Because of the pandemic, this year's NBA playoffs are being held in an empty arena in Orlando, Florida. And last week, all 13 teams staged a walkout to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
During all this, one of the league's biggest stars, Stephen Curry, has been sidelined. That's because his team, the Golden State Warriors, did not make it to the playoffs, for the first time in five years. Curry has been quarantining at home in San Francisco, with his wife, Ayesha, and their two daughters and toddler son.
"I've never had this much time with my eight, five, and two-year-old," Curry laughed.
Contributer Kelefa Sanneh, of the New Yorker magazine, spoke to Curry two weeks ago virtually, along with the author Wes Moore, who brought along his six-year-old son. "You don't have to be shy," Curry told the young man. "I appreciate you rocking with me and supporting me. That means a lot."
Curry is a three-time NBA champion and a two-time Most Valuable Player. His mastery of the three-point shot changed the way the game is played.
"The first time I thought about coming across half court and shooting from the logo, it felt natural," Curry said.
"Why do you think that no one ever noticed that this shot was worth 50% more than all the other shots you could take?" asked Sanneh.
"I don't know! I'm just glad I unlocked that when I did. When I was eight, nine years old, like, I was the smallest, scrawniest kid on the team. And the one thing I could do is, I could shoot."
Curry is now 6'3", in a league where the average height is 6'6". "I had to really be skilled," he said. "I had to be creative. I couldn't get in my feelings if I was getting bullied, and that gave me an edge and a toughness that I needed, for sure."
Curry likes to say he was "underrated," even though he's now widely considered one of the greatest players of all time. In fact, that's the name of his free basketball camp for high school boys and girls: Underrated.
"At first glance, you might think underrated is not something that's really aspirational, because it kind of insinuates that you're not at the top. But you're just looking for that opportunity to show what you're about."
It has been a disappointing year in Curry's career: in October, he broke his hand, which knocked him out of the game for months.
He's using some of his down time to launch a new project: the Underrated Book Club, which promises to send subscribers an inspiring book every month, starting with "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates," from 2010. Curry said, "It's just a wild story of two different paths starting from pretty much the same spot."
The book tells the story of two men from Baltimore connected by one name. One Wes Moore grew up to be CEO of a non-profit organization. A different Wes Moore is now serving a life sentence for killing an off-duty police officer during an armed robbery.
Sanneh asked the author, "Do you have a different perspective on this story now than you did a decade ago?"
"I thought this was gonna be about two black kids in Baltimore, and 10 years later I realize that it's not; it's about all of us," Moore replied. "I think Wes said it best when we were talking about Baltimore, and I said, you know, 'Do you think that we're products of our environments?' And Wes actually looked back at me and said, 'Actually, I think we're products of our expectations.'"
For Stephen Curry, those expectations were set by his parents. His mother, Sonya Curry, founded a Christian preschool in North Carolina, and his father, Dell Curry, played 16 seasons in the NBA, most of them with the Charlotte Hornets.
"Watching my dad play basketball for a living gave me confidence that I could do it myself,' Curry said. "But my game and my size and my demeanor and disposition didn't match with what they were looking for. My last name meant that I was supposed to be somewhere, but everything else didn't."
In the NBA, Stephen Curry became known not just for his three-pointers, but for sharing his Christian faith, sometimes even on his Under Armour sneakers, emblazoned with a reference to Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me."
In the last few years, Curry has emerged as something of a political figure, appearing at this year's Democratic National Convention, attending Black lives Matter protests, and criticizing President Trump.
Sanneh asked, "Did you say, 'Okay, you know, I'm not known as someone who's always talking about politics, but I really want to say something about the president'?"
"It's one of those situations," Curry replied, "where, I guess, the decision was kind of thrown in your face of how do you want to handle this, and you had to pick a side and live with it."
Three years ago, when the head of Under Armour, his main sponsor, said that Trump was "a real asset," Curry said he'd agree if you remove the "et" from asset. The company backtracked, and now Under Armour is in talks to give Curry his own brand, just as Nike did for Michael Jordan a generation ago.
Curry told us he's still eager to take a stand … and even take a knee.
Sanneh asked, "You think you're gonna kneel for the anthem when you play again?"
"I believe so, it kind of has become, like, a wildfire spreading. And I applaud every single one of them for doing it, and for doing it in unity."
And last week, as the NBA walkout began, Curry expressed support from afar.
The next day, the teams agreed to resume the games, leaving Curry to consider his own future.
"I'm 32 with hopefully, we'll call it six, eight years left," he said. "I'm gonna appreciate every second I have to play."
"You're talking about it like you miss it already?" Sanneh asked.
"Oh, no doubt."
Curry can't wait to start playing basketball again. Of course, he never stopped being a role model, and now, more than ever, people are paying attention.
Curing his call, Wes Moore, referring to his young son, told Curry, "Thank you for the example that you are setting. The fact that he has a hero like you, I couldn't ask for anything more as a dad."
"That encouragement means a lot, especially when I see his face smiling," Curry responded.
Moore asked his son, James, "What do you want to be?"
"Be like Steph Curry," he answered.
"Ah, my God, that means so much, man!" Curry replied. "You can do it, too!"
For more info:
- Follow Stephen Curry on Twitter
- Stephen Curry's Underrated Book Club (Literati)
- Underrated Tour
- Stephen Curry stats (nba.com)
Story produced by Mary Raffalli. Editor: Remington Korper.