Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore is a strong defender and capable scorer that will be one of the better free agents on the market this season. Bazemore has worked tirelessly to become the player that he is today, a far cry from the celebrating bench warmer he was earlier in his career with the Golden State Warriors.
But while Bazemore's Golden State's tenure may be remembered more for his exuberant celebrations, it was with the Warriors that he became friends with Stephen Curry. And interestingly enough, Bazemore's friendship with Curry, helped Under Armour lure the reigning MVP away from Nike.
When he was a rookie, Bazemore's agent secured him a low-level deal with Under Armour, a previously unheard of sponorship for a undrafted, non-playing player. Under Armour plied Bazemore with boxes upon boxes of gear. From clothing to shoes, you name it, Bazemore had it. Since he is just one man and could only use so much, Bazemore started giving out the gear to his Warriors teammates and coaches. Under Armour's overabundance and general nice treatement of Bazemore, intrigued Curry. So when his deal with Nike ran out, Curry asked his Warriors teammate to help set him up with a meeting with the then-blossoming company.
Curry actually wanted to re-sign with Nike but a poor pitch meeting that involved his name being mispronounced (something I know all too well) and Kevin Durant's name being on a slide instead of his own, left a sour taste in the Warriors guard's mouth. This opened the door for Under Armour, who impressed Curry and unknowingly, his then one-year-old daughter Riley, who apparently liked the design of their shoes.
From Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN's feature on Curry and Under Armour:
In the 2013 offseason — coming off a year in which Curry had started 78 games and the Warriors had made the Western Conference semis — Nike owned the first opportunity to keep Curry. It was its privilege as the incumbent with an advantage that extended beyond vast resources. "I was with them for years," Curry says. "It's kind of a weird process being pitched by the company you're already with. There was some familiar faces in there."
The August meeting took place on the second floor of the Oakland Marriott, three levels below Golden State's practice facility. Famed Nike power broker and LeBron James adviser Lynn Merritt was not present, a possible indication of the priority — or lack thereof — that Nike was placing on the meeting. Instead, Nico Harrison, a sports marketing director at the time, ran the meeting (Harrison, who has since been named Nike's vice president of North America basketball operations, did not respond to multiple interview requests).
The pitch meeting, according to Steph's father Dell, who was present, kicked off with one Nike official accidentally addressing Stephen as "Steph-on," the moniker, of course, of Steve Urkel's alter ego in Family Matters. "I heard some people pronounce his name wrong before," says Dell Curry. "I wasn't surprised. I was surprised that I didn't get a correction."
It got worse from there. A PowerPoint slide featured Kevin Durant's name, presumably left on by accident, presumably residue from repurposed materials. "I stopped paying attention after that," Dell says. Though Dell resolved to "keep a poker face," throughout the entirety of the pitch, the decision to leave Nike was in the works.
THIS WAS A long-shot approach for Under Armour, but Bazemore -- a natural salesman with a ready smile -- had the personality to give it a chance. He boasts the kind of energy that takes him on 40-mile cycling jaunts. If Bazemore is selling you something, it won't be a subtle pitch. And he just so happened to befriend Curry.
Friendship begat business. "I'll shout anything out," Bazemore boasts. "Yeah, I have no shame when it comes to branding. I'll throw Under Armour's name, anything I'm a part of. I'll speak so highly of it. And Steph's like, 'My deal is up.' " Bazemore seized the opening. "I'm like, 'Man, come over here, get your own shoe.' I hadn't talked to anybody at Under Armour about this. I was making all these promises, like 'Get your own shoe, you're the face of the game,' sending out all these hypotheticals. I haven't talked to anyone over there."
It was time to contact Stone. "I reached out to Kris Stone, and I was like, 'Dude, I'm working on something,' " Bazemore says. The proxy pitch was paying off. Curry was interested and Bazemore didn't let up, with a keenly curious Stone keeping tabs on the emerging situation. "I probably called Kent three or four times a day," Stone says. "Have you talked to Steph? Have you talked to Steph? Where we at?"
A meeting was set up for Stone to pitch Curry, scheduled before the Nike pitch in Oakland. "I remember Steph saying in our presentation when we met with the family down in Charlotte, 'You guys are doing this stuff for Bazemore. What are you going to be doing for me?' " Stone says. After the meeting adjourned, Curry texted Bazemore to indicate he might sign with UA. The culmination had arrived.
"My favorite story is Riley," Steph says. It's a few weeks before a final decision on the shoe contract must be made. At his agent Jeff Austin's house in Hermosa Beach, California, Curry surveys the array of shoes before him. He asks his baby daughter, "Riley, which one do you like?"
At this point, Riley is little over 1 year old. She is presented with a Nike sneaker, an Adidas sneaker and an Under Armour sneaker. She picks up "shoe one," a Nike. "Threw it over her shoulder," Curry says. "She picked up shoe two, threw it over her shoulder. She picked up the third shoe, walked over and handed it to me." It was the Under Armour Anatomix Spawn. "So I knew right then," Curry says, smiling.
Curry is now of course, one of the main faces of Under Armour as his signature shoe line is one of the company's top sellers. Business Insider recently reported that Curry is worth $14.1 billion to Under Armour.
And while Nike is no doubt aware of their blunder with Curry, they are of course doing just fine with signature shoe lines for LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Plus let's not forget about Brand Jordan, which is under the company's umbrella.
But Curry's defection from Nike to Under Armour is a very interesting story, especially since Bazemore, a non-marquee player, played a large role in recruiting him to the company. According to Strauss, Bazemore now has a large six figure contract from Under Armour, in part because of his recruitment of Curry. Which Under Armour is no doubt happy to pay. Because without Bazemore, Under Armour wouldn't have landed Curry and would not be a true player in the basketball sneaker industry.