Neither company needs much of an introduction. Nike (NYSE:NKE) is of course one of the most recognizable names in the athletic apparel business, while GoPro (NASDAQ:GPRO) is credited with creating the "action camera" industry. Both are the big powerhouses of their respective markets.

If there's only room for one of these names in your portfolio, it's Nike by a country mile.

Hands giving one thumbs up, and one thumbs down.

Image source: Getty Images.

Why not GoPro?

It's not a call every investor agrees with. Sure, GoPro shares were grossly overvalued when (and shortly after) the company went public in 2014, and the company wildly overestimated the prospective demand for its products. To the extent of being the best-of-breed within your business, though, nobody denies GoPro cameras are tops.

Largely lost in the noise of the accolades, however, is the fact that the world just doesn't need that many action cameras of any quality.

That's not to suggest GoPro's business is doomed. One way or another the brand will live on. Sales are projected to improve by 22% this year -- reversing last year's COVID slump -- en route to 2022's expected 9% top-line growth. Operating earnings should recover accordingly.

Take a look at GoPro's sales and profit history, though. Sales haven't gone anywhere since 2015 and fell sharply last year. Losses have narrowed gradually over time, but the company saw a setback in 2020.

GoPro's revenue recovery is expected to falter in 2023.

Data source: Thomson Reuters. Chart by author.

The bulk of that tepid performance can't be blamed on the pandemic, and the introduction of new apps and platforms did nothing to ignite growth. To this end, notice that beyond next year's expected single-digit sales growth, the analyst community is modeling a slight sales contraction for 2023, to be matched by a decline in profits.

Why Nike?

This is in stark contrast to Nike's prospective future. Analysts are modeling strong double-digit sales growth through next fiscal year, as the company shrugs off the effect of the coronavirus. And, while that growth pace should slow to single digits past 2022, single-digit growth for a company of Nike's size addressing a saturated athletic apparel market is actually quite impressive.

Nike's sales and profit growth is expected to accelerate beginning this year.

Data source: Thomson Reuters. Chart by author.

There's little reason to doubt Nike can do as well as expected either, particularly given its plans to evolve beyond the so-called retail apocalypse.

One of these plans is the continued development of its own selling self-sufficiency, online and via its own stores.

The COVID-19 contagion has been tough on most consumer-facing companies, but Nike's been a curious bright spot. Sales for its second fiscal quarter ending in November were up 9% year over year, and up 4% through the first half of the year. 

The company's been able to defy the odds by controlling a big piece of its sales venues. Sales it made directly to customers (rather than through retail partners) totaled $4.3 billion last quarter, up 32% year over year, and accounting for nearly 40% of the company's revenue. E-commerce produced the bulk of that growth, up 84% year over year.

Look for more progress on both the direct-to-consumer and digital fronts too. Last month Nike announced it had acquired data integration platform Datalogue, which will help the brand's apps, inventory management systems, and internal data work better with one another. 

It's just one of many examples of investments the company has made in its online presence.

Nike knows it can't do everything it wants to do on its own, however, so it's streamlining its retailing partner network for maximum efficiency.

Making good on an initiative announced in 2017, in August of last year the company stopped shipping products to smaller department store chains, including Belk, Dillard's, and Fred Meyer, just to name a few.  It's counterintuitive on the surface, but it's brilliant under the hood.

A statement from the brand explained: "As part of our recently announced Consumer Direct Acceleration strategy, we are doubling down on our approach with Nike Digital and our owned stores, as well as a smaller number of strategic partners who share our vision to create a consistent, connected and modern shopping experience." It wasn't a highlighted detail at the time, but by acting as its own retailer Nike also enjoys the wholesale and the retail markup.

An easy answer

Too simple a comparison? Don't fall into that mental trap. Many great long-term stock picks often end up being obvious buys, when looking back in. Ditto for disappointing stocks -- problems clearly plaguing certain companies can often be taken at face value.

In other words, Nike is not only the better buy of these two options, it's the only buy you can feel comfortable owning. Don't overthink it.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.