Tonight is a big night in the basketball world. It’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals in Oakland, California – and for the third year in a row, the Cleveland Cavaliers are facing off the Golden State Warriors.
The star power in this year’s finals is practically blinding. Between the two teams, there are seven MVP award winners, almost certainly future inductees into the Hall of Fame, and the biggest names in the league: LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and more.
When people talk about Cavs vs Warriors, the conversation inevitably turns to LeBron James vs Steph Curry – early comparisons have been made to the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson matchup. James has four MVP awards under his belt, two of them when he was with the Miami Heat. Steph Curry won the award for last two years. Both will be vying for the recognition this year.
On the court, tensions run high between the two basketball stars. Off the court, James and Curry also face off, vis-à-vis basketball sneakers.
Nike first signed James in 2003 for $90 million dollars in a seven-year contract. At the time, it was the largest athlete endorsement deal. The first few versions of James’ shoes didn’t perform well, but when LeBron IV hit shelves, the shoes had taken off. By 2013, Nike was selling more than $300 million of Lebron’s sneakers annually. Nike locked James in with a lifetime deal in 2015, the brand’s first such deal with a celebrity (although Michael Jordan is a de-facto lifetime partner). It was reported that the deal was worth $1 billion. This year, Nike released LeBron 14.
Ironically, Curry was also on Nike’s lineup when he was still relatively unproven. But in 2013, Curry defected Maryland-based athletic brand, Under Armour for $4 million a year. Curry’s performance in the last two finals and clinching the MVP award helped rocket Under Armour’s sales. Last year, Under Armour’s sales went up 64 percent in the first quarter, no doubt due to Curry’s performance in the postseason. Under Armour’s footwear revenue was $678 million in 2015, up from $127 million in 2010.
Despite the undeniable growth of Under Armour, it’s still the newcomer, desperately trying to play catch-up in a market dominated by one player. Oregon-based Nike owns approximately 90% of basketball apparel marketshare – thanks to the Jordan brand, as well as popular signature shoes from James and Cavs teammate, Kyrie Irving.
Combined with Curry’s star power and Under Armour’s general upward trajectory in sports apparel, it’s on a path to take on the most dominant sports brand in history. And there’s nothing like a good underdog story to get sports fans excited.