It’s the summer of 2001, I’m 13 years old, and we’re at the AAU national championships in Tennessee.
I was 5’5”, 5’6” tops — and maybe like 100 pounds soaking wet.
We lost badly, and I played worse.
I had finally gotten the chance that I’d been waiting for, all year, to measure myself up…. and I fell short. Way short. It really felt like a wake-up call. It felt like this moment of truth — where there was only one possible lesson to take away: that I just wasn’t good enough.
I remember getting back to our hotel room — I think it was a Holiday Inn Express? — and just sulking. Like, I wasn’t being a hothead. I wasn’t mad at losing. I was just…… down. I was in my turtle shell. I was feeling…. well, I guess I was feeling how we’re really all taught to feel by these big tournaments, and this cutthroat basketball culture: like we’re walking down some do-or-die path. My dad took that path, and he made it to the league. And his son? His son couldn’t even make a mark against some other 13-year-olds.
So like I said, I wasn’t heated. I was more just, like — Oh, O.K. That’s it? I’m not good enough? This is…. over?
For me, in that moment, it pretty much WAS over.
But it was also in that moment that my parents sat me down — at that Holiday Inn in Tennessee — and gave me what I’d call probably the most important talk of my entire life.
I wish I had the transcript for you, since there were some real gems in there. Basically, though? My Mom took the lead. She said, Steph, I’m only going to tell you this one time. After that, this basketball dream….. it’s going to be what it’s going to be. But here’s what I’ll say: NO ONE gets to write your story but you. Not some scouts. Not some tournament. Not these other kids, who might do this better or that better. And not EVER your last name. None of those people, and none of those things, gets to be the author of your story. Just you. So think real hard about it. Take your time. And then you go and write what you want to write. But just know that this story — it’s yours.
Man…. that moment stuck with me.
It stuck with me throughout my growing-up years, and it’s stuck with me throughout my career as a basketball player so far. It’s the best advice I’ve ever gotten. And anytime I’ve needed it — anytime I’ve been snubbed, or underrated, or even flat-out disrespected — I’ve just remembered those words, and I’ve persevered.
I’ve said to myself, This is no one’s story to write but mine. It’s no one’s story but mine.
Wait — hold up. You didn’t think this was one of those fairytales where the kid gets some pep talk, and then immediately everything changes for the better, right? Because…..
It REALLY isn’t that.
Man. I was still so far under the radar it was crazy.
I remember part of the problem being just how skinny I was. Like, I’m telling you all — I was so so so skinny. Could not put on that weight to save my life. Me and my cousin, Will, we used to walk down to the GNC at this little shopping mall near our neighborhood — just looking at the racks for some kind of miracle cure. We never had any money on us, so we wouldn’t actually buy anything. But I guess we were just trying to…. you know what, I don’t even know. Breathe in the magic GNC dust? We’d stay in there for 20 minutes, easy, staring at these giant tubs of mystery powder, like — Must…… have……. the Wheybolic.
And then one day, out of the blue — it happened.
We got ripped.
Nah I’m kidding. We never, ever, ever got ripped. And honestly other than growing a few inches, that was pretty much my scouting profile for the rest of high school: short, skinny, shoots some.
You can guess how it went over.
I remember the first look I got from a college, during my junior year — when Virginia Tech had some interest.
Or I should say, when Virginia Tech showed some interest.
If you squinted, it didn’t seem CRAZY that they might want me: My dad went there…. I’d made a few comments about how I’d like to go there…. and I was even finally starting to put up some numbers.
Courtesy of Stephen CurryAnd when an assistant coach of theirs offered to swing by our school one day — to MEET with me?? Well, let’s just say….. I really squinted.
I legitimately started to think they were going to make me an offer.
I suggested we meet “over lunch” — cool move, right? Very professional. Except…… I’m 16 years old, at this small school with 360 kids. And “lunch” literally means “in the cafeteria.” In front of the entire student body. So, maybe not so cool.
But the big day gets there, and it’s finally lunch time. Their assistant coach walks in. He’s got his big Hokies polo on. His big Hokies hat. We shake hands, and sit down, and — let’s be really real: at this point I am straight-up feeling myself. WHOLE SCHOOL seems like it’s buzzing about me and my meeting. Got a room full of people doing the “I’m not looking (I’m 100% looking)” thing. It’s basically a power lunch. I’m on top of the world.
And then…. dude hits me with it.
“Yeah, so — Stephen, thanks for meeting. Really a pleasure. We’d like to invite you to walk on.”
Turns out, Virginia Tech was only meeting with me as — well, I wouldn’t say a favor to my dad, like he would ever ask for that or anything. But it was more like: a courtesy? A walk-on spot for the legend’s son? I’d have to pay my own way.
Or in other words: They were not interested.
I remember how…… humble our whole experience was at Davidson.
Which, first of all, is funny — because it’s really nice now. Like, for real: if you’re reading this, go to Davidson. It’s an amazing school with an amazing hoops program. But back when I got there, what I mostly remember is just how loud and clear we all got the message that, you know — we were not playing Big-Time College Hoops. Man, like, we were STUDENT athletes. Size 100 font STUDENT, size 12 font athlete. We were “cool, how you hoop and everything…. but I’m going to need that Philosophy paper” athletes. We shared a practice court with the volleyball team.
And then here was the gear rundown: two pairs of sneakers per year, two or three shirts — plus a pair of ankle braces. I honestly think that’s it. One of my favorite memories to this day is of those Davidson practices when one of our new shoe shipments arrived. It was like a second Christmas. And then as far as the ankle-braces…… man. That was a whole other situation. Let’s just say — they were white at the beginning of the season. And by the end, they were not that color.
