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Science

Could A Jeep-Mounted Zion Williamson Roundhouse-Kick My Head Off? An Investigation

A doodle of Zion Williamson kicking my head off from the hood of a speeding Jeep.
Chris Thompson

The Defector idiots spent a portion of a recent afternoon debating a simple, stupid question: How much would each of us have to be paid in cold hard cash to stand in there and absorb a charge from Pelicans forward Zion Williamson? We mostly agreed that absorbing a charge from the NBA’s densest person would do very bad things to our frail blogger bodies, although the exercise revealed some rather stark differences in the monetary values we place on our own health and wellbeing. Bids ranged from $5,000 to $500,000; expectations included bruises and concussions all the way up to splintered sternums and even instant death.

Those in the “You Would Be All Fucked-Up And Dead” camp produced this 2018 Wall Street Journal article by Ben Cohen and Andrew Beaton, which explored the terrifying dangers of a Zion Williamson charge back when he was a Duke phenom and still more myth than man. I must emphasize here that the horrors of being run into by this freshman in college were worthy of the attention of the literal Wall Street Journal. Zion has only gained mass since then, which makes the comparison offered by Cohen and Beaton, sourced to University of Lynchburg physicist Eric Goff, all the more alarming: According to Goff’s review of footage of Williamson, the maximum force of impact during a Zion charge would be “the equivalent of the average force during a similar, head-on collision with a Jeep traveling 10 miles per hour.” This sounds bad.

But also possibly a little dubious? A 2021 Jeep Wranger weighs at least 3,900 pounds and is made of metal and hard plastic; being hit by one at even so low a speed could only leave a person crumpled and bloody, and possibly dead. Unfortunately, Defector VP of operations Jasper Wang informed us that due to insurance policies “no one is allowed to hit someone else with a car for a blog,” and we have so far received only icy silence in response to our request that Zion personally run us over one by one, for science.

But what about even more bitchin’ configurations? What if Zion were mounted on the moving Jeep? What if he were mounted on the moving Jeep and executed a perfect roundhouse kick to my face (artist’s conception above)? Would my head not be spectacularly freed from my shoulders and fly into the heavens?

For help with the advanced equations that would tell us how torn up and dead we would be in various Jeep/Zion configurations, I reached out first to MIT Plasma Physicist and 1999 Jeep owner Dr. Sara Ferry. Dr. Ferry felt that possibly I was attempting some sort of insurance scam and passed me along to her colleague Dr. Brian Skinner, Assistant Professor of Physics at The Ohio State University and an occasional basketblogger. One of Dr. Skinner’s areas of expertise is something called “condensed matter theory”; I don’t know what that means, but if Zion’s 284-pound frame isn’t an example of condensed matter, certainly the meat of my torso, upon impact with a fast-moving Williamson, would be.

Alarmingly, Dr. Skinner described Dr. Goff’s estimate—that a collision with Zion could pack 300 pounds of force—as “very plausible,” although he estimates the comparable speed of a Jeep to be about five MPH, which “feels less intimidating.” Dr. Skinner agrees, though, that the Jeep collision would probably be “a lot worse” than the Zion collision, for reasons having to do with the distance over which the force is applied. Clearly, though, it would be bad to be run over by either of these things; physicists seem unanimous in advising against the practice.

Perhaps more troubling is an examination of what would happen if our positions were reversed—if young Zion were forced to stand and absorb the impact of a charge from a puny blogger. How Jeep-like would the collision feel to Zion? Not very. Dr. Skinner “can’t imagine a scenario where you’re generating much more than 200 pounds of force against him,” so if Zion is “braced and ready” I would probably take the worst of it, like an overripe tomato flung against a brick wall.

Ah, but there is hope! In April 1877, 14-year-old Rossa Matilda Richter climbed into the dark bore of a custom-built spring-style cannon and was launched 20 feet through the air at London’s Royal Aquarium, thus becoming history’s first human cannonball. Surely if you loaded an average-sized blogger into a similar device and fired it directly at Zion’s chest, Zion would experience something Jeep-like. Or would he simply catch me like a football and continue about his business? Not according to the leading physicists of our day. Apparently modern human cannons can project a person at up to 70 miles per hour, and “no human is catching that,” says Dr. Skinner. My friends, we have ourselves a fight.

Which brings us to the most important question of all: If Zion were mounted on a moving Jeep and executed a flawless roundhouse kick to my face, could he kick my head clean off? “Wow,” says Dr. Skinner, who notes that his research on this subject was done using private browsing mode:

“The relevant concept here, I guess, is how much kinetic energy is being absorbed by the neck. If I look at certain weird case studies as precedent, it takes about 3000 Joules of kinetic energy focused into a force directly on the neck to produce decapitation. That’s way more than is going to be produced by a stationary roundhouse kick. Maybe if you can imagine Zion putting as much as half of his entire bodyweight behind the kick, then something like a 15-mph boost could do it. But I wouldn’t bet on the force being focused enough to actually knock your head off, as opposed to just crushing your skull and sending your whole body pitching backward.”

There you have it. If Zion were mounted to a Jeep moving at 15 MPH, and he executed a perfect roundhouse kick to my face with a full half of his 284-pound frame behind it, he would most likely implode my skull and send my ruined body pinwheeling off into the dust. Fuck yeah.

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