A History of Under Armour Sneakers in the NBA

With the Golden State Warriors currently running all over the rest of the NBA and with Stephen Curry playing like the legitimate MVP candidate — not just one of them — with a PER that ranks him in the league’s top five, Under Armour picked the perfect time to finally outfit the 6-3 point guard with a real signature sneaker. The Curry One, which drops at Champs Sports on Friday, is a continuation of a fruitful relationship that started after Curry left Nike for a larger profile with UA in October of 2013. With the Swoosh, he was just one of many. With UA, he’s now the king.

In a way, the Curry One is building off the UA sneakers Steph has already worn. There was the Anatomix Spawn and later, the ClutchFit Drive. Now his new signature sneaker sports special AnaFoam construction, which is ultra lightweight, and a “charged” midsole for extra comfort, always a plus for a player that has had so many ankle problems. There are already six confirmed colorways that’ll be released in the near future, including the “home” edition, seen above, as well as a camo-heavy away colorway and the recently unveiled “Dark Matter.”

As they always have, Curry and Under Armour will take advantage of the relatively tame upper and open silhouette. This shoe lends itself perfectly to different designs and color palettes, something that’s become a central vein in their relationship. Outside of LeBron James and maybe Kobe Bryant, perhaps no player in the NBA has been outfitted with as many different PEs over the last few years as Curry. That freedom, in particular, is something Curry probably wouldn’t have received with Nike, not necessarily because he didn’t deserve it but more because he would’ve been competing with everyone from ‘Bron to Kevin Durant to Kobe to now Kyrie Irving.

If Under Armour had its way, however, Curry would’ve been slated right next to Durant, the NBA’s reigning MVP. One of the offseason’s largest storylines was the battle between Nike and UA for the rights to Durant. Under Armour, which has its roots in the DMV area…same as Durant, reportedly offered the 6-9 star a sneaker deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $265 to $285 million this past summer. Nike eventually brought the big hitters to the table and did what they had to do to keep Durant, but not before Under Armour announced itself as a serious player in the industry. The fact that Durant was thisclose to leaving Nike for Under Armour shows you all you need to know about the state of the game in 2015. (Technically 2014 at the time.)

“If Nike is the brand you want to go after,” Matt Powell, an analyst at research company SportsONESource, once said bout UA’s strategy, “you have to get them at basketball shoes.”

The casual fan might’ve believed that was UA’s moment in the sun, the first time they’d had a legit impact in the NBA. If so, they were wrong. Under Armour has been making noise for a couple of years.

Brandon Jennings, Raymond Felton, Greivis Vasquez, Kemba Walker SLAM KICKS cover

After testing their initial basketball shoes with high school and college teams over the course of three years, Under Armour unveiled their first collection of on-court shoes in 2010, centered around the Micro G Black Ice and up-and-coming guard Brandon Jennings. The initial launch was intentionally small, the locations meticulously chosen, in order to create buzz and hype around the product. Even before that, Jennings took the basketball world by storm by dropping 55 points as a rookie while playing in UA’s Prototype 2. The white and red edition would eventually go on sale the following spring.

It was a turning point for Under Armour and also a key step. Up to that point, they hadn’t made much headway into the footwear industry, despite the fact that it played a large role in the brand’s outlook. It was a step that needed timing, planning, the right player, the right sneaker…it needed everything to be lined up perfectly to work. Finding a foot in footwear can be both incredibly profitable to a brand yet also severely damaging if not done right.

Over the next few years, Under Armour’s hold steadily strengthened. Jennings didn’t pan into the All-Star many thought he was going to be, but he was always looked at as an extremely stylish and charismatic player. Soon UA added Kemba Walker, a New York City playground legend and an NCAA champion. Raymond Felton and Greivis Vasquez soon followed.

SLAM then gave Under Armour the stamp of approval, featuring Jennings and Walker solo, as well as all four point guards together, on covers of their annual KICKS magazine issue. In the magazine, they all rocked superhero tops to match wild new colorways of UA’s latest performance sneaker, the Anatomix Spawn. This shoe would go on to become the most noteworthy of UA’s releases so far, worn by a half dozen NBA players and headlined by Steph Curry. During the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, Curry took the court for the Sunday showcase rocking a “Purple Voodoo” edition, by far one of the loudest colorways on the court. He lost out on the MVP to a Nike point guard (Kyrie) but it was just another reminder that Under Armour had what it took to stand out on the biggest stage.

It doesn’t stop there for UA. They’re already gunning for the future, locking in future NBA superstar Emmanuel Mudiay to a deal this past September. Mudiay bypassed college to play overseas in China this fall and is expected to be one of the top five picks in next June’s NBA Draft. With his size (6-5) and athletic ability, Mudiay has a chance to be special and potentially yet another excellent point guard on UA’s roster.

Today, we’re closing in on another NBA All-Star Game, one in which Curry is going to be a headlining act. In fact, at least in the fans’ eyes, he’ll be THE headlining act. Curry made a late surge to vault past LeBron James and become the NBA’s leading All-Star vote getter. It’s easy to look back on the journey and say we all should’ve seen this coming. Under Armour has been a player for years now. But they needed the right player to push them into the spotlight. Stephen Curry is that player.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney