The Charlotte Observer
When I sat down to watch “Stephen Curry: Underrated” — a new documentary about the guy who’ll almost certainly go down in history as the greatest basketball player the Charlotte, North Carolina, area has ever produced — I fully expected to like it.
After all, like lots of people, I’m a sucker for a good underdog story, and I knew this film, now streaming on Apple TV+, featured two:
One about Curry’s improbable ascent from scrawny Charlotte Christian guard to world-beating-NBA-superstar status with the Golden State Warriors, one about Davidson College and The Little Liberal Arts College Hoops Team That Could.
The good news is that director Peter Nicks has done a nice job of weaving the two stories together. It ultimately amounts to something of a love story between Curry and Davidson (which finally, officially became his alma mater last August, when he was handed his degree in a ceremony captured for the film) … as well as something of a love story between Curry and longtime Wildcats head coach Bob McKillop, the man who believed in him as much as anyone.
Unless you come into this already hating Curry for some particular reason, it’ll be hard for viewers — from hardcore fans to those who barely recognize his name — to not start rooting for him before Davidson College even gets introduced at the 16-minute mark of “Underrated.”
On top of that, those of us familiar with Davidson’s campus and culture will be enthralled by the amount of time the filmmakers spend focusing on his experience as a student and player at the school, and what his unlikely success there meant to it.
But while I did like “Underrated,” I couldn’t help but also wish it had tried as hard as Curry has for all these years to be truly great.
There just seemed to be a number of significant missed opportunities.
For instance, there’s some rich material from the student part of his student-athlete experience at Davidson (including what might be the first and last video you’ll ever see of Steph Curry rapping), but I personally would have been interested to hear about what it was like for him to attend a predominantly white college as a young Black man.
Another example: While his rededication in his 30s to finally finish his degree work at Davidson is admirable, even a future NBA Hall of Famer can’t make a Zoom meeting with a professor or the typing-out of a paper look interesting in a movie. (That said, I would love to read a copy of his finished paper, which was apparently about women’s sports.)
Meanwhile, although I probably wouldn’t argue for the one-hour-and-50-minute running time to get longer — and although I was happy for the heavy focus on Davidson’s Cinderella 2007-08 season — it was jarring how dramatically they abridged his NBA journey.
After showing a misty-eyed McKillop reflecting on how difficult it must have been for Curry to leave Davidson for the NBA Draft following his junior year in 2009, “Underrated” cuts to Curry staring out of a window at a basketball court in his yard. Then it shows the Warriors drafting him that summer, with voiceovers of pundits raising questions about whether he can succeed at the NBA level.
The film then spends a grand total of 30 seconds on a montage of him injuring his foot or ankle, over and over again, during the first few years of his career … then only about 30 more on his surgery and his rehab before moving on to chronicle four Warrior NBA titles in a span of just five minutes.
Maybe it’s just me. But it feels like glossing over the injury woes — which fueled his doubters, and was what had to be one of the most mentally and physically challenging periods in his playing career, perhaps in his entire life — seems wrongheaded.
I also need to point out that while I found the contributions from dad/former Charlotte Hornets star Dell and mom Sonya Curry to be warm, welcome and insightful, I was surprised that the film barely brushed up against Steph’s wife, Ayesha. The couple has known each other for 20 years, been married for 12. She’s so fiercely defensive of him that she once tweeted — during the 2016 Finals — that the NBA was rigged against her husband, and when he hosted the ESPYs last year after winning his fourth Finals, he said: “I wouldn’t be on this stage without her.”
So, she’s outspoken and she knows him better than anyone on the planet. It seems like there’s no way she couldn’t have had incredibly colorful things to say for a documentary that is being made primarily to underscore Steph’s underrated-ness.
Which kind of ties in to my biggest criticism.
A documentary is only as good as its best interviews, and “Underrated” does have some good ones. McKillop and Curry’s former teammate Jason Richards both provide particularly poignant moments in the second half.
However, the documentary is populated solely by people who have either rooted for Curry all along, or who gave him the benefit of the doubt quite nearly from the beginning. Aside from NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Miller kicking things off in present day by reading the very-skeptical draft report on Curry from 2009, there really aren’t any surprises as far as interviewees go.
Curry doesn’t count as a “get” because the movie was produced in part by his Unanimous Media company.
No, to me — given that the theme is his struggle to earn respect — there are two individuals I would have stopped at nothing to try to get in front of a camera.
The first would have been Seth Greenberg, who is now an analyst for ESPN but back when Curry was in high school served as head coach of Virginia Tech’s men’s basketball team. In the documentary, Curry says: “I wanted nothing more than to go to Virginia Tech,” which is where his parents both went. But his father, Dell, says “The Virginia Tech coach came to the house and he said, ‘You can definitely play. No doubt. We see the skill. But we don’t have a spot here. He’s too little. He’s gonna get pushed around. He’s not big enough to play major D-I basketball.’”
The second would have been David Kahn, who in 2009 was president of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves famously passed twice on drafting Curry, instead choosing two other point guards with the fifth and sixth picks — Ricky Rubio at No. 5, and Jonny Flynn at No. 6. Golden State took Curry seventh. (“Underrated” mentions none of this.)
Neither man appears in the film, nor is even mentioned.
Now, I realize the filmmakers might not have been interested in taking things in that direction. Or they may have asked either or both of them if they’d consent to be interviewed, and Greenberg and Kahn may have declined. There are a million things that go into a project like this, and as viewers, we’re only privy to the ones we can see on the screen.
But when I step back and think about what this documentary could have been, I can only imagine that the two men who perhaps underrated Steph Curry the most might have helped lift “Underrated” from good to great.
‘STEPHEN CURRY: UNDERRATED’
MPA rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)
Running time: 1:50
How to watch: Apple TV+