Durant was a guest on Bill Simmons’s podcast, and he was asked why D.C.-area schools such as Maryland and Georgetown have trouble holding on to elite local players. Durant, a Prince George’s County native who was the 2006 Washington Post boys’ player of the year before playing one year of college ball at Texas, said that he “didn’t want to stay home.” But then he offered a more expansive take.
“I think a lot of kids, to be honest, they don’t choose Maryland unless they play in an Under Armour system coming up,” Durant said. “Shoe companies have a real, real big influence on where these kids go.
“Nobody wants to play in Under Armours, I’m sorry. Like, the top kids don’t, because they all play Nike.”
Durant was referring to the long-running “sneaker wars” between Nike and Under Armour, not to mention Nike and Adidas. In their never-ending battle for the hearts, minds and, of course, wallets of sneaker-obsessed consumers, those companies haven’t just been relying on NBA players, they have been cultivating loyalty from the country’s best youth-league talent.
And while we’re on the subject of Durant’s Nikes, on Tuesday the sneaker company unveiled the newest colorway for Durant’s signature KD 10 shoe. Called the “KDX Red Velvet,” it fully embraces the “cupcake” nickname backhandedly bestowed upon Durant by former Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook after Durant left for the Golden State Warriors.
“With a style of play as smooth as velvet, KD is known for having the most fluid game in the game today,” Nike said in a news release (via ESPN). “Effortlessly making defenders look helpless, always ready to cook his next victim. He dominates the game with unrivaled versatility, forever motivated by the sweet taste of victory. At the end of the day, winning is all that matters and anything else is just icing on the cake. The KDX ‘Red Velvet’ celebrates the smoothest player in the game and his undying quest for the sweet taste of victory.”
As you may recall, Westbrook posted an Instagram photo of a plate full of cupcakes in July 2016, soon after Durant announced he would be leaving Oklahoma City for Golden State, “cupcake” apparently being an inside joke between Durant, Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins during their time together on the Thunder. The nickname for Durant was embraced by jilted Thunder fans this season, as they chanted the word during Durant’s free throws and wore cupcake T-shirts when he returned to Oklahoma City this season.
Back to Under Armour: Founder Kevin Plank is a Maryland graduate who grew up near the school, and he has contracts with the Terps and other college programs in the state. His company also notched a huge coup in 2013, when it signed a pre-superstardom Curry away from Nike.
However, the prominence that Curry gave Under Armour while winning two MVP awards and leading the Warriors to a championship and two NBA Finals appearances was mitigated last year, when Durant joined Golden State and became its most important player.
With Curry’s shoe line and other products underperforming — and Plank’s recently ended association with President Trump likely not helping matters — Under Armour has had a rough 2017. Its stock value has fallen 44 percent since the start of the year, and according to CNBC, it fell more than 3 percent on Tuesday alone, which happened to be a day after Durant’s podcast comments were published.
Asked by Simmons if he’d spoken with Curry about the relative unpopularity of Under Armour shoes, Durant replied, “Nah, but come on man, everybody knows that, but nobody don’t want to say nothing. The kids that played, that grew up in the Under Armour system, they go to Maryland.”
Durant, who nearly defected from Nike to Under Armour in 2014, with the latter company matching an offer of nearly $300 million over 10 years, has been less than complimentary toward the Baltimore-based firm before. In a 2016 appearance on Simmons’s since-canceled HBO show, he said of the widely mocked Curry Two Low shoes, “They were bad.”
On Monday’s podcast, Durant also had an opinion on Georgetown, referring to the physical, slow-it-down style the Hoyas long played under Coach John Thompson III. “That system, nobody wanted to play in it anymore,” the 2017 NBA Finals MVP said. “It was cool, early on, but the kids want to play up and down now.