Stephen Curry Is Putting It All on the Line
Stephen Curry has come a long way since the curious case of the government plot from outer space. Five years ago — after he’d won his second NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors, and right after Donald Trump had challenged him to a Twitter war — Curry was golfing with his buddy Barack Obama when the ex-president started joking about secrets of the White House, the kind you’re not supposed to take home to Mar-a-Lago. Obama casually lined up a putt, spun around, and deadpanned: “You won’t believe what the aliens look like.”
The following year, with another title behind him, Curry half-joked on a podcast that the moon landing might, in fact, be fake news. He’d been shown a conspiracy-theory video during his senior year in Christian high school, Curry says today, “to arm us for defending our faith as we went into the world.” But the podcast gaffe went viral. “And that night,” he remembers, “I got an email. It was a pretty stern, direct one from President Obama.” Man did land on the surface of the moon, Obama informed him, and what you say matters, up here in the presidential stratosphere of power. The scolding continued, Curry says: “You’ve got to do something about this.” So, Curry proceeded to host a 15-minute discussion with an astronaut for his 23 million followers on IG Live. And he instructed Under Armour, the performance-wear company he helped level up into a powerhouse, to create a custom pair of sneakers featuring craters and the American flag that he could wear in a game and auction off to support STEM programs in the Bay Area.
This past June, Curry was on top of his home planet again. Minutes after his Warriors won their fourth championship, the two-time regular-season MVP clutched his first NBA Finals MVP trophy, then shouted at his haters for the camera: “What are they gonna say now? What are they gonna say now?!” His shirt was sopping wet with champagne, and he wanted to get back to his family. But Curry’s manager handed him the phone for one congratulatory call. Obama encouraged the champ to thump his chest. The 44th president “was dropping some bars,” Curry recalls — and he suggested that Curry add a bit of sauce to the new mantra: “What the fuck are they gonna say now?!”
He has shut up the haters all right. Curry emerged from an injury-riddled pandemic hiatus to secure his place in the record books as the best shooter of all time. Beyond the court, his legacy project, known to trusted advisers and family members as the Curryverse, knows no bounds. This offseason, Curry finally received a diploma from Davidson College in North Carolina, where the so-called Baby-Faced Assassin led the nation in three-pointers before leaving in 2009, after his junior year, for the NBA. He trademarked his “Night Night” celebration — head cocked atop a prayer-hands pillow, after putting away his opponents with a clutch bucket — that became a contender for the top meme of 2022. He’s nearly locked a lifetime contract with Under Armour worth potentially more than $1 billion. And through his foundation, Eat.Learn.Play., Curry has helped to feed thousands of children in need and distributed more than 500,000 books, scaling the organization into a legit change agent on the issues of hunger and literacy. While he was at it, Curry crowned the champion of his Underrated tour for young golfers of color, which may be doing more to diversify his second-favorite sport than Tiger Woods ever did.
At 34, Curry is “absolutely” committed to winning the title again this year. But the game isn’t his only focus. Curry has raised his profile as a businessman, a humanitarian, and — slowly but surely — an activist and more vocal political leader. Look into his kaleidoscopic stare as he considers his status in the history books, and you begin to believe Curry when he declares that he can eventually “have as much influence” as Michael Jordan. And while the notoriously apolitical Jordan once said that “Republicans buy sneakers, too,” Curry has already put his brand on the line by clashing with Trump, endorsing Joe Biden, and marching for racial justice. Now, Curry is grappling with how he might expand the meaning of influence, and wondering what the fuck he is gonna say next.
“You’re growing and evolving on the same page as these national, politicized conversations, but it doesn’t have to be sides,” he tells me, pinching at his scraggly under-chin stubble. “What I try to do is be real, but also activate conversation that is sometimes uncomfortable.”
