This is a story I’m sure many of you can and will relate to.
My mother was not about that paying $100 for a pair of sneakers life. In fact, I believe her words, verbatim, were, “I”m not gonna pay $100 of my hard-earned money so you can get some shoes dirty in a month.” As a wayward 12-year-old who was still wearing X-Men t-shirts to school and was freaked out by any notion of talking to girls, the fact that my mom would lay this restriction on me was absurd. I should also note, I was a stupid preteen.
It’s not that I hadn’t ever worn any nice sneakers as a kid; it just was that my mother wasn’t going to be the one who paid for them. If my mom’s boyfriend at the time decided to drop some change for her son’s kicks, cool. If my auntie decided to splurge on her nephew at Foot Locker while at the mall, cool. Was she gonna do it? Hell no. (For what it’s worth, my first pair of dope sneakers were Nike Air Max 2 CB ’94s, the dopeness.) However, when I turned 14 and I finally had the chance to make and save real money, I went and bought me some shoes. (I bought these Nike Air Penny IIIs. I didn’t have the greatest taste in shoes at 14.)
With $100 withdrawn from my savings account and some very fresh sneakers on my feet, my kicks validation was officially stamped. Did it really mean anything? Absolutely not. Did it boost a young man’s confidence? Absolutely. Did my mama shake her head in disgust, watching her son put $100 on her feet? “DON’T WALK IN THE GRASS IN THOSE SHOES EITHER!”
Of course, mama. No way would I do that to these shoes.
I wrote way too many words on why Kevin Durant chose Nike over Under Armour for SB Nation. You should read them. However, there are two questions that specifically stood out to me on the piece that I wanted to share. First …
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?)
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.
I noted a while back on here on why we as sneakerheads and basketball fans aren’t easily willing to give other brands a chance. Dwyane Wade went to Li-Ning, and I still haven’t seen an actual pair of his shoes in person. Kevin Garnett hopped from Nike to adidas to … Anta? Yep, haven’t bought any of his shoes since he was on The Swoosh. Steph Curry’s now on Under Armour, and I’d consider wearing those if they were gifted to me or if they were on sale. Am I an uppity sneakerhead? Are we too loyal to a brand like Nike? It’s the fascinating plot we won’t get to see unfold with KD taking door #2 and signing with Under Armour instead of Nike. Could a brand take an established superstar and continue the momentum that Nike created?
Which leads us to question #2 …
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.
There are few brands I can think of that have as much loyalty as Nike does, in that we would be very willing to advocate for them constantly. iPhone users, Beyonce Stans and Scandal watchers immediately come to mind. Brands have a way of personifying who people are, which is the ultimate brand compliment, so long as it’s positive. We care because no sneaker brand has entrenched itself into our lives like Nike has, and other brands like adidas and Under Armour are dying to make those similar relationships. We said as much last week when 11 of us got together to determine what KD’s sneaker decision truly means.
At the end of the day, we care because we love it, and as long as you’re up front and honest with yourself about this … then it all begins to make plenty of sense.
Related: Why Kevin Durant chose Nike over Under Armour (SB Nation)
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”