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The Crossover

30 Oct 2018
Photo by
Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune
Photo by
Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune
Stephen Curry
Golden State Warriors
30 Oct 2018

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T

wo of the greatest athletes in the world, hanging out at the oldest basketball court in the world. That was the setup for this conversation, which took place at a Paris YMCA in September. This is Steph Curry and Neymar, talking about life — with a little help from our Brazilian translator.

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The Players’ Tribune
So, guys, the first thing we wanna know is very simple. When you were a kid, what was the exact moment when you realized that you wanted to do this for a living? When did you have that click?

Steph
That moment for me, when I knew basketball was going to be my life … I was six years old, playing in a rec league in North Carolina, where I grew up. And there was probably 15 people in the stands. There was a two-on-one fast break and I had the ball. And the defender came over to guard me, and instead of like making normal a chest pass or bounce pass, or a regular layup, I like jumped in the air, and then did like this 360 behind-my-back pass. It was right on target, and my teammate, he laid it up. And all 15 fans in the crowd went crazy. And, obviously, it was pretty muted. But that was the moment that my creativity kind of came out and I knew there was going to be that type of reaction. So, I knew at that point that basketball was fun for me and I loved to do it, so … that was it. What about you?

Neymar
I had two moments when I was a little boy, three years old. When my mom asked me what kind of present I wanted, and I started running, crossed the street and I chose a football. The second moment, when I was six, seven years old, when Santos won a championship. And I went with my father to celebrate with all the fans and I saw all the players walk by us in a special car, a carnival-like car, and I waved to them, saying goodbye. After these two moments I said to myself, I want to be a footballer.

Steph
Which is interesting. You see other people play. I almost took it for granted because my dad played in the NBA … so I saw it almost every day. But I knew that—

Neymar
Your dad played? My dad played, too.

Steph
Yeah, you knew you had to find your own passion for it — not just because what he did was going to get you into the game. But you had to figure out whether it was for you. That’s pretty smooth.

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

TPT
Speaking of your dads, if we really had them here with us instead of you guys, and they were sitting in these seats, what would be their favorite story they would tell about you? What’s one legendary family story they tell at every party?

Steph
Oh, man. If my dad was sitting here, he’d probably tell two stories. One is a quick one – it’s how I got this little scar right here. My senior year in high school I was playing against the city rival in my dad’s tournament, during the Christmas holiday. And before the game, in the locker room, I was so excited and just juiced up to play … we were in the locker room and there was this bar hanging over, and I was getting loose. “Let’s go! We’re gonna win!” And I jumped up to celebrate with my team, get them hyped, and I hit the bar, hit my forehead and like busted my whole face. So I came out in the game and I had this huge butterfly Band-Aid over the top of my head. And he always tells that story because, 1) he can see the scar, and 2) because he knew, like, big moments … I was really getting excited for them. I was gonna be ready to play. And I just gotta watch out where I jump.

The other one was probably in my sophomore year in college. I made a big shot against Gonzaga in the first round to help my school win our first NCAA tournament game, and when I made the shot I pointed right at my dad because I knew how much that meant to our family. And him kind of passing the torch to me, to kind of play basketball at a really high level. So, we kind of shared that moment on the court. So that was cool.

Neymar
My dad did the same thing. I mean, he was like there for me in the game. He said, “Let’s go, son. Do like this, do like that.” And one story I had with my dad is like this: Every move, he was like whistling, and I already knew what I had to do. So he always helped me when I was playing football. And when he whistled a lot … I knew that I was doing some s***.

And I have another story with my father, when I was injured here. My dad’s game was finished, so … I was walking with my football boots on a floor like this, and I was kicking a ball and I slipped and I fell. We had to go to the hospital and my dad had just left his game. He was kind of mad back then.

TPT
The NBA Finals. The Champions League final. You’re two of the only people on the planet who know the feeling of waking up in the morning and experiencing this moment. Describe this moment for the millions of people who only get to watch it on TV.

