Stephen Curry and James Harden don't want any swooshes near their shoes.
The NBA went through a major visual overhaul this season as Nike and the league struck what Darren Rovell of ESPN said was an eight-year, $1 billion deal for the athletic shoe and apparel giant to become the official supplier of NBA uniforms.
We are less than one month into that new deal, and Nike and the NBA are already running into problems. The most notable problem has been the prevalence of ripped jerseys, something Nike is said to be working on.
But another, potentially larger problem has gone largely unnoticed: Some of the NBA's biggest stars seem to be going out of their way to hide some of the Nike swooshes on the uniforms.
In addition to adding advertising patches to the jerseys of many teams, the NBA also allowed Nike to add its logo to the uniforms, something Adidas was not permitted to do under the previous uniform contract. Less noticeable has been the addition of the Nike swoosh to NBA socks, as the company also replaced the sockmaker Stance for the official sock of the NBA.
The problem with the swoosh on the socks is that it is awfully close to the shoes, a big source of endorsement revenue for NBA players. And Stephen Curry and James Harden, two of the NBA's biggest stars, apparently don't want the swoosh anywhere near their non-Nike sneakers.
Curry is the face of Under Armour in the NBA. Since Nike took over the uniform contract, Curry has been rolling his socks down, which hides the swoosh. Compare this with Kevin Durant's socks, as seen at the top of this post.
According to a source with the NBA, there is nothing in the NBA's operations manual that would prohibit a player from rolling down his socks.
Harden, who is the NBA face of Adidas, previously rolled his socks down in a similar manner to Curry. As first noted by Paul Lukas of Uni Watch, however, he appears to now be going to the extra length of just cutting the top of the socks off and removing the Nike logo altogether.
And this wasn't a one-time occurrence. Harden appears to have cut the top off his socks in at least three other games this season.
It is less clear whether physically removing the Nike logo violates NBA rules. It was suggested to Business Insider that Harden was just rolling his socks in a manner that made the socks appear to have been cut.
Harden was rolling his socks earlier in the season, as seen in this photo. It seems pretty clear in the photos above, however, that he is now cutting the logos off of the socks.
Of course, this wouldn't mean much if Curry and Harden were also rolling or cutting their socks last season when players' socks came from Stance, a company that is not considered a major rival of Under Armour or Adidas.
A look through photo archives shows that both Curry (left in the below photo) and Harden (right) had their socks extended during the 2016-2017 season and did not appear to make any attempt to hide Stance's circular logo.
So far, this bit of gamesmanship appears to be limited to Curry and Harden, among the NBA's biggest stars. A quick survey of other top players who endorse non-Nike shoes did not reveal other players who have taken steps to hide the swoosh logo on the socks.
[UPDATE] Harden appears to have switched back to rolling his socks since this post was first published.
This bit of logo swashbuckling is not a new problem for companies partnering with major sports leagues.
Major League Baseball has had a similar issue for years. With their uniforms supplied by Majestic, many Nike athletes have opted to wear Nike undershirts with a prominent swoosh at the base of the neck. Without any Majestic logos, it gave the false impression that MLB uniforms were being made by Nike.
Unfortunately for Majestic, the undershirts were not deemed to be part of the uniform, and players were free to wear what they wanted as long as the shirts adhered to the color guidelines of MLB. It will be interesting to see whether Under Armour has taken steps to avoid this trap when it takes over as the official uniform of MLB in 2019.
A better-known example in recent years was when Microsoft paid the NFL $400 million for its Surface to be the official tablet of the league. Unfortunately for Microsoft, network announcers spent the first few months of that deal calling the tablets "iPads."
In that case, both Microsoft and the NFL "coached" the announcers on using the proper name, and it eventually worked. Short of altering the operations manual and threatening the players with stiff fines, there might not be enough coaching for Harden and Curry to change their ways and Nike may be out of luck, especially if more players start following suit.
Nike did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.
This post was first published on November 7, 2017 and has been updated.