Why Steph Curry left Nike for Under Armour
By Trung Phan
Here’s footage of Steph Curry sometime between 1999 and 2002.
His dad — Dell Curry — is playing for the Toronto Raptors and the younger Curry tags along to the stadium.
Steph is 11-14 years old in the clip and already showing signs of what will become the greatest jump shot in NBA history.
Today, Curry and the Golden State Warriors are playing in their 6th NBA Finals in 8 years. The Warriors are trailing the Boston Celtics 1-0 in the best of 7 series, but Steph will notch his 4th ring if they can pull it off.
And he’ll be doing it while wearing Under Armour basketball shoes.
Curry actually began his career with Nike but left in 2013. Why? Nike gave probably the worst athlete recruiting effort in the history of athlete recruiting efforts.
If you ever hosted a bad business meeting, the following story will make you feel instantly better.
Here is a play-by-play from an amazing 2016 ESPN article by Ethan Strauss:
- A Nike athlete: The Golden State Warriors draft Steph Curry with the 7th pick in the 2009 NBA draft. He wore Nike while playing college at Davidson and his Godfather worked for the company. Curry ends up signing a modest 4-year endorsement deal with the apparel giant.
- Curry’s breakout season…: In the last year of the endorsement deal (2012-13), Curry sets a record for 3s in an NBA season and has a number of iconic performances.
- …is not enough: While Curry’s star is rising, Nike isn’t ready to go all in. The brand places athletes into tiers and gives the best deals to superhuman athletes (Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant). Curry — who is small by NBA standards (6’3, 190lbs) — doesn’t fit the bill and isn’t considered a “tier 1 star”, a classification that comes with a signature shoe.
- The first rejection: Aside from signature shoes, Nike signals its interest in a young NBA athlete by giving them a Nike-sponsored training camp. Curry got snubbed while two of his peers — Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis — each get one.
- The Kyrie Conundrum: Irving receiving a camp nod is another red flag. He also has a smaller build for the NBA (6’2, 190lbs) but was a #1 pick and considered more marketable at the time. Based on Nike’s emphasis on super-human size, the company probably doesn’t want to lift up too many diminutive guards into the top tier of endorsements.
Despite the sleights, Nike had every reason to feel confident going into contract negotiations. At the time, the Oregon-based company accounted for 96% of the basketball shoe market. Meanwhile, 74% of NBA athletes were signed to Nike brands.
As Strauss explains, “incumbency is a massive recruiting edge for a shoe company.” Going into the pitch meeting with Curry, it was clear that Nike was leaning on the incumbency edge.
The details of the actual pitch meeting are cringeworthy to the nth degree:
- Nike sends in the B-Team: In August 2013, Curry and his father Dell meet with Nike near the Warriors practice facility. Instead of sending a an “NBA powerbroker”, Nike sends a lower level marketing director.
- A disastrous slide show: If you’ve ever guffed a powerpoint deck, just know that Nike pitched Steph Curry with slides meant for NBA star Kevin Durant (they literally copy and pasted a deck and forgot to remove the word “Durant”).
The real faux pas was the fact that the Nike team couldn’t even pronounce Steph’s name:
“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.’
‘I stopped paying attention after [the slide deck snafu],’ Dell says. Though Dell resolved to ‘keep a poker face,’ throughout the entirety of the pitch.
I have a buddy who runs restaurants and he always said, “you can tell the quality of a restaurant from the bread they serve you…it’s not a huge expense but if you can’t get the bread right, how are you going to get anything else right?”
Curry’s decision to leave Nike was a culmination of a number of factors but the name thing is just egregious. If you can’t get that right, what can you get right?
There’s a non-zero chance that Curry would still be a Nike athlete if he had a more “normal” name like Dave. Absurd.
Even after all this insanity, Nike had a trump card: with Curry’s matching rights, it could match any other offer the Warriors guard received.
And there was an offer waiting in the wings. Under Armour — initially built around football — was expanding into basketball. It wanted a marquee athlete and had an in with Curry.
