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Nike’s 14 billion dollar mistake

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry walks to the bench during warm-ups before an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in San Antonio. San Antonio won 87-79. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

Since the days of Michael Jordan, Nike has dominated the sports apparel market, with its shoe brands serving as the company’s backbone in this multi-billion dollar industry. In 2014 they accounted for 95.5 percent of the basketball sneaker market on the force of stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving (to go along with Michael Jordan, whose shoes still outsell them all). However, as Ethan Sherwood Strauss writes in a fascinating piece for ESPN, after a failed 2013 meeting with the now reigning MVP Stephen Curry led the NBA’s best shooter to sign with Under Armor, Nike’s future doesn’t look quite as bright anymore.

It didn’t have to be this way for the shoe magnate. When Curry was first drafted in 2009, he signed with Nike before any other brand really had a chance. After all, that’s apparently just what you do when you enter the league, considering Nike has more than seventy-four percent of NBA players under contract. But the love didn’t last as Curry increasingly felt like an afterthought even after breaking the league record for three-pointers made in a season in 2012–13 and becoming the poster boy for the NBA’s new style of play.

While other stars like Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis (a rookie at the time) received Nike-sponsored camps for up-and-coming players, Curry did not. While that might seem like a minor issue, it was a big deal to Curry. Some of the most important and defining experiences of his young life came while attending Chris Paul’s camps as a teenager, and Curry longed for the chance to give back in a similar way. That Nike didn’t take the time to consider that demonstrated just where he stood with the company.

So when Nike followed up the camp snub by mispronouncing Curry’s first name and presenting a PowerPoint slide with Keven Durant’s name on it instead of Stephen’s in their pitch to re-sign him, the decision to go somewhere else was a relatively easy one.

Yet, even after Curry decided to sign with Under Armor, Nike could have salvaged the situation by exercising their contractual right to simply match UA’s contract. Less than four million dollars a year was all it would have taken for the multi-billion dollar company to retain the NBA’s most likeable star.

However, as Strauss describes, “Athletes are expected to want Nike, to have always wanted Nike from the time they were kids.” As a result, the idea that Curry would rather be with another brand was an affront to their company pride. That vice that now threatens their effective monopoly on the market as Curry represents a potential worth of $14 billion to Under Armor according to a recent Morgan Stanley analysis.

C. S. Lewis once said, “Through pride the devil became the devil. Pride leads to every vice, it’s the complete anti-God state of mind.” There are few sins in this world that can devastate us as consistently as pride. Part of the danger with it is that we hardly ever realize that we are being prideful in the moment.

When Nike looked at Stephen Curry’s decision to leave, their first reaction was to think that the mistake was his rather than theirs. That pride blinded them to the nature of their error, and it can do much the same in our lives as well if we do not actively guard against it. And therein lies our struggle—because pride is less an action and more an attitude, it is a perpetual and unavoidable temptation.

If we struggle with lust, we know to avoid certain websites and places. If anger is an issue, then we know to stay away from the things that trigger it. However, pride is an issue of the heart that is directly correlated to how we view our relationship with God. If we are not in constant communication with him and if we do not make it a habit to come into his presence, then we are far more susceptible to Satan’s oldest lie—that we are entitled to equality with our Lord (Genesis 3:4–7).

As Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison—you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

It is not possible to truly meet with God and come away proud. However, the reverse is also true. Just as we cannot help but be humbled by entering his presence, we are prone to pride when we stand separated from our Lord. If we want to avoid the inevitable destruction that pride brings, then we have to prioritize our relationship with God (Proverbs 16:18).

Nike’s mistake with Stephen Curry is an example of just how much unchecked pride can cost. And while I doubt any of us are likely to negotiate multi-million dollar shoe contracts any time soon, we echo Nike’s mistake far too often. Will we learn from it or will pride continue to lead us down the path towards destruction? How we relate to God every minute of every day will help shape our answer to that question.