Yesterday multiple news outlets reported on Stephen Curry’s signing to Under Armour breaking the paradigm of the sneaker business model. While this is inherently true, it has also afforded Curry the unique ability to be a Godly witness to a huge audience.
Reports from earlier this month indicated that Nike rejected Curry because of his strong Christian faith and desire to have Bible verses on his sneakers. It was also cited that Kevin Durant’s scripture themed sneakers are custom made for him because that would mean exposing millions to Jesus through a sneaker, something that was not okay for the Nike brand to mass produce. While these claims sort of make sense, and could very well have some truth to it, they have not been verified.
It does draw the interesting question of, “What did Under Armour see in this young-faith-driven point guard that Nike didn’t?” ESPN found the answer, but it has more to do with Curry’s ability to shut the critics down than the scripture on his shoe.
ESPN reported that Nike took Curry for granted, and basically overlooked him in favor of “superstar” players such as Lebron James, Durant, Kobe Bryant, and, of course, Michael Jordan. Curry doesn’t fit that mold, or at least, that’s what they thought.
Morgan Stanley reported UA could potentially make $14 billion off of Curry. That’s $14 billion Nike doesn’t have, and the real value is probably much more because of the prestige of the Nike brand.
Nike is reported to own 95.5% of the sneaker market with 74% of all the NBA signed to them. They make $20 billion annually off their NBA sneakers. And while UA has ways to go to catch them, their sneakers sales are up 350% thanks to Curry, the new thorn in Nike’s side.
So what exactly happened?
In 2013, Curry’s contract was up, and it was time to re-pitch him. According to Curry’s father Dell, the pitch meeting was a disaster as the Nike executive kept referring to Steph as Steph-on. From there, it only got worse as the slides in the pitch featured Durant’s name. Dell told ESPN, he “stopped paying attention after that.”
In addition, a major concern of Curry was the chance to lead a Nike basketball camp for youth ball players. Attending Chris Paul’s camp when he was younger played a major impact on him and he wanted to impart that to the younger generation. These are not a high priority to Nike, especially one run by Curry. Instead, they chose the less proven Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving.
Dell told ESPN that his son was used to this adversity as he was merely a walk on for tryouts at his college. All along the way, Curry was told he was too small, or he didn’t have what it takes. Nike was just the next obstacle on his path to the NBA elite. Perhaps it was this encounter of not taking him serious that set the tone for him winning last year’s MVP.
All Nike had to do was match the $4 million Under Armour was offering, but they stood firm at $2.5 million. That offer will undoubtedly haunt Nike for a long time as Curry is seemingly cementing his name in the record books every week.
“Everything that makes him human and cuddly and an unlikely monster is anathema to Nike. They like studs with tight haircuts and muscles,” said Sonny Vaccaro to ESPN, who worked with Nike in the early 90s. “He was always overlooked. He was skinny, he was frail, he was all the things you weren’t supposed to be. He never got his due. All of a sudden, like a bolt of lightning, Steph Curry is on the scene. And this is the hardest thing for Nike to swallow right now.”
This makes Curry the most relatable person in the NBA. His size, his grace on the court, and his ability to be the “everyman” is more obtainable than being a hulking sculpturesque athlete like Lebron or Dwight Howard.
The craziest part of the story is how Curry got involved with UA. His former teammate, Kent Bazemore sort of pushed his way into UA. He was nothing but a non-guaranteed rookie trying to make the Golden State Warriors and yet was able to get a deal. He and his agent pitched Under Armour on giving him a chance, and he would be the “brand ambassador.” Knowing that Curry’s contract with Nike was up, he pitched his teammate on the idea and Curry took a meeting. The rest is history.
“We have the right athlete in Stephen Curry,” Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank told said in a presentation earlier this year. “He is, without question, the number one basketball player on the planet today.”
Circling back to Curry’s faith, his pairing with Under Armour has allowed him to share his Christianity on a global scale. All of Curry’s sneakers feature a Bible verse or Christian imagery on it.
Last year Under Armour released the Curry One, which featured the tagline “Charged By Belief” and 4:13 on the tongue, a nod to Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
The slogan for the Curry Two is “Iron Sharpens Iron.” Proverbs 27:17 reads, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” More info here.
Curry’s commercials and brands look to inspire and motivate, which Nike’s do as well. However, in their new commercial, they chose to take shots at Curry and play up the “superstar” image they didn’t deem Curry worthy of.
In the Jordan 30’s commercial, the kid hyping up Westbrook says, “What y’all expect? Another choir boy running point guard?!” Watch it below.
So there you have it, the unlikely story of going from zero to hero, of Goliath getting beaten by David, of the bullied getting the best of the bully. Stephen Curry and Under Armour’s stories are similar, against unbeatable odds, they managed to buck the system.