ESPN has a deep and fascinating look at what it calls "the marketing heist of the century": sneaker behemoth Nike losing out on megastar Steph Curry to comparatively tiny Under Armour. Curry is arguably the biggest name in the NBA right now, "a cult of personality so powerful, thousands flock" just to see him shoot in warmups. But in 2013, his deal with Nike was up and he was looking for a new one. Then Nike hit him with a pitch meeting that "evoked something hastily thrown together by a hungover college student," writes Ethan Sherwood Strauss. One Nike official mispronounced Curry's name as "Stephon"—like Urkel's alter ego—and didn't correct it. One of the presentation's slides still had Kevin Durant's name on it. Curry's father says it seemed like Nike was relegating Curry to a "second tier" of athletes.
Curry—with an assist from his adorable daughter Riley and an enthusiastic former teammate—signed a deal with Under Armour through 2024. By one analyst's estimate, his potential worth to the company is now $14 billion. So how did Nike lose out on the superstar? ESPN says the company ignored him for the exact reason he's become so popular. "Everything that makes him human and cuddly and an unlikely monster is anathema to Nike," says a source familiar with Nike's marking strategy. "They like studs with tight haircuts and muscles." Nike has signed between 68% and 74% of NBA players and accounted for 95.5% of the basketball sneaker market in 2014, so you might think they wouldn't be sweating Curry and Under Armour, which has less than 1% of the sneaker market. Not true. "This is the hardest thing for Nike to swallow right now," one sneaker expert says. Read the full story here. (Read more Nike stories.)