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Billion-dollar bet: Why Under Armour is banking on Steph Curry to win China

On the road with NBA's Steph Curry

In the sneaker wars, China is the new front line. Under Armour's tactic: two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry.

While Nike and Adidas have been successful in the region by betting on a slew of athletes to champion their brands (think Nike's partnership with Michael Jordan and LeBron James), Under Armour is putting all of its eggs in Curry's basket.

"Kobe [Bryant] has obviously done a great job of keeping a consistent presence in Asia," Curry told CNBC. "Everybody does it a different way, and I want to have something that's unique to me and to the story of Under Armour."

CNBC is following Curry around on his Under Armour–sponsored trip across China and Taiwan. The 20-year-old company has disrupted the sports apparel space in the U.S., becoming the No. 2 player behind Nike, and now it's hoping to rise to the top in Asia.

Its mission on the Steph Curry tour is to boost his star power and sell sneakers in what is becoming the largest consumer market for the NBA.

More than 300 million people play basketball in China, and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank said his company is just getting started. "If you can crack the code on China, it's a massive step forward," Plank said.

Curry's underdog persona is why Plank believes the Golden State Warrior resonates with not only the Under Armour brand, but with the Chinese consumer. "He isn't 6'8"; he doesn't weigh 270 pounds. He's human. That makes him so lovable in China. He's relatable, and people think, 'I could do that,'" Plank said.

Curry's main goal for the trip is to keep that connection alive with his fans. "I know how much they support us and follow us, so to be able to come here in our short little window to get face to face with our fans, it's important," Curry said.

Plank said the apparel maker's overall strategy in Asia is to think long term. "In a market like China with this much history, you can't think short term, or in one to two years. You need to think in decades: What will this evolve to in 10 or 20 or 30 years."

Since launching in the region, Plank said Under Armour has grown its business in China to over $150 million in revenue, and it plans to reach $1 billion by 2018.

Curry, on the other hand, isn't laser focused on the numbers. "I don't go out on the court thinking, 'I gotta make this three to sell shoes,'" he said. "It has always been very authentic."

Plank said Curry's approach is working. "When people see him, they see hope, they feel something. I don't know what it was like to travel with Madonna, but traveling with Curry is something like that."

CNBC's Sara Eisen and Jess Golden contributed to this report.