Steph
When you wake up, the morning of your first NBA Finals practice … I still have a hard time articulating what the difference is. There is just a different vibe in the air. There is a different anxiousness and adrenaline. You know that … you’re so close to your ultimate goal that everything just slows down a little bit. The chaos around practice, around travel, around the actual lead-up to the game … it is like a hundred times crazier than it is during the regular season, and even the rest of playoffs. But it just does something to your focus, because you know how real that moment is, and everything is just heightened to a whole other level. I dream about it all the time, to be honest with you. Like once you get that first taste of it … like every other game is really hard to kind get that excited about, because you already tasted the ultimate adrenaline rush of playing in a Finals and winning a championship. So that’s the best way to explain it: Everything just slows down, but it just … it’s like a laser focus that you tap into that you never really thought was possible.

It’s like a laser focus that you tap into that you never really thought was possible.

Neymar
It is different. I think I got more nervous watching your NBA Finals than playing my Champions League final. But it is different. There is this vibe of a Champions League final. You have to be focused. It is different from any other game. When I played my first Champions League final, I remember that I was really anxious before the match. But after the game starts you relax because you are focused. Because you know what you want and you are there to get it. So it’s all natural.

Steph
Yeah, what you said about like … it’s, football as usual, it’s basketball as usual … it’s the same field, it’s the same ball. It’s the same for me on a basketball court. But yeah, there’s something that it does to you leading up to it, you kind of … you almost psych yourself out, to where you forget like all it is, is I just have to put that ball in the basket, do what I do every single day.

Neymar
I get more nervous watching than playing. I went to see you play. I’m very fond of your game and I’m very fond of the Warriors. And I got really anxious watching. Playing a final for me is calmer. Because that was my first time watching, and I was afraid that if you guys lost then people would say that I was like the jinx.

Jed Jacobsohn/The Players' Tribune

Steph
When your dad watches you, does he say the same? My dad says the same.

Neymar
The same.

TPT
You’re both fathers yourself. What’s your favorite story to tell about your kids?

Steph
I tell you, as dads you probably have countless stories. Every day there is something funny. The funniest story, that’s the most consistent even to this day, with my oldest daughter Riley … she’s six now. She had a thing where, when she saw me with regular clothes, she called me either daddy or Stephen. Or, sorry, she called me daddy. But then when I put the jersey on I was always Stephen Curry, number 30. There’s a clear distinction between me wearing a jersey and playing basketball versus me just in my street clothes or at the house. And she called me by different names. And that was the point where I realized like, they notice everything about you. You can’t sneak anything behind them. So for her to kind of differentiate … I only say this as like a fan’s perspective, but almost just like that Warrior jersey, with number 30, that’s Stephen Curry, and he’s a different character, a different person than Daddy is….

Neymar
My son was at school with his friends and a TV ad was going on. If I’m not mistaken, it was an ad for Brazil’s match. And then I was on TV. So my son said, “That’s my dad.” And then one of his friends said, “No, that’s not your dad.” And my son, “Yes, he is my dad.” And my son’s friend, “No, Neymar can’t be your dad.” So, a little argument started between them. And it was taken to their teacher … and the teacher talked to them. And my son was a bit sad because no one believed I was his dad.

Steph
How many kids are probably saying in their schools: “My dad? Oh, my dad is Neymar”? Yes, sure it is. How old is your son?

Neymar
Seven years old.

Steph
My oldest is six, and I have one who is three years old, and the youngest is two months old. So, every three years. We’re done. Two girls and a boy, so I’m good. I’m blessed. I’m happy.

TPT
Let’s talk about greatness for a moment. Messi. Ronaldo. LeBron. Durant. You’ve seen these players up close for years. What is it about these players that the average person at home doesn’t understand?

Steph
When you play against greatness and you play against people that push you … and you chase them, you almost get consumed by it. Because you know, one, how hard it is, obviously, to reach the top, and the amount of work that you put into it. You always try to find a little bit of edge, whether it’s something mental or something physical, that you can use to your advantage to kind of stay on their heels until you get there. And for me, I was actually watching my first game I played against LeBron, my rookie year, and thinking like — from that moment to 2015 when we played them in the NBA championship, or in the NBA Finals, that first time like — I just wanted to be great, because I saw greatness ahead of me. And when you play against him, you get exposed, you learn, you keep growing, you fail, you keep growing. And eventually, for me, we get to the top. And that journey like … looking back, I think when I’m done with my whole career, and I look back at like that seven-year window to get to my first championship, I’ll appreciate that entire journey because it is that hard to do what we do at the highest level every single night. And you just appreciate that journey, for sure.