ARRIVING AT THE Boys & Girls Club of Long Beach, California, on a Tuesday morning in early August, Curry tiptoes past the gym and takes a peek at the freshly painted mural of himself and MLK wrapping the court. Four-dozen neighborhood students, wearing Curry’s sneakers, wait patiently inside for a surprise guest. But this is the LBC, where Snoop Dogg reigns. It’s Snoop’s old gym. And in a classroom turned green room next to the court, Snoop is waiting, too, eager for gossip on Curry’s former teammate Kevin Durant, who had demanded over the weekend that the Brooklyn Nets either trade him or fire their coach and general manager.
“It’s KD! Every team wants him,” Curry says — including, he would reveal to me at lunch that afternoon, the Warriors.
They agree that Durant is better off staying put, and Curry goes back to laughing at the hunking gold “Death Row Records” chain that Snoop had presented to him as a gift. “I’m gonna hang this around the NBA trophy,” Curry jokes. As he prepares to give the unsuspecting kids an hour of free, NBA-level coaching, I suggest to Curry that Death Row might not fly on a day very much sponsored by Under Armour. “It’s a little off-brand, but sometimes you gotta stretch your imagination a little bit,” he tells me. “When you get knighted like that, when it’s Chaining Day in Long Beach, forget the brand.” Curry discreetly tucks the necklace under the collar of a T-shirt with his signature on it. He ducks through the side door into the gym, and the crowd goes wild.
Curry grew up a long, long way from anything like the LBC. His mom, Sonya, was an educator. She taught Stephen and his two younger siblings, Seth and Sydel, “a little street talk — remember where you came from — because that’s what my mom would always tell us,” she says. Stephen’s grandmother graduated from the first integrated class in Radford, Virginia, where Sonya was raised in a trailer and once saw a Klan member ride a horse across the outfield of a softball game. His father, Dell, grew up in a house packed with seven people, where Stephen’s other grandmother lives to this day.
But Dell played 16 seasons in the NBA, and Stephen lived in a mansion with nine bathrooms on 16 acres outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. While Curry was an NBA courtside regular in middle school, “I wasn’t in the pocket of privilege,” he insists. Curry’s parents allotted $200 in back-to-school shopping, for five outfits a year. Sonya dragged him to volunteer at his dad’s program for the computer illiterate. The family also took in kids from time to time.
Dell says he and Sonya gave Stephen “the talk,” about how to put up with the cops. “But what’s the worst thing he ever did in high school? He got a speeding ticket in a school zone.”
As loud as the threat is from Trump,” says Curry, “a similar loudness is needed on the other side.
Stephen and his brother starred at Charlotte Christian, a $23,000-a-year private academy, while traveling on the local hoops circuit. He wasn’t exactly a dedicated student, but he’s still kind of a nerd: Sydel fondly recalls Stephen staying up late with her to watch The Princess Diaries on repeat. “Like, the dude’s favorite day is Pi Day,” she adds. “What cocky person has a favorite day that is a math holiday?” Stephen and Seth were among a dozen or so students of color out of close to 300, and they found themselves brushing off casual racism. “It was a weird experience — the undertones and how different we were,” Stephen says. “We kinda just rolled through it all.”
Wardell Stephen Curry II has rolled through pretty much everything. At six feet and 160 pounds as a senior in 2006, Curry received exactly zero offers from major college basketball programs. By 2008, he’d set the Division I record for most three-pointers in a single season, leading tiny Davidson on a Cinderella run through March Madness. On campus, he dominated the intramural softball team, the ping-pong and pool tables, and cornhole. When he found a wallet with $160 in the dining hall, Curry posted on the student server until he tracked down its owner.
In matters pertaining to the court, though, Curry can be provoked into that “Night Night” swagger and even anger. His teammates call it “Wardell Mode.” Like when the announcer at a Davidson away game mispronounced his name as Steev-en, and he dropped 38 points. Or that time he got a call on the course in Cabo informing him that his star teammate Klay Thompson had a torn Achilles, and he smashed his iPhone into a golf cart. Or even at the Boys & Girls Club, where a pair of middle-school twins challenged him to a shooting contest; Curry blocked three shots.
