An “Engineer’s – Eye View” of the Zion Williamson Sneaker Debacle

Have you ever really considered what goes into the making of a shoe…specifically, a basketball sneaker?  Duke’s Zion Williamson’s bizarre sneaker blow-out incident serves as a perfect opportunity to highlight the field of engineering known as materials experts.  These engineers understand the mechanics of how particular materials respond when forces are imposed on them.  Logically, as one CED engineer states, “every single case has a materials component” with regard to examining failure analysis when something malfunctions or is suspected to have malfunctioned.

Concerning the infamous sneaker, it’s mind boggling to consider how many different aspects of production and composition might possibly enter the equation for a materials expert. 

Materials/Process: 

What broke down?  The polymer(s) in the sole?  Are we dealing with composites or synthetics?  Were there holes in the polymer?  Was it the interface of the sole with the rest of the shoe frame?  The stitching?  The thread used in the stitching?  Did the adhesive not fully bind…and if not, why?  Was there an air bubble that weakened it?  If heat was involved, did it not reach the proper temperature to properly bind, or was the “cook” time short-changed? 

And, not insignificantly, in Williamson’s case, was the shoe made and designed to withstand the force of a 6-foot, 7-inch 284-pound man repeatedly planting and pivoting his foot on a hard wood surface?

Other crucial details: 

How old was the shoe?  Was there wear and tear – known as fatigue in engineer speak — in certain areas?  Was it worn outside and inside?  Could the gym floor have had condensation or sweat on it?

All these questions must be married together and analyzed in a complete failure analysis when CED gets the call.  Luckily for Zion, he appears to have dodged a major bullet with just a minor knee injury and returning to the basketball floor in the near future.  Only this time with a new pair of shoes!