It’s love, though. Going to Davidson, and playing — and winning — at that level of hoops…… it made me who I am, in a way. It made me understand what it means to build something. Like, truly build something. Something that no one can ever take away from you. Something that’s all your own.
And it’s interesting — what I’ll remember most about my time as a Wildcat? I’m sure everyone probably figures it’s our win over Wisconsin in the Sweet Sixteen, or even our game vs. Kansas in the Elite Eight. But it’s actually neither of those.
It’s a memory from right in between them.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
I was coming back from dinner, after practice — the night before we played Kansas. Just walking down the hall. And it was the strangest thing ever: I turned the corner down the hallway…. and I ran into about half the team. The guys were sitting there, right on the floor, with their warm-ups on and their clunky 2007 laptops out. Like, this bunch of dudes that had just given back-to-back whoopings to Georgetown and Wisconsin. Sitting on the floor, typing away.
And I’m like, “Umm…. what are y’all doing?”
The whole group of them answer at the same time: “MIDTERMS.”
No, for real. That’s a true story. It’s 12 hours to the Elite Eight, 12 hours to the biggest game of any of our lives — and those boys were literally writing term papers in the hallway. Straight up GRINDING in the Word doc. Man, I love Davidson with all my heart.
I remember Doug Gottlieb, who was a major draft analyst at the time, talking about how there were six other point guards in my class with a higher upside than I had. SportsCenter put up a tweet with his comment on it…… and I guess someone found that tweet a few years later, once we started having success in Golden State? So now it gets recirculated every so often.
Players’ Trib, if y’all wanted to accidentally screenshot that tweet and paste it in here, I probably wouldn’t be mad.
And of course I’m just playing, and I can smile about something like that now. But at the time?? Man…. it’s hard to even describe how much comments like that bugged me.
All this analysis that people would put out there, all these scouting reports and whatever, that kept the focus on what I supposedly couldn’t do. “Undersized.” “Not a finisher.” “Extremely limited.” I can still reel them off to this day. But what’s even crazier is how, also to this day — even with how I’ve ended up doing my thing, and even with all of these unique types of players coming into the league and showing what they can do — you’re still seeing these so-called experts scouting hoops that same old way: by focusing on the downside of what guys can’t do.
Instead of figuring out the upside of what they can.
A while back, I had an idea.
It’s called “The Underrated Tour” — and it basically goes like this: You’ve got all of these camps out there, right? All these basketball camps, across the country, around the world. And it’s great, man. It’s special. Those camps are how a lot of NBA guys originally made names for themselves. And we should keep that going! But there’s another thing about these camps I’ve been thinking about. And it’s how, if you take a closer look, you’ll see that it’s the same, exclusive group of kids participating in them, over and over. It’s these same four or five-star recruits, players every scout already knows, going from city to city, camp to camp.
And I guess I just got to thinking about how, you know — taking nothing away from those kids, those blue-chip prospects. But what about all the other kids? What about the kids who, for one reason or another, because of one perceived shortcoming or another, are getting labeled as two or three-star recruits? Now I’m not saying those kids need to be at every camp. (Honestly, man, no one does.) But if we have it set up so those kids can’t get invites to any camp?? Then I think we’ve got a problem. Because then I think we’re putting kids — kids who love to hoop, and who should be out there exploring that love — in a situation where a bunch of limits are being placed on them by other people. A situation where the limits of what they can accomplish are being put in place before they’ve gotten to test those limits for themselves.
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
And so that’s the idea behind The Underrated Tour: to create a basketball camp, in partnership with Rakuten, for any unsigned high school players rated three stars and below. A camp for kids who love to hoop, and are looking for the chance to show scouts that their perceived weaknesses might actually be their secret strengths.
And most of all?
A camp for anyone who just isn’t willing to let the rest of the world write their story.
I’ve noticed something.
It’s how people assume that, once you’ve started to have a certain amount of success….. “feeling underrated” starts going away. And that, once you’ve finally reached any sort of ultimate goal…. it starts going away forever.
But from my own experience? In your head, honestly — it never goes away.
In mine, it’s never even diminished.
Not in 2010, trying to make five teams regret their draft decisions. Not in 2011, trying to show I’d have more value as a player than as a trade chip. Not in 2012, trying to fight through ankle problems and Ls. Not in 2013, trying to live up to a contract extension that a lot of people didn’t think I deserved. Not in 2014, trying to prove these experts wrong who felt that Curry’s style of play just won’t work in the playoffs. Not in 2015, trying to prove these experts wrong who felt that Curry’s style of play just won’t work in the playoffs Finals. Not in 2016, trying to break the Bulls’ 72 wins record. Not in 2017, trying to figure out how tHE WarRIOrs BLeW a 3—1 SErIes LeaD. Not in 2018, trying to overcome a mess of injuries and a good-as-hell Rockets team and whatever else got thrown our way. And not even in 2019, man, not even this year — trying to hop out of the grave while people bury our historic run alive.
That chip on my shoulder has never gone anywhere.
If anything, it’s only become more and more a part of me.
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports
And I think that’s one of the biggest things I’ve really come to understand about myself over the last 17 years: The way that underrated might start off as just some feeling the world imposes on you. But if you figure out how to harness it?
It can become a feeling that you impose on the world.
And the more I think about it, the more I’ve realized that that — above everything else — is why we’re announcing this today. That’s why I’m launching The Underrated Tour. Because I already have one camp…… and it’s awesome. But guess who wouldn’t have been invited to it?
And I’ll tell you what — I’m really starting to see something in that dude.
Don’t sleep on him.
Kid is a killer.