2013 | Marriott Hotel | Oakland
In a conference room a short walk from the Golden State Warriors practice facility Nike executives are meeting with NBA up-and-comer Steph Curry. The Nike team don’t know it yet.. but they’re about to make a PowerPoint blunder so gigantic that is loses them the endorsement of one of this generation’s greatest basketball talents.
Curry was at the time ranked the 40th best player in the league by ESPN, but was really starting to transform into a star. He was already on the Nike books, and in his breakout game just a few months earlier it was a pair of Nike Zoom Hyperfuses that were seen in all the photos. Now Curry was in contract negotiations about extending his shoe sponsorship deal with the far-and-away market leader.
In theory, he should have just been happy to be a Nike athlete at all, signing with the brand had become almost a rite of passage for top notch NBA players. All the greats have worn the swoosh on their shoes, Jordan did, Kobe did (eventually) and LeBron did.
So a simple contract extension was the assumed outcome.
But in the run up to the meeting Steph, and his father-come-advisor Dell (who played in the NBA in the 90’s) were starting to feel a bit uneasy about the deal. In short, they felt under-appreciated.
There had been constant issues with the the lack of promotion of Curry as a Nike star athlete, and it was becoming clear that he was not a priority to the brand. A nice to have rather than a must have. It was with this sense of unease the father and son entered the presentation with the Nike executives.
Things went south pretty quickly.
Firstly Nike hadn’t brought their top tier executives with them, electing to send a less experienced team, yet another sign that this wasn’t viewed as all that important. Strike one.
Secondly, the presenter repeatedly mispronounced Steph’s name (calling him Steph-on). Which is pretty staggering when you think about it. Weirder still… no one on the Nike team corrected the presenter. Looking back on it Dell Curry mused to ESPN that “I was surprised that it didn’t get a correction.” Strike two.
And finally during the presentation one of the PowerPoint slides, which had clearly just been recycled from another presentation erroneously featured the name of Kevin Durant (one of the top 3 players in the league) rather than Curry’s.
“I stopped paying attention after that” – Dell Curry
This lazy PowerPoint error encapsulated in one slide how the Curry delegation felt they were being treated by the brand. Disrespected, overlooked, an after thought. Strike three.
“Don’t be afraid to try something new.” – Dell Curry
“Man, come over here, get your own shoe” – Kent Bazemore, teammate, Under Armour Athlete
That summer Curry inked a deal committing him to the plucky rival sports apparel company Under Armour. And while that seemed like a shock to many it had actually been a decision months in the making. In the exact same period that Nike had been repeatedly sending mixed signals, Under Armour had been sending strong positive vibes.
They had long wanted him to be a face of the UA brand. Now through their enthusiasm, belief in Curry’s destiny to be a top flight talent and the dogged persistence of an Under Armour-signed teammate, Kent Bazemore, they had started a new chapter for the company… but they couldn’t have possibly seen what was about to come.
May 10th | 2016 | Oakland
Steph Curry receives the MVP award for the second consecutive year. He’s actually voted by judges as the first “unanimous” MVP of all time. As it would turn out the way things have developed in basketball he’s basically the future of the game. At the highest levels the game has moved to a more “small ball” strategy, hulking 7 foot giants are borderline redundant now, it’s fast moving, creative, sharp shooters that are starting to dominate now. Curry is the leader of this new generation.
Thanks to Steph, Under Armour is now a credible force in the NBA. It has been estimated by Business Insider that the Curry-factor has added $14bn to the value of Under Armour. Who saw that coming? Not Nike.
It later emerged that Steph had taken his last meeting with Under Armour directly before the infamous Nike Durant-gate gaffe. The horrific Nike presentation was just a symptom of a wider problem of disrespect the company had been showing, but you have to feel it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Sending in the B-team. Mispronouncing his name. And the slide… the slide with Kevin Durant’s name on it rather than his… you have to think someone got fired for that one.