Stephen Curry: Underrated
The new Apple TV+ documentary about the unlikeliest basketball icon looks at his journey from unrecruited high schooler to breakout college star to NBA legend.
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Stephen Curry is 35 years old and owns four NBA championships, two regular season MVP awards and one Finals, and nine each All-Star and All-NBA selections. He’s the all-time leader in 3-pointers made and twice led the league in scoring. Despite this, he looks about age 18 with an unimpressive physique and stature that wouldn’t turn any heads in your average Target store.
His boyishly handsome features, set off by soft eyes and an unassuming manner, didn’t help. That’s been the knock against Curry all his life — “doesn’t pass the eye test.”
Turns out a whole lot of eyeballs were blind to the immense talent and drive housed in that unremarkable body.
His unlikely rise from unrecruited high schooler to breakout college star to NBA legend is chronicled in the engaging new documentary, “Stephen Curry: Underrated,” which debuts on Apple TV+ July 21. It’s well worth a look for hoops fans, or anyone interested in the recipe for seemingly everyday people to achieve greatness.
Director Peter Nicks (“The Waiting Room”) begins his story with a historic moment: Curry beating Reggie Miller’s record for the most 3-pointers made in 2021. I loved having Miller read out loud Curry’s draft profile, which struggles to reach unimpressed.
It then follows him for the next year or so in the contemporary portion of the film, as a pair of abysmal seasons filled with injury and whispers about his team, the Golden State Warriors, being past their primes resulted in a surprise NBA championship.
Most of the film, though, follows Curry through his teen years and early 20s, especially his career at tiny, unheralded Division I school Davidson College. In the entire history of the school, they’d never won a NCAA playoffs game, and when Curry arrived in 2006 it had been 37 years since they had even made an appearance in the tourney.
There’s a goodly amount of archival footage to rely upon, as well as contemporaneous interviews with important figures like his parents, Dell and Sonya Curry. Both had been standout athletes at Virginia Tech, and young Stephen (pronounced STEFF-un) was crushed when the school didn’t recruit him.
Turns out, hardly anyone did. Still under 6 feet and “barely 150 pounds soaking wet with his shoes on,” as one teammate describes him, Curry hardly had the look and feel of a blue chip prospect.
One thing I wish the film had concentrated more on was the fact that Dell had a long NBA career himself and was known as a deadly 3-point marksman. So somebody, somewhere must have had an inkling the kid could hoop. There’s also no mention at all of his younger brother, Seth, an NBA player himself of not a little renown.
Stephen played OK as a high school freshmen, but Dell and Sonya challenged him to change his shot to a high release so bigger players would have less chance to block it. They drilled him for an entire summer, hour after hour, day after day, and by his sophomore year he was gaining notice.
The best thing about the film is the way it looks at the special relationship between Curry and Davidson coach Bob McKillop. He watched the kid play and saw something everybody else was missing. When he went to the Curry household to try to convince him to play for the teeny little basketball program, Stephen stopped him two minutes into the pitch and said he was ready to sign.
It was the unwanted, undersized player meeting the old-school patriarchal mentor with ambitions for doing big things together.
McKillop comes off as a quietly great man, someone comfortable subsuming his own personality to truly be a teacher and role model to his players. It’s no surprise Curry ended up modeling himself in this manner.
Curry had it tough at first in college, knocked around — and down — by giants. But Curry formed a partnership and friendship with upperclassman point guard Jason Richards during his sophomore year, when they unexpectedly made a deep run into the NCAA tourney. They remain friends to this day, and you can see in their interactions watching a contemporary Davidson game, Richards is one of the few capable of treating Curry as a regular guy.
Curry ended up declaring for the NBA draft after his junior season — standard practice for lottery picks. However, it ended up breaking the mold in two undesired ways: he became the first player in coach McKillop’s tenure not to earn a degree, as well as disappointing Sonya.
Even as he struggled through his first few years in the NBA and eventually starting winning championships in 2015, his mother pressed him to complete his bachelor’s degree. The documentary chronicles him doing so through remote learning in the middle of the Covid pandemic, his little kids a constant (adorable) distraction. His college thesis: the inequalities faced by women athletes.
I’m a big NBA fan and found “Underrated” a compelling ride. I couldn’t help noticing a few blind spots, beyond the ones I previously described. Curry’s wife, Ayesha, is a virtual ghost in the documentary, only appearing a handful of times as a bystander. Similarly, there are no interviews with his Warriors teammates or coaches, though Draymond Green and Kevin Durant turn up in cameos.
We do get to peek behind the curtain of Curry’s private training sessions to see what goes into maintaining an NBA body and skill level: work, work and more work. Not just shooting practice, but endless hours of drudgery and painful exercises to hone muscles most of us don’t even know we have.
Strangely, Stephen Curry himself remains something of a mystery man, despite being the entire subject of the documentary. He doesn’t have a big personality or do things to draw attention to himself. He comes across as just what he is: a very serious man who cares a lot about winning, but not to the detriment of family or reputation.
In an age when so many people are all about the clicks and the controversy, Stephen Curry keeps his head down and finds a way to rise to the top of the heap, again and again.