Steph Curry doc ‘Underrated’ explores how doubt fueled his fire

The more Stephen Curry wins, the harder it gets to sell him as an underdog. But he remains relatable amid his success because with every win comes the reaction of someone gleefully living out his dreams. Whether he’s sprinting to slap a flag after making a hole-in-one at a celebrity golf tournament or looking away before another three-pointer strokes the net, Curry makes sure fun isn’t forgotten in his journey toward domination. Neither is the struggle to get there.

Throughout his ambitious run to becoming an all-time great, Curry has repeatedly said that it looks easy now because the years of preparation were so hard. And with a new documentary, “Underrated,” set to premiere Friday on Apple TV Plus, Curry sends another reminder that for all of his accomplishments — four NBA titles, two MVPs and the indisputable title as the greatest shooter ever — there remains a player driven by the early slights about being too scrawny, the perception that he wasn’t ever going to be good enough.

“It was like a badge of honor at a certain point,” Curry said of being overlooked, in a Zoom call this week with a handful of reporters, “and you’ve got to flip it on its head.”

The son of a former NBA player and an accomplished college volleyball player, Curry knows he was blessed genetically and with a life of privilege to which few can relate. But his parents, Dell and Sonya, didn’t raise him with a sense of entitlement, and the world didn’t open to him solely because of his name. If that was the case, big-time college basketball programs wouldn’t have ignored him, and Virginia Tech, his parents’ alma mater, wouldn’t have asked him to walk on, forcing him to attend tiny Davidson just outside of his hometown of Charlotte.

“There were almost kind of inherent expectations around me that I wasn’t living up to on the timeline that people thought I was. So you had to be kind of singularly focused on making sure I found joy in what I was doing,” said Curry, who credits “a healthy insecurity” for helping to avoid complacency. “I hope I never lose it.”

The documentary, which was made in part through Curry’s production company, Unanimous Media, yada-yada-yadas through most of Curry’s NBA career, centering instead on what’s most important to him while his career is still unfolding — his origin story and specifically those three years in college when he earned his nickname, “The Baby-faced Assassin,” and developed the confidence to believe that success was within the flick of his wrist.

“I fully acknowledge my dad played 16 years in the league. I was around inspiration and greatness where I could see what they put into their craft on a daily basis,” Curry said. “But my parents did an amazing job of just creating perspective for us as kids early on. That was their success. It wasn’t ours. That was their reality. It wasn’t ours. And we had to kind of identify what our motivation was or just the passion of what we were doing.”

Director Peter Nicks, a Howard University alum best known for his work exploring social issues within Oakland, Calif., described the film as a look into “how hard it has been for Stephen to claim his place.”

“It’s incredibly hard, I think, to follow in the footsteps of a parent who has done remarkable things,” Nicks said. “Obviously, there’s the talent that he recognized in himself. But this [documentary examines the] notion of being seen and being validated. How many of us have ever felt that we haven’t been fully heard or that our talents haven’t been fully appreciated? What allows you to keep pushing despite not getting that validation?”

Before deciding to work on the documentary with Curry and producer Ryan Coogler, of “Creed” and “Black Panther” fame, Nicks was admittedly a fan. He marveled at Curry’s skill as both a shooter and entertainer but also was curious to see whether his public image matched his private reality. The season spent with Curry taught Nicks that “the foundation of his personality is where he came from, the importance that community and his family had in his life.” What Curry’s parents accomplished is barely mentioned, but their presence as a support system is a prominent theme.

The film simultaneously weaves in Curry’s pursuit of his college degree, fulfilling a promise he made to his mother, Sonya, and a prerequisite to having his jersey retired by his alma mater. The timing was impeccable: In the documentary, Nicks captures a 2021-22 season in which Curry set the NBA record for career three-pointers, led the Golden State Warriors to their fourth NBA title, earned Finals MVP honors for the first time and, still in the glow of that title, collected his diploma from Davidson.

“God has a crazy sense of humor,” said Curry, 35. “I feel like it’s a great moment of reflection. The NBA accomplishments . . . it all is through the lens of what helped me develop that underrated mind-set while I was at Davidson and why I still talk about it and still refer to it even now. It’s always a part of my DNA because that’s how I truly learned how to approach the game and find my own identity in this world.”

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