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Under Armour Thinks Steph Curry Can Be the Next Michael Jordan

Cam Wolf

Two years ago, Under Armour was headed toward catastrophe. The company’s stock, which hit a high of almost $52 in 2015, had fallen to $20. Reports painted Under Armour as a frat house where executives charged strip-club expenses to company cards and invited women to events “based on their attractiveness to appeal to male guests,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Plus, the brand was on the verge of losing its biggest and most important ambassador: Steph Curry.

Curry was reportedly unhappy with the sales of his Curry 3 sneakers, as well as founder and former CEO Kevin Plank’s decision to endorse Donald Trump, according to the New York Times. So team Under Armour scheduled a meeting with Curry and prepared to make a Godfather offer. They gave Curry something that few other professional athletes can claim: a completely separate sub-brand built completely around him, not unlike Nike’s arrangement with Michael Jordan.

Two years later, it seems the sub-brand’s moment is finally arriving. A first look at Curry’s new shoes, reportedly dubbed the Curry8 Flow, seemed to be accidentally leaked by the Warriors earlier this week. The team quickly deleted the offending video, but it was picked up by other accounts. In the post, Curry is wearing plain black-and-white sneakers with a puffy, marshmallow-like midsole. Under Armour has smartly not claimed its territory with these shoes, switching out its logo for a new Curry insignia that looks like an 8 (presumably a reference to Curry’s eighth signature shoe) with spiky hair. The “Let’s Go Warriors” newsletter has been hot on the case throughout the development of these shoes: According to the outlet’s posts, we should expect to see versions of this shoe in white-and-gold, as well as one that pays tribute to coach Steve Kerr. Leaked marketing materials boast the new Curry8 Flow is “the greatest performance improvement in basketball footwear. Ever.” Asked about the new shoes, an Under Armour representative told GQ, “Under Armour is excited about our ongoing partnership plans with Stephen Curry and together, we will continue to focus on positively impacting communities and operating with purpose in all that we do.”

When the news of the rumored Curry brand resurfaced via a Bleacher Report Instagram post, Dwyane Wade commented, “Welcome to the 'own' brand club." That club is extraordinarily tiny: Wade has a lifetime deal with Chinese brand Li-Ning to make his Way of Wade brand, which counts D’Angelo Russell as a signee; the Brooklyn Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie produces his own brand, K8iros; and both the Ball family and Stephon Marbury have tried unsuccessfully to go out on their own. And then, of course, there’s Michael Jordan—whose brand, in structure and in corporate support, seems to have the most in common with what UA is planning for Curry.

It’s no secret why Under Armour is keen to put Curry on the same path as Jordan: MJ's shingle does billions of dollars in sales every year. And UA is going to serious lengths to support its star: The brand brought on a former unnamed executive who helped create the Jordan Brand, according to the Times report, and has given Curry more say in the design of his shoes. 

If any modern-day NBA player is worth betting on in this way, it’s probably Curry. The Warrior is one of the league’s most popular players—over the latter half of the past decade, his jersey was consistently the top seller; he even ranked third this season despite missing most of it due to a broken hand—and has revolutionized basketball. The kids who spent the ’90s wanting to be “like Mike” are now the parents of children who spend their days hoisting 30-footers to be like Steph. To riff on an infamous MJ quote: Three-point shooters buy sneakers too.

While it’s hard to compare the nascent Curry brand with Jordan right now, the inception of each is not totally dissimilar. In 1984, when Nike was wooing Jordan, he hardly wanted anything to do with the brand. Nike was mostly seen as a company for runners, and Jordan wanted to sign with Adidas more than anything else. The Swoosh was on the downturn too: After experiencing years of uninterrupted financial success, the brand had finally reported its first quarterly loss. What won Jordan over was not only an unprecedented amount of money but also the brand’s willingness to hear his creative input. “They really made a great effort of trying to have my input on the shoe," Jordan told ESPN. What may have started as a moonshot over three decades ago now churns out $3.1 billion in annual sales. That’s good news for Under Armour: If Steph Curry is known for anything, it’s his moonshots.

Originally Appeared on GQ