NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Under Armour (UA) - Get Under Armour, Inc. Class C Report has a not-so-subtle message to basketball shoe king Nike (NKE) - Get NIKE, Inc. Class B Report : watch out for the hungry underdog.
At an event held in New York on Thursday evening that was hosted by Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank and actor Jamie Foxx, the sportswear maker unveiled its first signature basketball sneaker, the "Curry One."
The shoe and its debut TV commercial hosted by Foxx are modeled after the underdog story of Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors' 26-year old point guard and an Under Armour-sponsored athlete. The 2015 NBA All-Star game's leading vote getter and son of former NBA star Dell Curry didn't attend a big-name college to play hoops, but rather then little-known Davidson College. Nor was he the tallest or most gifted player in the 2009 draft -- Curry was selected seventh in the first round.
But through hard work and dedication to honing his trademark 3-point shot, as Under Armour tells the story, Curry has been able to morph into what it calls the "baby-face assassin." It's also a nickname meant to evoke Curry's humble demeanor and knack for shocking opponents with game-winning shots, two qualities Under Armour hopes will give children a fresh role model in a sport that is often mired in controversy.
The Curry One line, which includes six different kinds of shoes, goes on sale Friday at retailers for $120, which is almost half the price of some of Nike's top Jordan basketball sneaker lines promoted by its own stable of big-name athletes -- Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
Curry's underdog story is not unlike the battle Under Armour has fought with Nike initially in apparel when it burst onto the scene in the late 1990s and now, in a global basketball sneaker market valued at $55 billion, according to industry research firm SportsOneSource. In a 2014 report by Morgan Stanley (MS) - Get Morgan Stanley Report , the investment bank estimated that Nike held a 97% market share in the basketball sneaker market.
The wide lead by Nike is not lost on Plank, who built Under Armour from the ground floor by maxing out his credit cards and setting up shop in his grandmother's basement in Washington.
"It's just the start," Plank said at the event on Thursday evening when asked about the potential of the Curry brand being expanded beyond just the Curry One basketball sneaker. Plank's comments suggest that Under Armour is already considering the Curry brand as a platform to launch related apparel and accessories and attract athletes from different sports, similar to how the Jordan banner has evolved through the years to also encompass apparel and shoes inspired by former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
The need for the Curry One to be successful is apparent. When asked on the topic of other sports Under Armour would like to enter, in particular mixed martial arts, Plank said, "We have invested a lot of money in basketball."
Under Armour's performance in footwear last year hints that consumers are open to migrating from Nike's typically more expensive offerings found at Foot Locker (FL) - Get Foot Locker, Inc. Report , Finish Line (FINL) and various department stores. That could be good news for Under Armour shares as investors begin to view the company as more than only a seller of form-fitting workout gear.
Under Armour's footwear sales surged by 55% in the fourth quarter to $86 million, and accounted for 10% of its total business. Success was notched in the Under Armour $100 Speedform Apollo running shoe and the $125 ClutchFit Drive basketball sneaker. For the year, Under Armour's footwear sales rose 44% to $431 million.
Nike is coy on the financial results for the Jordan brand, declining to comment. Sales of Jordan products are included within Nike's basketball category. In fiscal 2014, which ended in May, basketball sales for Nike rose 19%, the highest growth rate of any category and ahead of the 18% increase in soccer gear, which was helped by the World Cup.
For its part, Nike is not taking the media circus swirling around the Curry One, on the eve of the NBA All-Star game lying down. Earlier this month, the company unveiled a new version of the LeBron 12 to be worn by the Cleveland Cavaliers' star forward during the All-Star game. Modeled after the New York City skyline, the shoe will be released on Saturday.
Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant won't be on the court on Sunday due to an injured shoulder, but that hasn't stopped Nike from pushing forward with the star's latest version of the Kobe X sneaker. The month has already seen the release of a shoe called the "Blue Lagoon," which arrived on shelves Feb. 7. Two additional versions of the sneaker are set to be released: the "All-Star" on Feb. 13 and the "Poison Green" on Feb. 21.
And as for Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Kevin Durant, which Under Armour almost thieved as a pitchman from Nike in the fall of last year, Nike will also release a signature shoe on Feb 13. coined the KD7.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.