Occasionally, he activates Wardell Mode in the boardroom. When Curry received early sketches for next year’s animated Netflix reboot of the classic sitcom Good Times, which he’s co-producing through his content company, Unanimous Media, he pushed back on sharp-edged faces evoking African masks. Amid Russian prisoner-swap negotiations for the wrongfully detained WNBA superstar Brittney Griner, Curry says his contacts in the Biden administration rebuffed an offer to help (“They were telling us, ‘Don’t say anything’ ”), so he prioritized airtime for Griner while hosting this summer’s ESPY Awards and wore her jersey onstage. In 2020, Curry felt that a longtime ally in his business orbit abused his trust and, those still close to him say, his money. After a heated face-to-face outside his house, “I kinda lost it,” Curry says. He kicked a basketball through a door and broke down crying.
Curry’s primary sponsor has presented its own headache. In 2013, he left Nike for a roughly $4 million-per-year deal with Under Armour. Then came the designs for one of Curry’s early signature sneakers, which were ridiculed online as “an outdoor bowling shoe” — and in his own locker room. Founder Kevin Plank claims that he developed ensuing models together with Curry. But some people familiar with the process remember Plank personally emphasizing the UA logo, just as Curry’s imprimatur was coming into its own; sales of his 2016 sneaker were disappointing. (An Under Armour representative says there is “complete alignment” on shared branding.)
“There wasn’t quite an understanding of what it took to run a business like that properly,” Curry says of Under Armour’s commitment to his shoes at the time. He pauses. “So, yeah, I got mad.”
With the partnership already boiling, Plank appeared on CNBC praising the business mindset of then-newly-elected Trump as “a real asset to the country.” Asked about the comment in an interview the next day, Curry shot back, “I agree with that description, if you remove the ‘et.’ ” Curry reached out to Plank privately, and while the Under Armour founder tells me “there was zero beef,” Curry’s frustration lingers. “When you represent a company that big,” he tells me, “you can’t just fly by the seat of your pants.”
“I don’t have to raise my voice to get mad,” Curry says. “That’s the best part about it.”
CURRY’S RISE HAS has interlaced directly with historic racism, bigotry, and political chaos — with American protest and athlete activism not seen since the Sixties. And yet Curry has remained a reluctant culture warrior. He analyzes political issues like an opponent’s defense, studying “where the loopholes are, where the missteps are,” maneuvering to say less and, as Obama taught him, do more.
“The current events of the Trump era, I don’t wake up and say, ‘I wanna go at that conversation,’ ” Curry, who has 75 million followers, tells me. Fans and the media, though, have come to expect the liberal NBA’s superstars to respond to CNN headlines. “Some of this stuff falls on your doorstep and people want a perspective or comment, and sometimes you cough that up unsolicited.” Which hasn’t always gone so well for him. “I think I probably need to do the work of looking back at the last 10 or 12 years.”
As we did exactly that over the course of five interviews this summer, Curry repeatedly agonized over a moment he wishes he could take back. In 2014, the Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was exposed as a vile racist in recordings published by TMZ, in the middle of the upstart Warriors’ playoff series against them. Curry privately discussed a unified player response with the Clippers star Chris Paul, twice, because Curry and his teammates wanted to walk off the court after the jump ball. But the Warriors ultimately deferred to their opponents’ protest of choice — the Clippers wore warmup shirts with the logo inside out, then discarded them at center court — and to the league commissioner’s lifetime ban of Sterling.
He also returned frequently to early 2016, when the Republican-led Legislature of North Carolina passed an anti-trans law banning people from using their bathroom of choice. The NBA was considering its own boycott to move the league’s all-star game from Curry’s hometown of Charlotte, but Curry said publicly that he hoped the game would go on, “regardless of where you fall on that law.” Only after the NBA stood its ground — and the backlash against him from activists on the left subsided — did Curry flip in support of “some changes” to the draconian legislation. “That’s when I first realized,” Curry says now, “you’re not gonna please everybody.”
