forward Zion Williamson, the top college basketball player in the nation and one of the best NBA prospects in the past decade, was lost to a knee injury just seconds into a key game against North Carolina when his foot slid on the floor and his Nike-made shoe exploded, twisting his knee and sending him sprawling.

Williamson’s foot actually tore through the side of his shoe.

Former President Barack Obama, who was in the crowd, was caught on camera putting it succinctly: “His shoe broke.”

Williamson left the game that was just 33 seconds old, and did not return. Duke said late Wednesday he had suffered a mild knee sprain — good news for those who feared much worse — but did not say how many games he’s expected to miss.

The 18-year-old Williamson is expected to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. The 285-pound forward has been averaging 22.4 points and 9.2 rebounds a game.

Social media was quick to pounce on Nike:

Rivals joined the pile-on. Puma tweeted, then deleted: “Wouldn’t have happened in the pumas.” LiAngelo Ball, whose family owns Big Baller Brand shoes, chimed in:

Many of the tweets were not far off the mark. If the shoe was defective, or if Williamson loses trust in wearing Nike, the company could lose potentially the next great basketball superstar as a pitch man.

Nike shares

NKE, +0.32%

  are up more than 14% this year, and up almost 26% over the past 12 months, compared to the S&P 500’s

SPX, +0.18%

  gains of 11% and 2.5%, respectively, over those spans.

Duke fans — some of whom had paid near-Super-Bowl-level prices for tickets — went home doubly disappointed; the Blue Devils lost to their intrastate arch-rivals, 88-72.

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