NBA stars and American commentators have exploded after an injury to teenage superstar Zion Williamson shone a light on the "sickening" mess of college basketball.

The projected 2019 No. 1 draft pick went down with a knee injury less than a minute into Duke's hugely publicised game against the University of North Carolina (UNC) yesterday after his Nike shoe exploded. He hobbled off and missed the rest of the game, robbing those in the stands and everyone viewing the nationally televised match on TV of the chance to watch the hottest prospect in basketball.

Some fans paid upwards of US$3000 for tickets to the match that attracted celebrities like Barack Obama and Spike Lee. At just 18, Williamson is good enough to draw that kind of crowd.

But the accusation everyone was making money from Williamson's athletic prowess and rising fame except the man himself has led to calls for changes to be made to the college system.

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College athletes don't get paid a salary — although many are on scholarships — and can't join the NBA until they turn 19 and have spent at least one season removed from high school. If that rule wasn't in place, Williamson would certainly have signed a blockbuster NBA contract and lucrative endorsement deals straight out of school.

Instead he's forced to play a year in college where an injury could risk his entire future — and the whopping payday that will come with it.

ESPN basketball commentator Fran Fraschilla said last year Williamson will make US$1 billion playing the sport "effortlessly" — but Nike's stocks took a bigger hit than that after the teen beast's shoe let him down.

At one stage the sportswear giant's stock reportedly dropped from 84.84 per share to 83.57 on the New York Stock Exchange and while that doesn't sound like much, ESPN's Jay Williams put the drop at roughly US$3 billion.

Nike bounced back but when the markets closed for the day, its value had still dropped by US$1 billion.

Fans on Thursday roasted Nike after its product malfunctioned in the worst way possible.

Utah Jazz young gun Donovan Mitchell hit out at the ugly truth about college sports and Golden State Warriors star DeMarcus Cousins also said players should be paid if it's clear fans are handing over money to come through the turnstiles to watch them.

"College basketball and the NCAA is bulls***," Cousins said. "My advice to (Williamson) is to do what's best for him and his family.

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"College does nothing for you at this point. You've proven you're a No. 1 pick at this point. You've proven your talent ... there's so many risks involved to get to the ultimate goal."

The American media also fired up as Williamson went down. Writing for the Washington Post, Sally Jenkins took aim at "the NCAA committeemen who make fortunes from their cut of TV and Nike apparel contracts, who skim the sweat straight off Williamson's back".

"That's what they all get for turning him into an unpaid billboard," Jenkins wrote.

"Exposure and mortification are what they deserve for cheapening a freshman year at Duke into nothing but predatory lending. This is what happens when everyone gets paid but the guy who is really earning the money.

"If Zion Williamson were allowed to be paid like he damn well should be by Nike, a faulty sneaker would not be quite so future-threatening, because, see, he was getting paid to wear it.

"It's all very straightforward and simple. Pay him. But the men with no fingerprints won't permit it, those athletic directors and presidents who have subverted college athletics into a rake-off while pretending to govern them."

Zion Williamson couldn't give the fans what they wanted. Photo / AP
Zion Williamson couldn't give the fans what they wanted. Photo / AP

An article by the NY Daily News called the NCAA's hypocrisy "sickening"

"When Barack Obama, Spike Lee, Todd Gurley, Floyd Mayweather, and Ken Griffey Jr. show up to a sporting event, you know it's a big deal," Carron J. Phillips wrote.

"That type of star power would suggest the competing athletes are getting paid.

"Everybody got paid ... except for the people who did the actual work."

Another analysis, this time by Sean Gregory of TIME, was beating the same drum.

"What did Williamson get out of it (the highly publicised game)? A busted Nike shoe and potential for career jeopardy," he wrote.

"No matter how many games Williamson does or doesn't miss, the incident served as an all-too useful reminder that one key part of basketball's business model needs serious fixing.

"The Duke star was NBA-ready right out of high school. Williamson should have had the option to get drafted, and lock up a multimillion-dollar NBA contract — not to mention lucrative shoe and other sponsorship deals — last June."

Nike said in a statement it was "concerned" and wished Williamson a speedy recovery. It said it was "working to identify the issue" that rubbed the superstar out of the game.

NCU took advantage of Williamson's absence to beat the Blue Devils 88-72.