If you’re ever around Stephen Curry, make sure to never talk bad about Under Armour. Golden State’s All-Star won’t have it. He has too much love for the folks who gave him his first signature sneaker. When news first surfaced that Kevin Durant was indeed staying home with Nike rather than spurning them to sign with UA, ESPN’s Bomani Jones retweeted a mocking joke about the quality of Curry’s sneakers as compared to Nikes. Curry gave him that ether and, in the process, let the world know he isn’t jumping ship anytime soon.
At the moment, Under Armour is known more for the headway its making in football. Between some amazing commercials, the #IWill campaign, stars like Cam Newton showing the difference between winners and losers, and even cool grassroots marketing concepts like badass college football uniforms (hello, Maryland), UA is at the forefront of the new generation. But in basketball? They held just 0.7 percent of the market share in 2013, well short of adidas (5.5 percent) and even Reebok (1.4 percent), and let’s not even talk about Nike (92 percent).
However, you could argue those numbers have more to do with consumer loyalty than anything else. You could make the case. I’ve played in UA basketball sneakers. I’ve actually been playing a lot in the Anatomix Spawn this year, the sneakers that Curry wore last season, along with the UA ClutchFit Drive. I feel no noticeable difference from the other shoes in my on-court rotation (Jordan Super.Fly 2, Nike Hyperdunk 2012+, adidas Crazyquick…maybe the Air Jordan XX8, except that shoe really is different than anything else you’ll ever wear). The Anatomix Spawn is light. It slips on like slippers. It’s breathable and low to the floor. It has solid grip, traction, and can make anyone look okay in them. Plus, you might not have noticed but everyone — from the dude on the corner selling $2 almonds to Kobe Bryant — knows Steph Curry is the best shooter in the world, maybe even the best shooter of all time. Yeah I said it.
So what gives? When will his Under Armour sneakers start really selling? The answer is coming.
When Curry left Nike for Under Armour last fall, it was on more than just a whim. It wasn’t a decision that came easy. Curry grew up with Nike, had been wearing them since high school. His godparents even worked for the company. But the 6-3 guard wanted more input into his shoes. He wanted more customization, more options, and he wanted to be heard.
“Well, I know the amount of athletes that [Under Armour] have in sports and the amount of attention that they can provide,” he told Complex at the time of the move. It’s not that Nike didn’t, but [UA’s] got about eight guys that they can give a person-to-person experience [to]. I wouldn’t say quicker, but more attentive to an individual standpoint. When I talk about my ankles, its not like I’ve only sprained my ankle in Nikes. They’re obviously a premier brand in basketball. But when I went to the meeting and saw what Under Armour was bringing to the table, and how customizable they could make my shoes for me, that definitely made me a lot more comfortable with switching sides and making Under Armour the new family.”
Last year in the Anatomix Spawn, Curry had the best season of his career, pushing closer to the 50/40/90 club while nearly breaking his own record for three-pointers in a single season. (He did blow away the old record for most triples in back-to-back seasons with 533 makes.) He was unstoppable all year long, and did it all in dozens of different sneaker colorways. And now this summer, finally, rumors are circulating from the source that Golden State’s favorite son will be getting his first signature sneaker in early 2015. It’s expected to hit in February, perfect timing considering Curry will be ready to make his now annual trip to the NBA All-Star Game.
It should also include the unveiling of a personal logo, something we’ve been hearing about since early this year.
So now Curry will join the likes of James, Durant, Bryant, Rose, Howard, Wade, Crawford, and others as some of the only NBA players with signature shoes. With that comes responsibility. We’ve never had more signature sneakers than we do in 2014, making it almost impossible to stand out among the competition. Plus, with sneaker culture exploding like never before, the stakes are higher, the profits greater. And there are a few essential ingredients I’m sure Curry and UA are discussing.
I’m excited to see what tech UA will lace Curry with, especially considering his history of ankle problems and how, at least in this day and age, fans have this weird obsession of linking sneakers to injury. (No, Derrick Rose did not get hurt because he wears adidas. Was there anybody claiming the same thing about Nike when Paul George went down this summer? Exactly.) It won’t make all the difference should Curry land on another foot again, but the shoes still need to make a splash. The folks at adidas have Boost. The Jordan Brand has Flight Plate AND the woven upper they introduced with the Air Jordan XX9. Nike has Hyperposite and their new outsole Zoom Air bags. What will UA bring?
The look and feel of the sneaker is obviously a starting point. I might not be the smartest tool in the shed but I know a fast-selling sneaker needs to at least look good if nothing else. I’m more concerned with the colorways. Golden State has a unique color scheme with lots of yellow/gold, blue, and white, and they’ve also added a black, long-sleeved alternate uniform this year. So at least we know the home and away editions, and most of Curry’s PEs, will be dope. But to truly connect with the market, he’ll need more than that, maybe even one signature colorway that stands out above the rest.
It’s all about telling a story through the sneakers, admittedly a hard task on the first go-round simply because, at first, you’re normally more worried about connecting right away rather than thinking long-term. But LeBron James has his royalty storyline driven throughout his 12 signature sneakers, as well as his soldier persona. Every sneaker, in some way, in some color, in some design, helps reinforce how this man is a force a nature, so unique that it only makes sense to call him the King. Kevin Durant really wanted to be a weatherman or a meteorologist while he was growing up. What did Nike do? They took the idea and flipped it, repeatedly lacing him with wild colorways over the last three years that all call back to his childhood obsession. Then there’s Derrick Rose. His entire signature collection harkens back to two things: home (Chicago) and family. Under Armour needs to find that aspect with Stephen Curry and market it effectively.
Then, of course, Curry has to play well. Has to. Especially since this will be his first sig shoe. Last season he was better than ever, finishing top 10 in PER and top five in Estimated Wins Added. The lil’ guy was at career-high marks across the board, and even though the Warriors lost in round one, squandering a lead in the fourth quarter of Game 7 against the Clippers, Curry proved he could show out in the big game, lighting up the Staples Center for 33 points and nine dimes.
This year, the West will be even more difficult. Curry and the Warriors hope familiarity will help them. They are bringing back virtually the same team that made the second season last year, outside of the coaching change. If they go deeper into the playoffs, and if Curry continues to improve, it’ll do nothing but help his signature sneaker. In the end, though, it’ll be about a lot more than winning for the shoe to fly off shelves.
For now, Under Armour is still known for its work in training and football. But Stephen Curry has the talent to change that, perhaps as quickly as this year.
“That’s how they kind of started off,” Curry told Complex last year about UA, “and obviously their presence in football as well. When you to talk to the people in charge of making decisions and how passionate they sounded about building a basketball brand, and I can continues to grow my career alongside them. They always talk about that underdog mindset that follows them in the basketball world and that’s how I’ve been my whole career.”
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