The fireworks that lined the skies last night weren’t shot off by Golden State Warriors fans to celebrate Kevin Durant joining their team, but they might as well have been. The 6’9” forward’s presence on an already stacked Warriors team that came four points shy of winning back-to-back NBA titles makes them clear favorites to win the Finals again. Durant will be teammates with Steph Curry—but they’ll be competing against each other for sneaker sales.
Curry, who has an endorsement deal and equity with Under Armour, has become the most-talked-about signature sneaker athlete in the NBA right now, and Nike has been struggling to sell Durant’s sneakers, according to Foot Locker CEO Dick Johnson. The main reason Curry’s shoes have been selling is that he’s won back-to-back MVPs and an NBA Finals. People want to buy shoes from a winner, simple and plain. Durant, although he snagged an MVP award in 2014, only appeared in one Finals, in 2012, when he lost to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, 4-1. But if everything goes according to plan, he’ll be covered in champagne at the end of this upcoming season. Hopefully Nike will start selling more of his sneakers, too.
The factors behind Durant’s shoes poor sales performance are not as easy to pinpoint as why people buy Curry’s sneakers, even though they’ve been met with the wrath of Internet jokes. For starters, his Nike KD 8 Elite retailed for $200, while Curry’s shoe is $130. Although Curry’s Under Armour Curry 2s—especially the all-white low-top version—have received tons of criticism for looking like “dad shoes,” Durant’s calf-high, sock-like KD 8 Elites aren’t exactly aesthetically pleasing, either. Nike’s already selling them for $40 off their original retail price.
It’s possible that the Warriors could win a ring in 2017 and Durant’s sneakers could still be overshadowed by Curry’s. What if he’s not the primary star on the team? What if has a poor Finals, and the rest of the team carries him? These might be hypothetical scenarios, but they could very well give Under Armour a leg up on Nike in regard to these two players’ signature lines. Nike, however, doesn’t seem worried. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, “[Durant’s] reps at Nike love the idea of him stationed in the San Francisco Bay Area, even playing with Under Armour's signature star, league sources said.”
As much as winning is the biggest factor in whether a basketball player can sell shoes—good design will always help, too—the player who’s raising the trophies needs to be the superstar on his team, too. Scottie Pippen’s line was never as successful as Michael Jordan’s. If Durant becomes a complementary player to the likes of Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, there won’t be as much of a need to have the shoe he’s wearing on the court. It will be another good shoe worn by a winner, but not the sneaker worn by the person primarily responsible for their team’s success.
But, if price was a barrier into people purchasing Durant’s sneakers, Nike is temporarily remedying that problem. The brand chose to drop the price from $180 for the regular version of the Nike KD 8 to $150 for the KD 9. His sneaker is now $20 more expensive than Curry’s current shoe, but that still makes a difference. If 13-year-olds are asking their parents to buy them shoes, price is going to be a factor. If Curry’s shoe is cheaper than Durant’s, and Curry is getting more shine on the court, then it’s a no-brainer as to which shoe they’ll buy.
For all of this, though, we’ll have to wait and see how the 2016-2017 season turns out and what’s made of Durant’s time playing for the Warriors. He could live up to all the potential that most think he possesses and win that all-important first ring, and Nike will celebrate all the way to the bank.