Enter Kent Bazemore, who joined the Warriors as an undrafted rookie in the 2012-13 season. Bazemore was an NBA nobody but hustled his way to a product deal with Under Armour, which basically just meant they sent him apparel and shoes.
In return, Bazemore acted as a de facto salesman for the company and recruited Curry over the course of the season.
By the time of the Nike negotiation, UA was ready to offer a $4 million deal. Nike originally offered $2.5m and had the option to match the additional $1.5m. They didn’t and the rest is history.
Since then, Curry has won 2 MVPs and 3 NBA titles with Under Armour. In 2015, he signed a new contract with UA and received equity in the multi-billion dollar athletic firm. While UA has struggled in recent years, Curry Brand — think something like Jordan Brand — was launched in 2020 and may be the company’s best driver moving forward.
Looking back, you can rationalize some of Nike’s recruiting decisions. But the disrespect in that 2013 pitch meeting was wild. Did y’all not see the stroke? It’s literally been there this entire time.
Podcast: What makes Steph Curry so special?
This was awesome: I’ve spent the past decade watching BBallBreakdown (830k subs) and ShotMechanics (1.4m subs) on YouTube.
They are two of the biggest basket-related YouTube channels and are run by Coach Nick Hauselman and Coach Collin Castellaw, respectively.
I had both of them on the podcast to talk about:
- How Steph Curry changed basketball
- Why MJ is GOAT
- YouTube in 2012 vs. 2022
You can watch here.
Links + Memes
#SwedenGate: The country of Sweden got dragged on Twitter last week. On May 26th, Twitter user @SamQuari tweeted out a screenshot of a viral Reddit thread.
TLDR: Apparently some people in Sweden don’t invite visiting children to eat meals (dinner, breakfast) with the entire family.
The tweet REALLY hit a cord and — as of this email send — it has 145k likes and 55k retweets. Non-Swedes were shocked by the practice and a majority of the Twitter replies are along the lines of “Any kid that visits [country X] household would get fed until their faces fell off”. This sentiment definitely applies to parents of my household (Vietnamese, Filipino).
From these comments, netizens started pointing out other gripes with the country and the discussion inevitably took a political turn (with users digging up Sweden’s role in European imperialism). That’s how we got the #SwedenGate hashtag.
Commenters defending the “don’t invite kids” practice pointed to: 1) a history of rural scarcity (individuals from other countries that also faced scarcity disagreed with this take); and 2) the fact that certain Swedish neighbourhoods have open-door policies so kids are running around everywhere and it is the responsibility of each kid to just go back to their own house after playing to eat.
Things got even weirder when this jokey map of Europe started floating around Twitter:
User @WallySierk wrote a viral thread addressing the map and #SwedenGate. It provides historical and sociological context as to why some Swedes don’t offer visiting children food.
TLDR: In Scandinavian culture, if you receive something — including hospitality — it historically creates an obligation or debt that needs to be repaid. These obligations often led to civil unrest. And as a result…
This “not feeding the neighbor kids” weirdness Is about maintaining peace in the community. You see the same ethic in the tales from Lake Woebegone , the passive aggression is small town Denmark and Minnesota, the stereotype of the Norwegian fisherman quietly drinking to keep from dealing with trauma, the ethics of Janteloven- it’s all about minimizing interpersonal conflict and maintaining civic peace.
I personally think it needs to be moderated in order for people to live healthy complete lives, but I hope that the revulsion that many people were expressing will be tempered by understanding the source of it.
Other reads: Forbes says Lebron is officially a billionaire (including a $300m stake in the his media firm Spring Hill Company and a $90m stake in Fenway Sports Group, which owns Liverpool). It’s the 20th anniversary of the release of The Wire and the New York Times has a great look back (Side note: Few things in TV will ever be absurd as The Wire only being nominated for 2 Emmy’s and winning none…HBO execs think it never won an award because it’s an East Coast show and Emmy voters are from LA…). Rex Woodbury wrote a great breakdown of Block’s Cash App (he compares it to a social network and highlights how hip-hop culture has embraced the product…check out all the “Cash App” songs on Spotify):
And here are some memes: