Stephen Curry’s signature sneaker line has become a David vs. Goliath story of sorts in the shoe business. In an industry where Nike still leads the charge and Adidas has ascended to No. 2 in sneaker popularity, Curry is doing his best to keep Under Armour above water in an ever-changing landscape.
The challenge of going against titans is nothing new for Curry, who has never backed down from a challenge—look at what he did at Davidson, he transformed the Warriors from a dysfunctional franchise to a budding dynasty and now probably his boldest move yet, trying to make Under Armour the best sneaker brand in the business.
As with most signature lines, Curry’s has had its share of highs and lows. His sneakers soared due to his massive popularity, but his shoes have never reached the crossover potential like an Air Jordan or even LeBron models.
Curry is banking on his latest model, the Curry 4, to compete within a consumer movement that has doubled down on comfort instead of performance. The Curry 4’s minimal design and knit base is a huge improvement from his past models and has been met with rave reviews so far this season on social media and sneaker blogs.
Will it be the sneaker that finally gives Steph some respect in the business? That question remains to be answered. The Crossover had the opportunity to chat with Curry about that last week, touching on his newest silhouette, the state of Under Armour and the “sneaker beef” with Kevin Durant.
(This article has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
Jarrel Harris: Big sneakers stars are usually wing players, like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and even your teammate Kevin Durant. Then you came along and became lightning in a bottle for Under Armour. What do you think has worked well for you?
Stephen Curry: I think a lot of it has to do with your style of play on the court, and people feel inspired by it and they see something that jumps off the screen when they watch you on TV. And to have them be a part of your story for your sneakers, it is a pretty cool experience to be in that group and try to push the envelope in what my product stands for and that kind of stuff. To think about it, you're actually right, my first sneaker I used to buy back in the day was the Vince Carter shox—so there wasn't a point guard that I wore growing up.
JH:How would you describe your sneaker journey throughout your career?
Curry: I mean, considering that it is not even three years old right now, it’s pretty special. I was introduced to the game February 15 at All-Star Weekend debuting my Curry 1 and to be able to inspire some of the colorways through that line. Every year I feel that I learn a lot more about the sneaker industry and the signature sneaker industry to be specific and what works and what doesn't. Obviously, there are some up and downs, but that is kind of part of the process. We are going to continue to innovate around my sneaker and continue to get better, so that's where we are at with the four right now. Everything is moving in the right direction.
JH:Did you ever get upset when you read the critiques of some of your earlier models?
Curry: No, but you obviously want to make the best shoe possible. You want to make sure that it is something that is versatile so everyone feels that they can wear it and rock it off or on the court, whatever the case is. But you also know that you are not going to please everyone’s style or preference or taste. So my whole thing is obviously from a brand loyalty, from an Under Armour standpoint, we are trying to crack that code and really shake the game up when it comes to my sneakers, and we just want people to judge the shoe from the point for whether it is a dope shoe or not, not if it is a Under Armour, Nike, or Adidas shoe type of deal. And that is something you have to fight through when you first jump into the game for people who haven't seen it before.
JH:A lot of people made a deal about you and Kevin Durant having a brewing sneaker rivalry. Is there a sneaker war currently in the NBA? Or it more fun and games like barbershop talk?
Curry: I mean, don’t get me wrong, everybody wants to have the hottest known shoe. That is why you are in the business, you want to be known as the best. But when it comes to me and KD and us being on the same team—him with Nike and me with Under Armour—that doesn't get in the way of our personal relationship and what we do on the floor. I be looking at his shoes and he looks at my shoes and we be cracking jokes on them all of the time and all that kind of stuff—I’m interested in what colorways he's got coming out and he is interested to see what we are bringing to the table, so all that stuff is part of being aware and interested in the sneaker game. At the end of the day, we all want to play well on the court, we all want to win and we all want to sell shoes, and I think we can accomplish all of that.
SI:Kent Bazemore was a big reason why you landed at Under Armour. If Baze was never with the Warriors, do you think things would be different? Where would Stephen Curry be?
Curry: That is a tough question, I really don't know. You can play the what-if game all day long, but with Kent being there and showing me how much love UA showed him and just that attention to detail—and knowing how great of dude Kent is, I trust everything he says—so that was a huge factor for sure and something we talked about all the time back when he was wearing the Micro G Torch’s and I was wearing the the Anatomix Spawns that next year. We have come a long way from those days. But definitely seeing somebody in the locker next to me rocking UA back in the day definitely opened the door.
SI:Do you feel the pressure of being the only major star on UA’s basketball division when Nike has a stacked roster with LeBron and KD and Adidas has James Harden and a growing roster?
Curry: Nah, not really. I embraced it from the jump. I knew when I got my first signature sneaker back in 2015, I was the only one (at Under Armour) to have one so it’s been that way forever. The goal is to continue growing the stable with high-level basketball players in the UA basketball category and hopefully they see what I am able to do with my product, and that is the situation for now but I highly expect that to change.
SI:You broke the Curry 4 out during the NBA Finals. What was the the strategy behind that?
