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Why Kevin Durant chose Nike over Under Armour

Why was Kevin Durant's next shoe contract such a big deal? Why did he flirt with Under Armour, but ultimately return to Nike? We explain the significance of the Thunder star's new $300 million shoe deal.

Ronald Martinez

With one tweet, the battle for the proprietary rights of Kevin Durant's feet was settled. KD's staying with The Swoosh instead of jumping ship to the Baltimore-area Under Armour.

The folks in Beaverton will reportedly pay Durant approximately $300 million over the next 10 years, keeping the Nike KD signature line humming along in the process. Since news broke that Under Armour threw a substantial offer in front of Durant and put his sneaker loyalty up for sale, many wondered if this would mark a major shift in how elite players and sports apparel giants do business. Could Under Armour, a new company on the shoe scene, afford to invest so much of their resources into one player? Could Nike afford to let the second-best player in the world go?

There are plenty of questions to ask moving forward. Let's see if we can come up with a few answers:

How did we get here?

While Durant technically still had a few months remaining on his initial 7-year, $60 million contract endorsement deal with Nike, Under Armour dropped a bomb with the massive offer worth a reported $265-$285 million. This reportedly included equity in the company and a recreational center that'd be named after Durant's mother.

In the reports that followed, it was suggested that Nike had the ability to equal any offer present to Durant. After initially putting out a lower offer, Nike did end up doing so at the 11th hour, matching the dollar amount presented by Under Armour and throwing in a few incentives based on the performance of the sneaker line that could raise that figure to a reported $300 million. Durant then ultimately chose to stay with Nike instead of moving to the Baltimore-area apparel company.

But ... Under Armour? Why did they think they could get Durant?

Yes, it's true: Under Armour's presence in the basketball sneaker game is virtually non-existent. Under Armour had 0.35 percent of the market share on basketball shoes at the end of 2013, a tiny number. Conversely, Nike and Brand Jordan held almost 93 percent of the market share, with adidas owning much of the rest.

Nevertheless, Under Armour's brand is on the rise, especially among the younger generation. While Under Armour failed to gain much traction with players like Brandon Jennings and Kemba Walker, they did ink emerging star Stephen Curry in 2013, giving them optimism that Durant might leave Nike to join. It also helped that Durant has ties to the D.C.-Baltimore area.


And landing Durant would have been a huge coup, both for the symbol it'd send and for attracting that younger generation. Consider: Under Armour sold $30 million in basketball shoes last season, whereas Kevin Durant's signature shoes generated $85 million alone in 2013. That's despite one ESPN report that Nike limited its distribution of Durant's shoes during his initial contract. It's reasonable to think that Under Armour could've blown up Durant and generated enough sales to more than make up for the reported $30 million/year cost of signing him. Add in the brand value of having the league's MVP on its roster and it was a no-brainer to pursue him.

What shoes does Under Armour actually have on the market?

When it comes to basketball shoes, not many. Curry wore the UA Micro G Anatomix Spawn last season. It's a shoe that basketball players can wear and they sold a few pairs of them, but they don't seem that popular. I live in Oakland, home of Curry's Golden State Warriors, and I can't say I've seen anyone I know in my pickup basketball or social circles wearing these. Under Armour's still figuring the basketball sneaker game out.

Can they really wrestle control away from Nike?

No. Not for many, many years at least.

Oh, you want more than that? I'll answer that with the next question.

Why did Durant ultimately decide to stay with Nike?

Outside of getting paid an exorbitant amount of money, signing with a brand like Nike carries a level of validation that means as much as signing your first contract as a professional player. When it comes to creating signature shoes and crafting larger-than-life stories that surround the players wearing their shoes, no one's done it better and for as long as Nike. Michael Jordan became the biggest star in the world while wearing Nike. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have become the megastars of their generation while wearing Nike.

No other shoe company has been able to connect their stars to their brand like Nike. Converse was the dominant brand in the 70's and 80s, but after Magic Johnson and Larry Bird retired, so did their stranglehold on fans. Reebok's alignment with Allen Iverson was a huge success, but they were never able to build on it. Adidas' has swung for the fences with players like Tracy McGrady and Derrick Rose, but injuries to those players has stifled its growth. (Remember when people wondered if adidas was to blame for their stars continually getting injured?)

it's a stretch to think this will significantly influence KD's decision to stay in Oklahoma City, return home to D.C. or go elsewhere.

That's why Durant wouldn't dare leave Nike for another company, much less a fledging basketball brand like Under Armour's. I'm sure Under Armour had all the intentions in the world to promote Durant into the stratosphere across all their lines of work. Under Armour has done great work in sports apparel, especially in college football and basketball. They've also signed big stars in other sports like Cam Newton and Bryce Harper and are currently licensed as the official kit provider for Tottenham Hotspur, one of the biggest soccer clubs in the world.

