Fans paid as much as $2,000-plus to be present at the Blue Devils’ Cameron Indoor Stadium and former United States president Barack Obama was even courtside.
But they were left disappointed as the much-hyped 18-year-old’s Paul George 2.5 shoe on his left foot blew apart upon landing inside just 33 seconds of the first quarter.
That forced him to the floor for a short time before he rose to his feet to make his way into the locker room.
An update later the same quarter revealed that Zion will not return to the game due to a knee problem that he suffered after skidding on the hardwood.
NBA expert Skip Bayless said on Twitter: “WHAT??? ZION’S SHOE BLOWS APART ON DUKE’S OPENING POSSESSION AND HE HURTS HIMSELF AS HE FALLS??? HAMSTRING OR BACK OF KNEE??? LIMPS TO LOCKER ROOM WITH OBAMA IN THE FRONT ROW? NEVER SEEN ANYTHING QUITE LIKE THIS.”
He then joked: “Zion Williamson’s legend will only grow from this. “He’s so quick and powerful that his own shoe couldn’t contain him.”
The freshman has generated huge attention across America and is widely expected to be the No 1 pick in the NBA draft in a few months’ time, his dominant physicality a particular talking point and his athleticism and basketball IQ alongside that seeing him tipped to become a future superstar in the league.
Zion came into Duke’s clash with the North Carolina Tar Heels averaging 22.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.9 blocks per game.
Duke, whose last championship win came in 2015, are the NCAA’s No 1 seed with North Carolina down at No 8 as March Madness fast approaches.
They are among the favourites to go all the way again this year, with RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones the other stand-outs of their current class of young talents.
But ESPN’s Frank Isola suggests that Duke should now keep Zion out for the rest of the year.
He said: “Zion won’t return for this game….and perhaps the rest of his college career. Might want to consider shutting it down until the NBA Draft.”
Such is the attention Williamson has received, he was the subject of praise from NBA stars LeBron James and Steph Curry over the All-Star break.
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron said of the teenager: “With his athleticism, his ability to jump well beyond the 10ft rim is incredible. What’s also incredible is at his size his speed, his agility, his quickness. Then to add to that I think he’s just a great kid, he’s very humble.
“I love everything about him from the outside looking in. I’ve never met the kid but I love everything about him.”
Warriors star Curry added: “He’s unreal. We were talking about him the other day in our team room. He has a lot of hype around him and he’s unbelievably talented, but you can’t teach his passion and the way that he plays.
“He plays hard every possession, and that’s an underrated skill that kids can kind of emulate.”