Stephen Curry is well on his way to a second-straight MVP award, and quickly becoming the face of the NBA. He is also almost single-handedly pushing Under Armour into legit competition with Nike for sneaker sales.
Before Curry’s rise to superstardom with Under Armour shoes on his feet, the brand was an afterthought in the basketball world. It was just another company fighting to stay afloat in Nike’s ever-rising tide.
However, ever since Curry inked his deal with UA in 2013, both parties have taken off, and the game’s newest, biggest star wearing something other than Nike has been a glaring hole in their basketball brand.
ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss has the goods on how exactly UA procured Curry, and the details are incredible.
First, Curry’s awareness of Under Armour can be attributed to their careful selection of Kent Bazemore of all people to rep the brand.
As an undrafted rookie on the Warriors, sneaker companies had little reason to throw money Bazemore’s way. Hell, there was no guarantee Bazemore would even make the team. His agent, Austin Walton, had an idea, though. He contacted Under Armour. “I sold them on having a guy on the West Coast, having a presence there,” Walton says. “I sold the fact that they had a couple other guys with shoe deals up, Klay and Steph, that maybe, you know, he can get some other guys on board if he makes the team.” …
This was a longshot approach for Under Armour, but Bazemore — a natural salesman with a ready smile — had the personality to give it a chance. He boasts the kind of energy that takes him on 40-mile cycling jaunts. If Bazemore is selling you something, it won’t be a subtle pitch. And he just so happened to befriend Curry.
All Nike had to do to keep Curry was not screw up. He had been with the brand in some form since his time at Davidson, and the brand truly dominates the league.
Nike owned the first opportunity to keep Curry. It was its privilege as the incumbent with an advantage that extended beyond vast resources. “I was with them for years,” Curry says. “It’s kind of a weird process being pitched by the company you’re already with. There was some familiar faces in there.”
Curry was a Nike athlete long before 2013, though. His godfather, Greg Brink, works for Nike. He wore the shoes growing up, sported the swoosh at Davidson. In his breakout 54-point game at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 28, 2013, he was wearing Nike Zoom Hyperfuse, a pair of sneakers he still owns, tucked away in his East Bay Area home, shielded from the light of day. “They’re not up front and center,” Curry says of the pair. “I definitely kept all my favorite [shoes] just as a memory of where my career has gone.”
Nike had every advantage when it came to keeping Curry. Incumbency is a massive recruiting edge for a shoe company, as players often express a loyalty to these brands their NBA franchises might envy. And Nike wasn’t just any shoe company. It’s the shoe company that claims cultural and monetary dominance over the sneaker market. According to Nick DePaula of The Vertical, Nike has signed 68 percent of NBA players, more than 74 percent if you include Nike’s Jordan Brand subsidiary.
As it turns out, Nike made Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis their primary targets that summer. Curry was more of an afterthought, and that definitely showed in the brand’s pitch to Curry.
The pitch meeting, according to Steph’s father Dell, who was present, kicked off with one Nike official accidentally addressing Stephen as “Steph-on,” the moniker, of course, of Steve Urkel’s alter ego in Family Matters. “I heard some people pronounce his name wrong before,” says Dell Curry. “I wasn’t surprised. I was surprised that I didn’t get a correction.”
It got worse from there. A PowerPoint slide featured Kevin Durant’s name, presumably left on by accident, presumably residue from repurposed materials. “I stopped paying attention after that,” Dell says. Though Dell resolved to “keep a poker face,” throughout the entirety of the pitch, the decision to leave Nike was in the works.
The piece also delves into the idea that Curry’s style of play contributed to Nike’s disinterest in him. The company overlooked his shooting and passing skills in favor of more obviously athletic players. Strauss offers up the idea that they are still searching for players that fit in the mold of Michael Jordan.
Curry’s journey to Under Armour is a fascinating one that involves quite a bit of luck along the way, but no matter how the end result was reached, Nike may be thinking about the one who got away for years to come.