Stephen Curry getting overlooked by college recruiters is a well-documented story, but his marketing is also an against-all-odds tale, one that comes full circle as he picks up the 2015 NBA MVP award.
Two years ago, Nike had a chance to pay Curry a lot of money and lock him up for the future. After offering less than $2.5 million a year, Nike had a second chance -- this time to match Under Armour's new offer. Unsure that Curry would ever be able to sell signature shoes, Nike let him go.
Curry remembers the moment but doesn't talk much about it, choosing today to focus more on the company that did believe in him, the company that did pay him what he was worth (and is now getting a bargain).
Today, Curry is a star. His Under Armour "Curry One," which debuted around the NBA All-Star Game in February, is giving more credibility to the brand at retail than any endorser, across all sports, it has ever had.
The initial colorways of the shoe are essentially sold out, save for sizes 14, 15 and 16, and it's easily the best-selling item on the company's website.
"It's one of the hottest shoes in basketball," said Adam Peake, Under Armour's executive vice president of global marketing. "And they're selling from kids sizes all the way up to adults. There are 450 players in the NBA and we're proud that the one MVP has our shoes on his feet."
At Foot Locker, Curry's shoes have become Under Armour's first must-have shoe for a certain demographic.
"Stephen has that unique blend," said Jed Berger, the company's vice president of marketing. "On the court, he plays basketball like it's a video game and someone young players can, and want to, emulate because of his size, handle, shot, strong work ethic and basketball IQ. Off the court, his humility, authenticity and leadership style are qualities that fans of all ages appreciate and respect. We've seen the love for Stephen first-hand in feedback from our marketing campaigns, and in the way consumers have responded to his first signature sneaker."
Curry finished the regular season No. 2 in NBA jersey sales behind only LeBron James, but he's the top-selling NBA player since January on Fanatics.com, the largest licensed online sports retailer. He's the top-selling NBA player on the site in 36 states during the playoffs and his gear has been bought in all 50 states since the playoffs began.
For any company that wants to jump on the Curry train, time is running out. He has deals with Degree, Express, State Farm and Muscle Milk, and recently signed on with JBL to endorse its headphones.
In an ultracompetitive category, Ralph Santana, chief marketing officer for Harman, JBL's parent company, said Curry delivers the authenticity the brand is always looking for.
"Just like our deals with musicians and artists, Steph is genuine about his love for our product," Santana said. "That connection, along with his passion, is what makes him perfect for us."
Curry has thrived, both on and off the court, in his role as an underdog. Being named the league MVP means no one will overlook him on the hardwood or on Madison Avenue ever again.