OAKLAND, Calif. — Stephen Curry knew the question was coming. He’d seen the news stories pondering whether the Golden State Warriors, in the wake of winning the NBA title Monday night, would make the traditional pilgrimage to the White House to celebrate their championship with President Trump. Curry knew that whatever he said would become a national headline.
So it says a lot about Curry — and the way he, as well as the rest of the NBA, have embraced the platform that comes with being part of the sport — how he responded to it.
“Somebody asked me about it a couple months ago, a hypothetical, if a championship were to happen: ‘What would I do?’ ” Curry said during his exit interview at Golden State’s practice facility Wednesday afternoon. “I think I answered that I wouldn’t go.
“I still feel like that today.”
Within minutes, the quote was racing across the Internet: Stephen Curry, two-time NBA most valuable player and two-time champion, does not want to go to the White House. And while Curry said the Warriors would have to discuss what to do as a team — “We’ll handle that accordingly and responsibly,” Curry said, “and do the right thing for us individually and as a group” — that he was willing to state his position publicly is a pretty strong indicator of what direction the team’s decision is headed.
But rather than a departure from the norm, Curry’s outspokenness was just the latest moment in which someone involved with the league used their platform to express a point of view.
From the NBA deciding to remove the All-Star Game from Charlotte this year because of the state’s controversial bathroom bill to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony discussing gun violence at the ESPYs to Curry and others speaking out about Trump both during his candidacy and after the election, the NBA has become a league full of people comfortable speaking out.
This is what has made the NBA stand out from the other sports leagues, and what has made its players become sought-after voices on a wide range of issues. Basketball is unquestionably a team sport — one only needs to watch the way the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers played during this year’s NBA Finals to see how beautiful the sport can be when five guys are playing as one on the court — but it is built on individual creativity and playmaking — from Kyrie Irving’s circus layups to Kevin Durant’s silky smooth game to James’s raw ferocity to Curry’s crazy three-pointers.
But it’s that same individualism, of valuing self-expression and innovation, that has led to a league full of players with strong voices unafraid to use them. Basketball is a global sport, second only to soccer in terms of reach, and players and teams have grown accustomed to people from all walks of life, of all sizes and colors, playing it. That’s resulted in a culture where standing out and being different isn’t just accepted — it’s applauded.
That’s why the league has become a source of activism and dialogue on such a wide range of social issues. With the rise of social media, and the increased media environment around sports in general, players have more ways to express themselves than ever — and an ever-growing reach to get their message to as many people as possible.
During the NBA Finals, after his house in Los Angeles was painted with racist graffiti, James spoke at length and with eloquence about being an African American in this country today, and brought up subjects — like Emmett Till — that many listening to him had never heard. The previous year, James had sat in the same seat and discussed the impact of Muhammad Ali after his death and what he meant to generations of kids like him growing up.
And James is far from alone. NBA players have learned how far their voices can travel and what their messages can mean. That’s why Curry knew exactly what he was doing Wednesday when he said he wasn’t interested in going to the White House — just as he knew exactly what he was doing when he was told earlier this year Kevin Plank, the chief executive of Curry’s shoe company, Under Armour, had called Trump an “asset” to the country.
“I agree with that description,” Curry said at the time, “if you remove the ‘et’ from asset.”
Curry made that statement in the same matter-of-fact tone he made this one. There was no need to speak up. He was well aware of just how far his voice would carry, and what his words would mean.
That’s why he didn’t hesitate to say them.