But Kevin Durant doesn't play football, baseball or soccer. He's plays basketball. He's grown up with Nike, both before and after he signed on. In his world, Nike is king.

Ultimately, Under Armour sales pitch to KD was that he could be the Michael Jordan of their company, the singular entity that represents everything the brand means. Nike had the benefit of growing exponentially alongside Michael Jordan, and as their resources grew, so did MJ's fame. But it seems Durant wasn't willing to take that risk.

Did Under Armour ever have a realistic chance to sign KD?

This is up for debate. Noted Warriors forward Andre Iguodala hilariously suggested Under Armour's chances were dramatically overstated.

But while Iguodala's Twitter game is quite strong, I disagree with him. If Nike didn't step up and match the deal like they've done previous with players like Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo, what other choice did KD really have? Nike's initial offer was almost $100 million less than Under Armour deal. I don't care who you are: it's hard to leave that much money on the table, no matter how much you love a sneaker brand.

Ultimately, there's a silver lining for Under Armour. Did they lose out on KD? Yes. But just getting their name out shows other players -- especially the next generation -- the brand is serious about making a commitment to winning in the basketball marketplace. While catching Nike may feel like an impossible task, young stars are there waiting to have brands built around them and it's clear that money's not an issue for Under Armour. This'll pay off down the road.

Was Nike right to match?

There are some who feel that spending this much on a single athlete, even one as marketable as Durant, is a waste in money. When such a high percentage of the basketball shoes you see worn are affiliated with Nike, one could argue it's smarter to save the money and let Durant walk away. Several have argued that Nike hasn't received an ideal return on their investment in guys like KD and LeBron for years, which is why new players in the league like Andrew Wiggins aren't getting the mega-sneaker deals they used to receive. We can't see the books to verify or refute that claim.

However, with an aging Kobe Bryant in his last days on the court and LeBron about ready to leave the prime of his career, Durant is ready to be the next lead guy for The Swoosh. That's enough of a reason for Nike to bring him and his successful sneaker line back to Beaverton for 10 more years. Consider the scary alternative: Durant leaves, emerges as an even bigger star and becomes the MJ-like figure to lead a top Nike challenger to glory.

Is this why KD dropped out of Team USA?

You'll recall that Durant surprisingly withdrew from Team USA on August 10, citing "physical and mental fatigue" as the reasons. It's certainly not a coincidence that departure coincided with Under Armour's initial huge offer. The shoe contract was certainly a factor.

Still, Durant's stated reasons have validity on their own merits. The man has virtually played basketball non-stop for four years. If you add the fact that Paul George's horrifying leg injury happened just a few days prior, it's obvious to see why KD would want to break.

Add $285 million to that equation and that could make anyone's mind go a bit crazy.

How does this affect Durant's 2016 free agency?

To all the fans in Oklahoma City and in Washington, D.C.: I'm sorry this story has caused your heartstrings to be tugged at. But if we've learned anything about Durant's tenure in Oklahoma City, top athletes don't have to be in major cities to become megastars. Thus, it's a stretch to think this will significantly influence KD's decision to stay in Oklahoma City, return home to D.C. or go elsewhere.

Why do so many people care about what shoe Durant wears?

Ah, the $300 million question.

I know multiple people who care a lot about sneakers and basketball, and they noted that if KD left Nike for Under Armour, their feelings about him would change. It's like watching your friend leave their significant other, a person you like, for some other person you know nothing about. The right thing to do is support your friend as they try to make themselves happy, but you like this significant other so much that you can't help but feel upset. This is how a generation of sports and sneaker fans operate. #TeamNike and #TeamAdidas are easy hashtags to find as people align themselves with brands.

And Nike in particular has tons of supporter advocacy, something Under Armour currently lacks. Fans dominate the conversation about sneakers more than even the brands do. Sites like Nice Kicks and Sole Collector have grown from start-up blogs to authoritative publications. They are proof there's a market for discussing the latest and greatest in sneaker culture.

However, it's always taken a signature individual to push these brands, and Nike's relationship with the world's best in basketball has been unmatched. Could Durant have changed all this by switching to Under Armour? Yes, which explains why there was so much buzz about this decision. A move to Under Armour would have sent a titanic wave through this emerging subculture.

But even KD wasn't ready to go down that path of unknown. Why should he anyway? He was happy with the brand he loved and all he wanted was for the dollars to match up. Once they did, he was always going to stay.


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