Will Stephen Curry sell more sneakers than LeBron James this year?

Stephen Curry and his sneakers are ready for lift off.
Stephen Curry and his sneakers are ready for lift off.
Image: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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Stephen Curry is probably the greatest shooter in NBA history, and he just keeps getting better. He’s already broken the record for three-pointers in a season, and there are still months left to play. Right now he’s on pace to have the NBA’s best shooting season ever.

He’s performing off the court, too. In a note to clients yesterday (Mar. 3), Morgan Stanley predicted that Curry will unseat LeBron James, who has a hugely popular line with Nike, as the top seller of signature basketball sneakers in the US this year. If that happened—and that’s a very big if—it would be a massive victory for Curry and his sponsor, Under Armour, which is only just gaining a foothold in the giant US sneaker industry.

“UA’s signature Stephen Curry basketball shoe US business is already bigger than LeBron, Kobe and every other player except Michael Jordan,” Morgan Stanley analysts wrote. “Curry basketball footwear sales have meaningfully accelerated over the last two months and are now trending at a $160M annual sales run rate.” They measured James’s Nike sneakers trending at $150 million.

That doesn’t mean Morgan Stanley thinks UA is a stock to buy. The company, still overwhelmingly an apparel business, is losing market share for the first time in three years, the analysts said. Curry’s line is the bright spot.

“The growth [of Curry sneaker sales] could be a result of UA taking share by underpricing its shoes,” Morgan Stanley said, pointing out that the average price of the shoes has fallen relative to the industry. “Or it could be a tipping point signaling the end of Nike’s basketball dominance. If the latter is true or Curry becomes the next Michael Jordan, our call might wrong [sic] no matter what UA does in women’s apparel or running footwear.”

But there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical that Curry will help Under Armour topple King James and Nike.

“There’s no way Curry is going to outsell LeBron this year,” Matt Powell, a sportswear analyst at research firm NPD Group, tells Quartz. “That’s just not going to happen.”

The sheer size of Nike’s LeBron business remains insurmountable, Powell says. “The Curry product has done well, but there’s just not a lot of it in the marketplace right now,” he says. Currently, NPD calculates that Nike and its Jordan subsidiary account for than 90% of the basketball sneaker market in the US.

Morgan Stanley’s analysis is based on data from Sports Scan Info. Other data sources could provide a different outlook, based on data from different retailers.  If the numbers play out as Morgan Stanley predicts, it would also mean a huge dip in sales for James, who tallied $340 million for Nike in the twelve-months through March 2015.

(Quartz reached out to Nike and Under Armour for comment and will update this post with any response.)

Curry and Under Armour could beat James and Nike eventually. It took years for James’s Nike line to get sales fully rolling. If Curry’s sales keep increasing, even Powell admits it’s possible. “The potential is there,” he says. “I just don’t see it happening in ’16.”

As for Curry being the next Jordan, Powell doesn’t believe it, but it has nothing to do with Curry’s on-court play. He says the Jordan sneaker phenomenon grew out of unique conditions in the league and industry, and that Jordan himself couldn’t replicate that success if he was just starting today.

Though if there’s one thing Stephen Curry is good at it, it’s constantly amazing people.