“We get attacked as athletes sometimes when you don’t want to say something — ‘I need to get more educated,’ there’s all these lines that people use,” he explains. “It kind of seems like you’re soft or like you’re equivocating or avoiding whatever the situation is. Honestly, in that moment, yes, I could have been a lot stronger on a point of view, but I wasn’t prepared to do that at the time, so I don’t regret that.”
He did not equivocate at his 2017 season-opening press conference when asked if the Warriors would attend a potential championship ceremony at the White House: “I don’t wanna go.” At a rally that night, President Trump ranted about Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest of kneeling for the national anthem, then tweeted in the morning after watching Curry’s remark on Fox & Friends: “Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” Rolling out of bed, Stephen and his wife, Ayesha, thought about hiring more security for themselves and their daughters, five-year-old Riley and two-year-old Ryan. But he still appreciates that LeBron James got his back with one of the most popular tweets ever: “U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going!”
Curry detests the empty symbolism that has followed Kaepernick’s initial protest, which had real impact: “All the ways that they want to nitpick what Colin’s done, from the time he kneeled to now, you can’t tell me that there hasn’t been progress and change and a renewed sense of accountability amongst a lot of athletes, like, ‘Which side of the fence are you on? Are you doing something or not?’ ”
When the Warriors next played in Washington, D.C., they visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture with local students. After Curry won his third title in 2018, he led a delegation of players to Obama’s personal office, chopping it up about golf and giving back. He donated $10,000 to a violence-prevention group to help Kaepernick complete a million-dollar philanthropic pledge, and he wore an #ImWithKap jersey to watch the Super Bowl with his infant son, Canon.
“The Kaepernick stuff was really high-profile,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr tells me. “But what stands out to me with Steph is how many things he does that go unnoticed, and that is right on-brand.”
PROTESTING AIN’T EASY when you’re Stephen Curry, though. He knows that the fact of his presence at any march, for any cause, can overshadow the work of the community organizers and politicians he has come to know. “That part gets awkward for me sometimes,” he says. Since 2020, Curry has increasingly appreciated that his optimism and marketability need not be reserved for basketball fans and sneaker executives. He can play his politics in the shadows.
A week before Covid shut down the NBA, a gun-prevention roundtable turned emotional after a young man said that being in a room with Curry validated his choice to escape cycles of violence in East Oakland. When the cameras came out for the ensuing “peace walk,” however, Curry dodged the social media shine. A week after the murder of George Floyd, Curry pulled up to a rally organized by his teammate Juan Toscano-Anderson in a bucket hat and shades. “He took his mask off, and I’m like, ‘Oh, shit, it’s Steph!’ ” says Toscano-Anderson. By then, resistance had become normalized enough for Curry to take a knee without anybody saying much at all.
Curry has, with caution, signed up for the Washington spotlight. Dr. Anthony Fauci says the feedback he received from his chats with Curry on Instagram Live and YouTube during the height of the pandemic — featuring the presidential medical adviser, a former high school point guard, in front of the basketball hoop in his office — showed that Curry had won over many fans who doubted the truth about Covid. “Are there some people who trust Steph more than they trust me? Thank goodness,” Fauci tells Rolling Stone, “because he can get to some people that might be skeptical.”
In August 2020, on the final night of the almost entirely prerecorded and boring Democratic National Convention, Curry made his most overt political move yet. Producers had a time slot to fill before Ashley and Hunter Biden, the latter of whom makes Kaepernick look like Carlton Banks, introduced their father’s prime-time speech. Curry taped a segment about the importance of voting, with Ayesha — a cookbook author and influencer with 10 million followers of her own — and their absurdly adorable daughters. Ayesha tells me she was once again afraid of “people who are ready to defend” on behalf of “a playground bully” in Trump. But it was classic Curry — relatable, relevant, and a little bit spicy.
