Stephen Curry is an honest-to-goodness phenomenon by now, one of the few professional athletes who can claim that status these days. But unlike the other basketball players in that exalted class — LeBron James now, Kobe Bryant for now and Michael Jordan back then — he isn’t wearing Nike. Curry is an Under Armour man. How did the world’s biggest shoe company — which accounted for 95.5 percent of the basketball sneaker market in 2014, according to Forbes — let the NBA’s most-ascendant star slip through its fingers?
Curry is an Under Armour man. How did the world’s biggest shoe company — which accounted for 95.5 percent of the basketball sneaker market in 2014, according to Forbes — let the NBA’s most-ascendant star slip through its fingers?
ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss answers that question in a fascinating story that went up Wednesday morning. In short, Nike lost Stephen Curry because it got lazy while Under Armour hungrily scrapped around the margins of the sneaker world, making a series of moves that turned short-term gambles into long-term payoffs.
Plus Riley Curry. It always comes back to Riley Curry.
At one time, Curry was among Nike’s stable of stars. But his deal with the company was up after the 2012-13 season, a year in which he set the NBA season record for made three-pointers and helped lead the Golden State Warriors to just their second playoff berth in 19 seasons. He was on the rise, but apparently Nike thought he still belonged in their second tier.
The two sides gathered at a Bay Area hotel so Nike could give its re-up pitch, which “evoked something hastily thrown together by a hungover college student,” Strauss writes:
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.
Nike also didn’t give Curry a summer basketball camp of his own, like it had for Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis. This meant a lot to Curry, who had fond memories of attending Chris Paul’s camp as a youngster.
Curry spent weeks weighing his decision. Under Armour had made the canny, fairly lucky move of latching on with seldom-used Warriors swingman Kent Bazemore, one of Curry’s closest friends on the team. The company showered Bazemore with product even though he was barely seeing the court. Curry saw that and pondered the possibilities, Strauss writes.
In the end, Curry and his family — including young daughter Riley — gathered at his agent’s house in Southern California to make his final decision. Before him were examples of all the options available to him, shoes from Nike, Adidas and Under Armour:
At this point, Riley is little over 1 year old. She is presented with a Nike sneaker, an Adidas sneaker and an Under Armour sneaker. She picks up “shoe one,” a Nike. “Threw it over her shoulder,” Curry says. “She picked up shoe two, threw it over her shoulder. She picked up the third shoe, walked over and handed it to me.” It was the Under Armour Anatomix Spawn. “So I knew right then,” Curry says, smiling.
Under Armour was offering him a deal worth less than $4 million per year. Under the terms of their previous deal, Nike had the option to match it. The company passed. Three all-star berths, one MVP and one NBA title, Curry is the league’s most visible star.
Last month, a Morgan Stanley analyst told Business Insider that Curry’s potential worth to Under Armour was more than $14 billion.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matt BonesteelMatt Bonesteel spent the first 17 years of his Washington Post career writing and editing. In 2014, Bonesteel pivoted from the newspaper to online and now he blogs for the Early Lead and other Web-based products owned by The Post. Follow