Wizards

Wizards

Nike had a bad day Wednesday. Its image as the undisputed heavy weight champion of sneaker brands -- prohibitively powerful, instinctually cool -- took a hit when ESPN published the story of how it lost Stephen Curry to upstart Under Armour

It's an excellent piece of journalism by Warriors beat writer Ethan Sherwood Strauss and I'd highly recommend reading all 5,000 words. But if you don't have the time, here's the gist: Back in 2013, Nike overlooked and borderline disrespected Curry in a way that could cost the company billions in potential revenue and alter the landscape of the basketball merchandise market. 

Want to know more? Let's start with the juiciest part of the story, the Nike pitch meeting to retain the Golden State guard, who'd been wearing the brand since his college days at Davidson. His father Dell Curry recounted the scene to ESPN

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. 

Basketball's premier brand didn't mention making Curry a signature athlete and also declined to give him his own camp -- those went to Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis instead. 

 

Meanwhile, Under Armour was already giving the future MVP the hard sell. It did so through then-Warriors rookie Kent Bazemore, whom the company inundated with shoes and gear in front of his teammates. 

When Under Armour offered $4 million per year plus a signature shoe and the chance to become the face of the company, Curry was primed to bite. Nike, whose offer was worth $2.5 million per year, declined its right to match the Under Armour money. 

Now seems like an excellent time to introduce my Unified Theory of Stephen Curry: Parties that bet against him always lose. The inverse is true of parties that bet on him. So far, there is no data to contradict those statements. 

A short list of those whom Curry proved wrong: Virginia Tech, NBA franchises that drafted No. 1 through 6 in 2009, the Charles Barkley contingent who dismissed jump shooters and now Nike. 

And those who look like visionaries? Davidson College, the Warriors, the advanced analytics movement that loves 3-point shooters and Under Armour. 

It's important to identify the rules that apply to the NBA's leading scorer because so few do anymore. 

He is polite and clean cut, but at the core of his game is a hoops rebel. He's made a career out of defying conventional wisdom and a mockery of those who cleave to it. 

Nike may have been rude to Curry, but its real blunder was following the same eyeball test that served it -- and Virginia Tech and NBA GMs and Charles Barkley -- well in the past. 

From ESPN:

Michael Jordan was the prototype, Kobe was the heir, and LeBron carries on the tradition. To be the face of Nike means looking something beyond a regular person.

As someone familiar with Nike's marketing operation says, in regard to Curry: "Everything that makes him human and cuddly and an unlikely monster is anathema to Nike. They like studs with tight haircuts and muscles." This, then, is the paradox of Steph Curry: The reason he was ignored is the reason he's so popular. Nike looked past him for the very reason so many fans now can't look anywhere else.

Too bad that corporate success isn't measured on physique, but rather sales. According to Morgan Stanley, Curry's signature shoe is outperforming those of all other active NBA players. 

Its projections show Under Armour selling $160 million worth of his sneakers in 2016, topping the $150 million estimate for Nike's LeBron James shoes.

Behind those two, the next three best selling signature sneakers belong to Kevin Durant ($82 million), Irving ($51 million) and Kobe Bryant ($18 million) -- all Nike athletes. Note that Curry shoes are outpacing those three combined. 

Finally, Morgan Stanley concludes that the Davidson alum could be worth $14 billion to Under Armour in the long run. It all depends on whether he continues to torch the rest of the NBA, which as noted above, is not smart to bet against. 

 

Given that Nike dominated 95.5% of the basketball sneaker market in 2014, it should be alarmed that the top signature shoe belongs to another brand. 

Perhaps there's no coincidence that Curry is threatening basketball's tastemakers in Oregon given what he's doing to the athletes representing them. He beat out James in the Finals and MVP voting last year. And his team is on pace to break Jordan's Bulls record for wins in a season. 

But dethroning the king of sneaker brands would be Curry's unlikeliest, never-in-a-million-years win of all. 

MORE WIZARDS: Mental mistakes ruin Wizards' rhythm