“We weren’t sure, more so from a faith perspective, especially around abortion,” Curry admits of his family’s star turn at the convention. “When you endorse a president, you have a lot of noise comin’ at you: ‘Daughter killer! Baby killer!’ . . . That’s the fine line of knowing the beast of politics, where, especially when we’re talking about presidential elections, being active is more important than the understanding that, with every candidate, there’s not a full, down-the-ballot agreement on everything that they do.”
Curry’s mother began to speak publicly this year about having an abortion before Stephen — and having considered another while pregnant with him. Curry tried explaining to me that he considers himself neither pro-choice nor pro-life. He didn’t feel an urge to speak out against the Roe v. Wade reversal; he had an imaginary older brother in mind. When I brought up his Pentecostal megachurch and Christian values relating to abortion, Curry said, “I have certain beliefs that not everybody vibes with. As long as there’s equality, in the sense of you having all your protections and your rights as a citizen, that should be the very low bar for everybody to adhere to.”
For now, Curry views his role as an activist as being an activator, a table setter for unity. Last year, his team of advisers excited him about an idea to rally young voters for local elections in this year’s midterms. He bounced a “Start in Your Town” concept off of Obama, Sen. Cory Booker, and the voting-rights champion Stacey Abrams, who’d counseled LeBron James on launching the advocacy group More Than a Vote in 2020. They said Curry didn’t have the resources to create his own platform, so he joined the board of Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote instead.
Curry knows that all too well, and he’s up for taking time to make cameo appearances for candidates in places like Georgia and North Carolina this season. “I’m no Herschel Walker over here,” he tells me, flashing a smile about the ex-NFL running back turned extreme Trumpian troll running for Senate in Georgia. “But with the level of influence I know I have, I feel like I’m just getting started on that front.”
And he’s not laughing off the other bouncy orange object in the room, either. “Take Trump seriously? Of course,” Curry says. “Most of his rhetoric — before he was president, during his four years, and even now, if he tries to run again — has a tone of divisiveness that doesn’t have a place in our country. As serious and loud as the threat is of him or whoever else is running for office, there’s a similar urgency and a loudness that’s necessary on the other side.”
HIDDEN INSIDE HIS red iPhone, Curry keeps a photo of a handwritten page of notes outlining the future of the Curryverse. He spelled out his goals in 2020, while holed up at the family compound in Toronto.
Lifetime deal w/UA: Check, almost.
Create partnerships that are geared towards purpose: Check. Through their foundation, he and Ayesha have tricked out a school bus as a food truck, hosted pop-up libraries, and brought 1,000 kids to an A’s game this summer. They’re also in the room with local politicians on issues like guaranteed meal plans and financial literacy. “There’s more activism in that,” Stephen says, “in terms of how legislation can solve issues we’re trying to put a Band-Aid on.”
At the top of the handwritten goals, though, taking up nearly half the page, is a section devoted to golf: North Star is getting Black/minority golfer on PGA Tour.
In late August in San Francisco, Curry stood at the teeing ground for the first hole of the Curry Cup. It was the culmination of the first season of his Underrated golf tour — a fully funded feeder program supporting the next generation of golfers, and CEOs, of color. There was a documentary crew in the trees. As Curry and I followed a pairing of top recruits down the fairway, he whispered to me, “They can play.”
Curry had his hands in his track-pant pockets and his eyes on the green, envisioning the future of his tour — “a solid two hours, back nine, prime time” — when a 17-year-old named Hope Hall finished her second shot and handed him an envelope. He thanked her, wished her luck, and jumped back in the cart to the selfie line. Curry began to read the letter: I will be heading to Dartmouth tomorrow to play golf and major in engineering. I will do this with more confidence in knowing I belong there. This school year, Hall is expected to be the only Black female golfer in the Ivy League. Curry has also funded the rebirth of the golf team at Howard University for more than $1 million. “Stephen’s impact,” coach Sam Puryear says, “is greater than Tiger Woods’ impact in the minority community.”
Focus on basketball for best years of my career: Check? Curry’s body doesn’t respond to heavy offseason workouts or his secret love of Chipotle like it used to. But he has four more years left on his $215 million contract, and Curry tells me he’d like to play “at least that.”
