The $14 Billion Mistake: How Nike Fumbled the Bag With Stephen Curry

PRNewsFoto/Under Armour, Inc.

Stephen Curry is probably the first person that comes to mind when you think of athletes endorsed by Under Armour. Curry has had a significant impact on Under Armour’s meteoric rise and helping the company become a legitimate competitor to powerhouse brands like Nike and Adidas. In 2016, Business Insider relayed a note from Morgan Stanley analyst Jay Sole assessing Under Armour’s business prospects. In it, Curry’s potential worth to the company is placed at more than $14 billion.

Sole’s note reads, “UA’s U.S. basketball shoe sales have increased over 350 percent YTD. Its Stephen Curry signature shoe business is already bigger than those of LeBron, Kobe and every other player except Michael Jordan.”

Under Armour signed Curry in 2013 for $4 million per year—an absolute steal, in retrospect.

However, Under Armour may have never scored its current star athlete if it wasn’t for the sweet assist from Nike. Curry signed an endorsement deal with Nike when he entered the NBA. At the end of the 2013 season, Curry’s contract with Nike was up for renewal. According to ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss, here’s what happened when Nike tried to convince Curry to resign:

“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 (the TV show) 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.’

It got worse from there. A PowerPoint slide featured Kevin Durant’s name, presumably left on by accident, presumably residue from repurposed materials. ‘I stopped paying attention after that,’ Dell says. Though Dell resolved to ‘keep a poker face, throughout the entirety of the pitch, the decision to leave Nike was in the works.'”

On top of the bungled pitch meeting, Nike was willing to give players like Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis their own company-sponsored camps for promising young athletes, but not Curry, even though he joined the league years before them. It became clear to the Curry family that at the time, Nike didn’t consider Steph to be on the same level as superstars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant. However, Nike still had an opportunity to salvage the situation when Curry indicated he wanted to sign elsewhere.

In 2013, Nike retained Curry’s matching rights, similar to how NBA restricted free agency works. They still could have signed Curry, regardless of his preferences but decided not to match Under Armour’s deal. So Curry decided to move on and helped Under Armour pull off what could now be considered the greatest heist of the century.