It would seem unlikely at this point, but when Stephen Curry introduced his first signature sneaker last winter, he was by no means convinced it would be a success.
“There’s a lot of brand allegiance and loyalty, and that’s hard to crack,” he told ESPN in February upon the debut of his first Under Armour signature sneaker, the Curry One. “I hope people can get outside their comfort zone and give it a try.”
For quite some time, of course, one might have said the same for Steph himself.
Despite being the progeny of a decorated NBA sharpshooter, Curry is on the small side in a sport known for its larger-than-life giants. Factor in a chronic ankle injury that plagued his early NBA career, and his road to stardom was not always paved in gold.
But after a wildly successful season that included his first MVP Award and NBA championship, the sky appears to be the limit for Steph. After the Curry One became a runaway success, the same could be said for his personal brand.
Seemingly the entire media world descended upon New York City for All-Star Weekend last February, with the midseason showcase and Kanye West’s debut adidas sneaker assuming a large portion of the spotlight. But make no mistake – Steph Curry did a pretty good job stealing the show.
If you want to pinpoint the time Curry ascended from All-Star to megastar, it was right there in frigid New York, where he and Under Armour introduced the Curry One to much fanfare. In terms of his day job, Curry also crushed the competition in the star-studded 3-point contest and blew everyone away in the ASG.
His popularity is the result of his being a breath of fresh air. Besides his fan-friendly offensive game, Curry’s relatively diminutive size makes him relatable, especially to the younger generation. Steph is soft-spoken and respectful by nature, a stark contrast in a league where brash and colorful are the norm. And with his impossibly adorable daughter, Riley, taking over every postgame press conference during the Warriors’ NBA title run, his crossover potential reached new heights.
Under Armour’s timing with Curry’s first sneaker couldn’t have been better, validating both their gamble on him, and his on them. Known primarily for football performance apparel, UA gained a burgeoning superstar to carry the flag for their fledgling basketball division, while Curry was free to become the unquestioned face of a rising company.
With that kind of momentum, it does beg the question: What can Curry and Under Armour do for an encore?
For starters, the Curry Two — now available at Champs Sports — has been drawing rave reviews. Curry’s second UA entry has better cushioning and traction than its predecessor, while shaving an ounce off its weight, taking a good sneaker and making it even better.
In terms of aesthetics, the Curry Two isn’t much of a departure from the One. Recall the sharp difference between the Air Zoom Generation and Zoom LeBron 2, or even the Air Jordan 1 and 2. In both cases, Nike took a somewhat basic first shoe and punched up the sequel to the point that one could barely tell they were from the same line. In that vein, it was a bit underwhelming to not see something slightly more arcane from Curry’s second sneaker
That said, if you have something that works, it might be best simply to build on it. People liked the Curry One for some of the same reasons they like its namesake: It’s accessible, it looks sharp and it delivers. UA has the creativity to take crazy chances — witness its jerseys for the Maryland football team — but people were clearly comfortable with what the Curry One offered. Why mess with success?
As strong a year as Curry and Under Armour have had, it might only be the tip of the iceberg. UA recently signed Steph to an extension through 2024 that includes an equity stake in the company — no small thing, considering the brand is enjoying heretofore unseen prosperity. And Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank has still loftier goals.
“Don’t get me wrong, we’re not going to open the floodgates, but we definitely see this as a watershed moment for us with several of our athletes to take advantage of things,” Plank told investors in April. “It’s going to help elevate what was a little less than $100 million-ish basketball business, and our goal is building a $1 billion basketball brand.”
If that seems too ambitious, it probably is. But think of how far Curry and Under Armour have come in such a short time; we already know not to put anything past either party. If the Warriors are great again and Curry stays healthy, there’s no reason his profile can’t continue to rise. And if Steph truly does become Under Armour’s handpicked answer to Michael Jordan, the Curry Two will be remembered as one of the key building blocks in making it happen.
“[The equity stake in Under Armour] was important and signifies the actual partnership element that we do,” Curry told CNBC in September. “When I do things well for the brand, we all grow together. That’s the mission.”
You could make a good case it’s already being accomplished.