“The championships are just getting in the way,” he adds, picking a comb at a gray hair or three.
As Curry told me in early August, while Durant was still on the market, the Warriors discussed a blockbuster more seriously: “There was a conversation internally about ‘If he was available, would you?’ I was never hesitant. Every team has those conversations, and obviously, they’re gonna call me and ask, ‘How do you feel about it?’
“The idea of playing with KD and knowing who he is as a person, from our history in those three years, I think KD’s a really good dude. I think he has had certain things happen in his life that hurt his ability to trust people around him, in a sense of making him feel safe at all times. So all of those things, I understand, having played with him and gotten to know him. I love that dude.
“And if you said, ‘Oh, KD’s coming back, and we’re gonna play with him,’ I had so much fun playing with him those three years, I’d be like, ‘Hell, yeah!’ Then you have to think: What does that actually mean? What does it look like? You tell me I’m playing with [current Warriors teammates Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, and Draymond Green], I’m like, ‘Hell, yeah!’ There’s all types of emotion and things that happen to the league. And if anybody’s saying that you wouldn’t entertain that conversation — no disrespect to anybody on our team — you don’t know how things work. But you also understand, like, if we run this thing back, I’ve got complete confidence in my team that we can win it again, as constructed.”
SOME DAYS, CURRY still surprises himself that he can float like a butterfly. Like on a typical morning this May, when he’d wake at dawn to write his college thesis on gender equity in sports, then make his way down the three flights of his $31 million mansion in Silicon Valley for family breakfast, drop off the girls at school, ride to the Chase Center in San Francisco for practice, then flutter back around the Bay for dinner, and still break out the glue sticks back home with the kids, all before sundown — and all during the start of the NBA playoffs.
“I’m just so tired,” he complained to Ayesha.
Stephen and Ayesha met at church when he was 15. She remains his rock and role model. “You can’t think that you’re Superman,” the older and wiser Stephen says, “just ’cause you can go 24/7/365.” The MVP does see a therapist, you know. “Not as much as I should, but I’m active,” Curry tells me. “I realize there are certain things that are OK to get off your chest sometimes.” He talks about marriage and parenthood, millions in the bank and millions up in his comments — “things that are so complicated, but there’s a simple approach to how you manage it. And it’s not that you’re trying to change the situation; you’re trying to change yourself to handle the situation.”
Because there will be situations. Like when the Warriors won a playoff series in May, and the next afternoon, a teenage racist walked into a Buffalo supermarket with a Bushmaster XM-15. Ten days later, while Curry was preparing for a game in Dallas, he learned a gunman had holed up inside an elementary school 375 miles away, in a town called Uvalde. During the NBA Finals, the Warriors warmed up in T-shirts that blared “End Gun Violence.” “It’s a shirt, but it’s a message,” Curry says. “Where does the message then lead to actual change?”
And there will be afternoons like July 4, when Curry sat on his couch in silence, watching the videos on his iPhone from Highland Park, Illinois, where a 21-year-old sniper set his sights on a parade. “This keeps happening,” he said to Ayesha. “We keep having a conversation. It goes nowhere.” The Currys didn’t feel like celebrating America that day. They ate lasagna and turned in early. Curry still has nightmares of his team’s arena becoming the site of yet another mass shooting. “I think about that all the time.”
The court will remain his safe space, always — even if the superhero needs to shed the cape every now and then to help out the rest of us down here. “There are more thoughts, as you get older, of that healthy insecurity: ‘How long can this go?’ ” Curry explains. “I’m not afraid of what’s next, but the invincibility — the fact that when you’re in your actual prime, you’re not thinking anything else — now I have a healthy balance of both.”
“I wake up happy most days,” he tells me, leaning his head against the window of a Mercedes and looking forward, as a fan in a Curry jersey walks past in the distance. “What I have ahead of me is what I get to do . . . and what I’m doing is how I’m doing.”