The highly anticipated Apple TV+ and A24 documentary Stephen Curry: Underrated landed in Toronto, screening as part of the city's Hot Docs festival before its release on Apple's streaming platform in July.
Stephen Curry: Underrated director and producer Peter Nicks explained in a Zoom conversation after the screening on Saturday night that Stephen Curry himself approached Nicks and producer Ryan Coogler, indicating that he was ready to tell his coming-of-age story. This was amid Curry's effort to keep a promise he made to his mother, that he would eventually graduate college.
While it may seem like an easy decision to make a film about a four-time NBA champion, this is actually quite different from the documentaries Nicks in known for, primarily films on social issues, like The Waiting Room and Homeroom.
“I really sort of asked myself, what could I have to add? How can I tell Stephen’s story?" Nicks explained. “The more I learned about his story and his origin story at this tiny college called Davidson, that nobody had ever heard of, and the more I thought about my work and Ryan's work, ... the themes really connected."
"The sense of being overlooked, that universal theme and that idea is one I think we've all had at one point or another in our lives. … That's really why I began to sort of dig in and think about how we were going to approach the story.”
Stephen Curry: Underrated starts of by establishing that Curry, even though his father Dell is a famed basketball player (who played for the Raptors) and his mother Sonya was a notable volleyball star, Curry's physical appearance made him the underdog and "underrated." From the time he was a teen, he was seen as too short and too thin to actually succeed as an NBA player.
That feedback stuck with Curry, who explains in the documentary that those comments really made him understand that he is "different." Much of the documentary focuses on Curry's time at Davidson College, where he played under coach Bob McKillop. While Curry became a college phenom, it was a rough start, with a 13-turnover debut that made the coaching staff question what they were going to do with him. But in Curry fashion, he started the next game and had an impressive showing.
“Steph, he really got animated, he brought his phone out, he was showing me videos and pictures from his time in college and that sense of nostalgia that he had really was fascinating to me,” Nicks said. “Also, me being a Warriors and a Steph fan, realized I had never heard that piece of the story.”
“That began our work to try to sort of think about how we're going to frame telling his story."
'A completely different movie had the Warriors not won a championship'
Nicks had to contend with a series of unknown factors while creating this film.
Firstly, he couldn't be certain that Curry was actually going to get his college degree, which we see the athlete working on throughout the film. Additionally, shooting for the film occurred just as the Golden State Warriors achieved their most recent NBA championship title, which of course was a very live circumstance to watch.
“As we were putting together the narrative for his time at Davidson, in that run in 2008 and into the NCAA tournament, we started to realize that things were starting to click with the Warriors,” Nicks explained. “We started thinking about this parallel narrative.”
“Once they finally did win the championship, we really got to work in the edit to try to piece together that narrative. That device that you see at the end, where we sort of flip back and forth between the his time at Davidson and his time today, ... it really kind of gave me chills because it really encapsulated his journey."
The Warriors championship also shifted some of the elements included in Stephen Curry: Underrated. As Nicks explained on Zoom after the Toronto screening, interviews conducted with players Allen Iverson and Muggsy Bogues were absent because, "it was going to be a completely different movie had the Warriors not won a championship."
“We were going to delve a lot deeper into this notion of underrated, undersized," Nicks said. "We were going to use their perspective to sort of bolster Steph’s journey, but then when the Warriors win the championship, we had to sort of rethink the narrative.”
There is something particularly entertaining about watching Curry with his family, including one incredibly funny scene with Curry and his daughters, Riley and Ryan, doing their respective homework, while his son Canon starts jumping on bubble wrap.
“So much about it for Steph is his family and community," Nicks said. "It's two big themes in the film."
“For a lot of people that could go to their head, ... you're in the conversation for the greatest of all time, and that's not the way it is for him. He's deeply connected to his family."
There's no denying that there is something special about Curry, his tenacity and humbleness comes through in way Stephen Curry: Underrated is organized, with unique editing to visually show his journey. At a bare minimum, it's always entertaining to watch Curry shoot three-pointers.
The Hot Docs festival in Toronto runs from April 27 to May 7. The next in-person screenings of Stephen Curry: Underrated are on May 5 and May 6. The film will also be available on Apple TV+ on July 23.