The Warriors' NBA championship serves as a capstone to Stephen Curry's MVP season. Curry's breakout year included multiple scoring records as his team dominated the NBA from start to finish.
Beyond the Golden State Warriors and their fan base, there's another organization celebrating an even more unlikely victory. Curry's victorious campaign is just the latest landmark achievement of professional athletes endorsing the Under Armour brand.
In that sense, Curry vs. LeBron James served as a fitting representation of Under Armour vs. Nike. No one is disputing that LeBron is the king. But for the moment at least, Curry is the champion.
The same is true for Under Armour, which bet on the upside of several promising athletes -- and reaped benefits greater than they ever could have imagined. Before Curry, Jordan Spieth emerged from relative obscurity to win The Masters in record-setting fashion.
Earlier in the year, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was named the Super Bowl MVP. That's the same Brady who left Nike in 2010 to acquire an equity stake in Under Armour.
For some of this year's biggest pro sports events, Under Armour has been front and center. According to Adam Grossman of Block Six Analytics, the strategy is not unlike the approach used to build a promising roster such as the one the Warriors rode to victory.
"The most successful teams in sports now are the ones that find undervalued assets," Grossman says. "In particular, teams want to get young players on their first deals because they are so much cheaper.
"Look at the deals for Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Anthony Davis, Russell Wilson, etc. They are so valuable to their teams because they perform so well and they are cheap relative to other players. It is the reason that savviest teams often let higher price free agents leave, and make more bets on cheaper replacements who can perform as well or better."
In other words, Nike is the George Steinbrenner-era New York Yankees. Under Armour? It's more akin to the Kansas City Royals, building a winning roster on a limited budget.
Under Armour did try to woo Kevin Durant away from Nike last summer, when he was a free agent in the endorsement world. It almost worked, but Durant wound up re-upping with Nike. At the time, it looked like a loss for Under Armour -- a giant opportunity squandered. Now, it looks like a blessing in disguise.
"Under Armour could invest in younger athletes who had the potential to be great," Grossman says. "In addition, Under Armour increased the amount Nike had to pay by have negotiations with [Durant]."
The other important wrinkle to Under Armour's success is that it won by more or less playing the odds. With the money it saved by not investing in Durant, Under Armour was able to spread its money across a number of different players.
Against megastars like LeBron, Durant, Kobe Bryant (and Michael Jordan who has his personal label within Nike), Under Armour bet the field -- and that gamble is paying off.
Brady is the one outlier here -- he's entering the twilight of his career and already had a huge personal brand attached to his name. Brady was the one doing the betting on Under Armour, because he opted for an equity stake.
"A large portion of Brady's compensation would only come to fruition if Under Armour as a company did well," Grossman says. "Therefore, there is an argument to be made that Under Armour invested in Brady at a time when he was an undervalued asset."
After the past few months, Brady's bet looks brilliant. In the past year, Under Armour moved ahead of Adidas to become the No. 2 sportswear company in the U.S.
Adidas, which has the current contract to supply official NBA uniforms, decided not to pursue a renewal, and Nike won the bidding for the new deal that begins in the 2017-18 season. Nike's contract is for eight years and it is paying the NBA a reported $1 billion. The biggest twist is that the Nike logo will appear on the jerseys. In previous deals, such as the one with Adidas, the apparel company logo was not part of the jersey.
For Nike, getting the NBA uniform contract was somewhat expected, given that the company has about 90 percent of the basketball apparel market. But Curry's success this season underscores Under Armour's shrewd and selective approach as the underdog in basketball.
Hitting the Brady-Spieth-Curry championship trifecta within a five-month span -- all thanks to some savvy spending -- seems like a run of success that would be hard-pressed to duplicate. But just peeking ahead to the stretch run in baseball, it is worth noting that Under Armour has Harper (a frontrunner to be N.L. MVP), Buster Posey (already a three-time World Series champion with the Giants) and Clayton Kershaw (reigning N.L. MVP Cy Young winner).