Golden State Warriors

Kevin Durant and the Under Armour conundrum

Kevin Durant isn’t a member of just one team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s also on Team USA, along with three current Warriors — Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes.
Barnes becoming an Olympian shows that Warriors fans and the basketball establishment disagree on his value, and/or a theory floated by The Ringer’s Chris Ryan is right and the Colangelos are hoping this little favor could lead to Barnes signing with the 76ers.

While teams like the Thunder or Spurs could be thorns in the Warriors’ collective side when trying to entice Durant in the coming days, there’s another team out there that could present problems for Golden State.

That would be Team Nike, as noted by Brian Windhorst in a recent ESPN TrueHoop podcast.

“I really question whether or not Mr. Nike would go play with Mr. Under Armour. And Kevin has said it’s more about (basketball than business). Maybe that isn’t 100% true. I just question that. I think the loyalty to the shoe company is paramount. It can be paramount because there are only two or three of them. It’s not very often that the loyalty comes into question. It’s not hard to remain loyal to a shoe company as long as they’re paying you like they are.

In this particular case, I just think that has to come into the equation. But maybe it doesn’t. Kevin’s comments about basketball vs. business, maybe that’s what it’s meant to quell.”

Here are Kevin’s comments:

“I’m worried about basketball,” Durant told reporters in Austin, Tex., during the release of his new sneaker line on Monday. “That’s what it is for me. It’s a basketball decision. I’m looking forward to the future.”

Mr. Under Armour is Stephen Curry, of course. By all accounts the way Nike lost Curry to UA (Ethan Strauss wrote an excellent piece about it for ESPN) still stings, so it isn’t out of the realm that Durant and Curry joining forces would cause some higher-ups at Nike to cringe, complain, and possibly even shift their marketing power behind another player.


And with that, we have speculative reason No. 2 why Curry’s presence could keep Durant from signing with Golden State — the first being that Curry is the Warriors’ resident superstar and Durant theoretically would have to take a step back and play the role of “second option.” Except that idea is illogical, because if Durant made the decision to come to the Warriors it would be to win and win alone — otherwise why even take a meeting with Golden State in the first place unless his plan was to get them to trade Curry (which would never happen). Plus, Curry is the type of player who’ll feed Klay Thompson all night if his Hermano de Splash es en fuego. It’s difficult to imagine Curry pushing for Durant to take a subservient role because the Warriors have been “his team” for the last few seasons.

currydurantPlaying with Mr. Under Armour shouldn’t be much of a problem for Mr. Nike or the company that makes his footwear, for several reasons. Here are three.

  1. Why would Nike cede an entire high-profile NBA team to Under Armour? The Warriors are in a top-five media market and should contend for titles as long as Curry is on the team and in his prime. Why wouldn’t Nike want a piece of the Warriors’ success, especially since they’re currently the favorites to win the 2017 NBA title?
  2. Green is a Nike athlete. I’ll concede this is the weakest point, because Green doesn’t have his own signature shoe in a traditional sense and isn’t a superstar. But if Nike was really that petty, they could’ve convinced Green to sign elsewhere a year ago.
  3. If you’re Nike and you just watched the Western Conference Finals, wouldn’t you be fairly confident that Durant could be the alpha dog on the Warriors, and in a subtle way you could take a little air out of Under Armour’s balloon?

KNBR wasn’t happy when 95.7 was beating them in the ratings from noon-to-3, so what did they do? They offered John Lund more money and stole him away. If Nike is really that worried about Curry selling more shoes than they probably expected when he signed with Under Armour, why not infiltrate his team and put him in a position where he might be the one who’s forced to take a step back?

This whole situation sounds crazy and will surely turn people off. Some don’t like the idea of Durant joining the Warriors and creating a super-team of sorts, and even more find the degree of control a few shoe companies have over all levels of basketball to be unsavory. But this is the world we’re entering as the Durant chase begins, and we can’t ignore the possibility that Nike vs. Under Armour could play into his decision. But unless they really believe that playing with Curry would sully Durant’s brand, Nike shouldn’t bar Durant from joining the Warriors. And if Durant is truly making a “basketball decision,” pressure from Team Nike shouldn’t enter into the equation.

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