Zion Williamson's NBA debut delayed following knee surgery

Zion Williamson’s highly anticipated NBA debut was placed on hold on Monday after the New Orleans Pelicans phenom underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

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Williamson, 19, is expected to miss six to eight weeks while recovering from the injury, the team announced. Team officials said Williamson hurt his knee during the team’s preseason game against the San Antonio Spurs last Sunday. Williams will earn an estimated $20 million for his rookie season.

Post-surgery recovery will effectively cost Williamson as much as two months of his rookie season. The Pelicans begin their 2019-20 season on Tuesday night.

“Zion Williamson underwent successful arthroscopic surgery today to address a torn right lateral meniscus. The routine debridement was performed by Dr. Jason Folk with assistance from Team Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Misty Suri,” the Pelicans said in a press release. “The timetable for his full return to play is estimated at six to eight weeks.”

A standout player known for high-flying dunks during his one season at Duke University, Williamson was selected with the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. He signed a rookie contract worth up to $45 million.

Aside from delaying his pro debut, the injury marks a less-than-ideal start for Williamson’s growing portfolio of corporate partners. Williamson already has endorsement deals with several major companies, including a sneaker contract with Nike’s Jordan Brand said to be worth $75 million and endorsement agreements with Gatorade, Mountain Dew, the NBA 2K video game franchise and memorabilia company Panini America.

At age 19, Williamson’s early struggles with knee injuries are seen as a warning sign for some NBA onlookers. He missed most of the NBA Summer League after tweaking his left knee during a collision with another player. In college, Williamson missed multiple weeks with a right knee sprain after his Nike sneaker exploded during a game against the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Former Boston Celtics great Paul Pierce recently advised that Williamson, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighed 285 pounds in college, lose weight in order to preserve his knees from the rigors of the NBA.

"He’s carrying so much weight, he’s so athletic. I think he’s going to have to lose a little bit more weight. That’s one thing that happened to me – I had a bone bruise in my knee in my ninth year, and I decided to trim down, lose about 10 more pounds just to take that extra pressure off my knees. And it really helped," Pierce said on ESPN's "The Jump."

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While it’s too early to say with Williamson’s knee troubles will persist, he isn’t the first much-hyped NBA prospect to enter the league with concerns about his durability. Greg Oden was selected first overall in the 2007 NBA Draft, but saw his career derailed by a series of knee and foot injuries.