Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Sneaker Wars Coming to New York as Nike, Under Armour Set for April Battle
NEW YORK — The Sneaker Wars are coming to New York.
In the latest battle between the two shoe companies, Nike and Under Armour both announced this week that they will hold their initial grassroots sessions in the Big Apple the weekend of April 15-17.
“This is the final battle on that front. Let’s see where they come, let’s see where they go,” grassroots basketball legend Sonny Vaccaro, who signed Michael Jordan to his first Nike deal and Kobe Bryant to his first adidas deal, told me Thursday by phone from his home in California. “There’s not that much further that they can go.”
The two companies clashed for top talent last August when Nike announced the creation of an event in the Bahamas designed to draw players away from the Under Armour Elite 24 Game. Among the players shifting from Under Armour to Nike that weekend were top 2016 recruits Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum, two players who ultimately committed to Duke and are now the projected top two picks in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Now the two companies will have a three-day battle for fan and media attention in New York in April, after the Final Four in Houston.
The Under Armour Association will hold its first session at Manhattan’s Basketball City April 15-17, while Nike announced Thursday its plans for a blockbuster series of events that same weekend.
Nike says the Jordan Brand Classic will return to Barclays Center on Friday, April 15th with games showcasing the top boys, girls and International players.
Among those who played in the Jordan Game in the past are NBA stars Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. A special musical performance will also be held following the games. Previous performers have included Nicki Minaj (2015), Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (2014) and Drake (2013).
Nike also announced that its Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) will open its sixth season on April 16-17 at a yet-to-be-named site in New York. Sources said Nike is looking at a non-traditional location, such as a warehouse with courts in Brooklyn or a pier with courts. Nike did not mention any specific sites.
Both companies hold several sessions in the spring and summer leading up to their championship events, and players typically play on one or the under circuit, although some players have been known to go back and forth.
Under Armour holds three sessions leading up to the UAA Finals set for July 13-16 in Atlanta. Nike holds four sessions followed by the EYBL Finals at the Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C. in mid-July. Nike said its dates and locations will be announced in early 2016.
“If you’re going to say who you are, and that’s what Under Armour is doing now, then you gotta play when they play,” said Vaccaro, who worked for Nike, adidas and Reebok. “That’s the only way you win. You can’t have split teams, you can’t have a guy going from this camp to camp…And that’s why we won the battle, because we had more kids
“There’s a scorecoard to this. They keep score in that world, at least I kept score in that world, by how many of the premier kids came to our event and how many went to their event. Under Armour has done everything right so far. It has been a wonderful path to watch from a competing company.”
With both companies going toe-to-toe in the Big Apple, fans and media will have to make some hard choices about which events to attend.
“The fan will make a decision on who has the best thing,” Vaccaro said. “That’s where you keep score.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.