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Here's the Story of How Nike Lost Stephen Curry to Under Armour

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

To the naked eye, it would appear that Nike missed the boat on Stephen Curry by never offering him a deal, but the brass who own the Swoosh had the reigning MVP locked up years before he became a star.

Curry wore Nike at Davidson where he became a star before our eyes, and then signed a deal to be a pitchman after he was the seventh overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors.

Curry averaged 17.5 points, 5.9 assists, and 1.9 steals per game as a rookie, finishing second in NBA Rookie of the Year voting to Tyreke Evans and was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team. Curry finished his second season with an average of 18.6 points, 5.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game.

The point guard was good, on the cusp of being a star, but because of ankle problems that had some questioning whether Curry would turn into a star in the NBA. The ship went off course for Nike in 2013 thanks to Kent Bazemore, some rude Nike staff and Curry’s need to respected like his peers.

THIS WAS A longshot approach for Under Armour, but Bazemore — a natural salesman with a ready smile — had the personality to give it a chance. He boasts the kind of energy that takes him on 40-mile cycling jaunts. If Bazemore is selling you something, it won’t be a subtle pitch. And he just so happened to befriend Curry.

“He was a rookie for us, and he got more gear and boxes in front of his locker every day than anybody else on the team.”

Friendship begat business. “I’ll shout anything out,” Bazemore boasts. “Yeah, I have no shame when it comes to branding. I’ll throw Under Armour’s name, anything I’m a part of. I’ll speak so highly of it. And Steph’s like, ‘My deal is up.’ ” Bazemore seized the opening. “I’m like, ‘Man, come over here, get your own shoe.’ I hadn’t talked to anybody at Under Armor about this. I was making all these promises, like ‘Get your own shoe, you’re the face of the game,’ sending out all these hypotheticals. I haven’t talked to anyone over there.”

When faced with the decision to renew Curry’s deal, Nike reportedly insulted Curry’s camp with an initial offer of $2.5 million per season. According to Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com, Under Armour joined the bid for Curry after big-named Nike reps (Lynn Merritt) declined to show for his initial meeting, thus showing that Curry wasn’t a top priority for the shoe company.

The August meeting took place on the second floor of the Oakland Marriott, three levels below Golden State’s practice facility. Famed Nike power broker and LeBron James adviser Lynn Merritt was not present, a possible indication of the priority — or lack thereof — that Nike was placing on the meeting. Instead, Nico Harrison, a sports marketing director at the time, ran the meeting (Harrison, who has since been named Nike’s vice president of North America basketball operations, did not respond to multiple interview requests).

Couple that with Curry not wanting to be play second, third or fourth fiddle behind guys like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Paul George, Kevin Love and James Harden, Nike had a problem on their hands.

In 2013, according to a report from ESPN’s Darren Rovell, “Nike failed to match a deal worth less than $4 million a year” to Curry from Under Armour, and so began the assault that you see taking place today.

-- Glenn Erby

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