Curry: It was to capitalize off a cool moment. The 4 wasn't released until October and we had the opportunity to debut it in the Finals. Obviously, getting to the Finals is the first priority, and for me thinking back on it now, I can remember getting back to the mountaintop and winning the Finals in the Curry 4 and debuting it. I think it was a cool moment, but it is also a different strategy for us to try not to have any leaks or photos come out before I actually put them on my feet and wear them on the court, so I think it was a dope moment that kind of turned some heads.
SI:There is this phenomenal shot of you when you threw two kicks into the air after hitting a three in Game 1 of the NBA Finals and you can perfectly see the sneakers—was that planned?
Curry: Haha, nah, I wish it was, it was just a normal reaction but not really normal but extravagant and just having fun on the court, enjoying the moment. It wasn’t anything to promote the Curry 4 but it did look good.
SI:The vibe feels really different this time around regarding the Curry 4. It feels like you had a lot more freedom in inserting your thoughts. How fun was the designing process and how much insight did you provide?
Curry: It was one of the very first opportunities that I got to inspire a shoe from the ground up, just like from idea. They didn’t just come up to me with materials or a look they were going for or some innovation that has already been in the works before I even joined Under Armour—this was my first kind of run of designing a shoe for me. So when I got to sit down with my designer Kort Neumann, he just opened up the sketchbook and I kind of gave him my preferences on where I wanted to go in making the shoe—lightweight, form-fitting, focusing on traction and stuff like that and all of the things I feel that make me a better basketball player on the court when I put the shoe on. I kind of wanted to breathe that into the product and then to just see it come to life every step of the way was a pretty dope experience, and I think that shows how the product has been elevated.
SI:Dive more into the Curry 4 performance wise and why would you recommend?
Curry: Performance wise—the traction for me is everything. When you step on the court you hear those squeaks no matter what you do, but you want something that would be able to change directions real quick and be really responsive. I can tell when I am about to have a good game. The aesthetics on the material is lightweight, it’s super form-fitting and comfortable. And I wear those huge braces, and even when I wear and put the shoe on top of the braces, it feels like it is butter so it has that pop to it. The biggest thing for us that we tried to execute is that—obviously, it's a performance first shoe and not a lifestyle shoe by any stretch of imagination—but this is our best attempt at creating a versatile shoe that you can rock with some jeans, joggers off the court and wear it to dinner and go out and go out and hoop in them the next day. That is the vibe we are going for, and I think we dialed it in. And there are less colorways this year and hopefully we are telling more powerful stories this year so you can become part of the story.
SI:You always incorporate some hidden symbolism within your sneakers. What are some that we can find on the Curry 4?
Curry: My signature is on the bottom—on the plate of the outsole, I have a tattoo on my left bicep that has the greater than and less than sign and that lets me stay in the moment—the past is over and the future isn't promised so my whole goal in life is to enjoy every moment and focus on the here and now, so we put that on the side of the shoe. Underneath there is my family's initials with their birth years on there so that is very personal for me and my family, and then there is trust, commitment, care tagged on there as well, so all the common things that surround me about who I am and hopefully what I represent all throughout the shoe.
SI: The price point of the Curry 4 ($130) is reasonable compared to other sneakers out. Why is important to go back down to a price that is a little more affordable?
Curry: First off, I think you are getting way more for what you are paying for so that is the biggest thing, that value proposition. Obviously, there are all sorts of price points in the sneaker game, but when you are paying $130 for this, for the Curry 4, you want to feel that you are getting way more for what you are paying for and that is the goal and that accessibility is huge. We are still young in the game and want to keep pushing the envelope and keep evolving and keep getting better, but right now we are at a solid point where you can buy into the Curry 4, the Curry family and be a part of what I represent.
SI: The ‘More Magic’ Curry 4 colorway has reportedly been reselling for over $500-$1000 online. What are your thoughts on that and sneaker resellers in general?
Curry: I mean, it’s a hot industry right. When you find a hot the product and get your hands on it, it’s this value or that. The big thing for me is that you want the sneaker to be exclusive but you don't want resellers to be the only ones that have them, so it is a balance to that for sure. But I guess they kind of set the trend on what’s hot and what’s not—whatever that resale value is hopefully reflective of how popular that shoe is and how much people want them to keep driving demand. So it’s a market that is probably never going to go away, but hopefully for people who want to get my shoe, hopefully they don’t have to go to that sneaker resale market.
SI:Can you see the Curry brand becoming a subdivision of Under Armour like Michael Jordan's Jordan Brand underneath Nike?
Curry: I don’t know. I want to be able to grow my business to its full potential. I want to really invest in myself and the product going forward. I feel like I have a lot of great years left on the court and so whatever happens is supposed to happen, and I'm definitely going to expect greatness from my brand and my relationship with Under Armour and our partnership going forward and whatever that means for our relationship it will happen.
SI:When it is all said and done, what do you want people to remember about your signature line?
Curry: That I shocked the shoe game. For one, I think the business that we created with the SC brand and Under Armour—and it is almost unprecedented—from starting with nothing and growing it to what it is now and hopefully what it becomes in the next five to 10 years. I take a lot of pride in what I do on the court and the opportunities that come out of that, especially with people wearing my name on their feet and their body with all of the product that we make. I took a chance with UA and UA did the same and we created something special and hopefully it lives long beyond my playing career.