Neymar
Facing Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – and I played with Messi, who is, for me, one of the greatest footballers of all time, and he is my idol in football. With Messi, I learned every day, whether during our practice, or playing with him, or just watching him play. And that made me stronger and it increased my capacity on the field because I kept learning a lot from him. As for Cristiano Ronaldo, he is a monster. Facing him is a pleasure and an honor, but we have to be more prepared. He is one of the greatest in football so you get smarter, you get alert, but at the same time you learn a lot, too. So, they are two of the big guys that I can relate to, because I want to learn, I want more, I want to win, I want more trophies, score more goals … so I keep learning from them every day.

I want to learn, I want more, I want to win, I want more trophies, score more goals … so I keep learning from them every day.

Steph
The coolest thing is like now that I’ve learned a little bit about how to … elevate my level. They bring out the best out of you. And you feel like, when you get to that level, when they respect you, when they see you as a threat, you bring the best out of them. And that back-and-forth is why we play. That’s why we do what we do. And that part of it … I can really truly appreciate, again, all the work that, you know … if you see some of the behind-the-scenes what they do to be different. And you can pick and you can choose and learn some stuff, but you stay true to yourself and you end up where you want to be.

TPT
Let’s pretend we are making the movie of your life. What’s one scene that would absolutely have to be in the movie? A moment when your life changed in a profound way.

Steph
I don’t know the specific day, but it was the summer of 2012. I’d just had my second surgery on my ankle. And I was sitting on like this makeshift couch in my living room, in Charlotte. It was just me and my wife in the room. And I don’t think she’d ever heard me say like … never heard me doubt myself or doubt the process of coming back from an injury, because I’m such an optimistic person. I always see the glass half full. But in that moment it really tested my mental strength to get through the dog days of a second summer of rehab, and not really know where the end was going to be. You always wonder, again like what we just talked about it — you’re chasing greatness, you want to be great, but the one thing I couldn’t control was my health, in terms of my ankles. And she gave me that one line of like, “Don’t forget who you are.” That kind of kept me focused on that mission. And two years later, or almost three years later, I’m back on the court, winning the championship. So that moment right there was kind of like the lowest of lows, and it was kind of only up from there.

Neymar
I have two moments. The first when I injured my back. I was living a dream, playing in a World Cup, and then it was over because I got injured. For me it was like the end of everything. And I asked myself, Am I ever going to be back on the field? And my family and my friends were really important for me at that moment. They helped me to get up again. And they helped me to bounce back.

The other moment happened this year, after my first surgery. It was close to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, I did not see myself playing, and my family, my girlfriend and my friends stayed with me. And they made me believe in my dream: I would be playing in a World Cup again. These two moments are important to me. My family and my friends were really important in those moments. Believing in this comeback.

Steph
Yeah. They get you at your lowest of lows but then you celebrate the highest with them as well, and the successes. And that’s what makes it all work. Because I know for you, family is huge. You couldn’t do what you get to do without them having your back. So it all shows itself throughout the journey, for sure.

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

TPT
Finally, just take us inside your locker rooms for a moment. Who is the funniest person you get to go to work with every day?

Steph
The funniest guy in our locker room is Klay Thompson. I don’t think he knows it, though — that’s the funny part. So he has this untapped wealth of knowledge somewhere in the back of his head where he’ll just spit like this most random knowledge of like, how many gallons Lake Tahoe holds or … just something random. But it wasn’t a story that made me laugh or something he said that made me laugh. It was kind of the scenario around him scoring … was it 60 points in three quarters two years ago? We always joke because Klay is kind of late to everything. He’s late to practice sometimes. He’ll be late to shootaround and whatnot. This particular day of practice before that game he missed the entire practice. He didn’t show up, nobody could reach him. He didn’t even come in late. Like he just didn’t show up the entire practice. So the next day you’re worried about where his mental space is, and the guy goes out and reads his newspaper before the game, like he always does, and goes out and scores 60 in three quarters the day after he misses a practice. So little stuff like that just makes you laugh because you have no idea what Klay was going to show up. But he can surprise you at any moment with a game like that, or some a random fact that only like Google would know. So it was pretty funny.

I told coach, “Coach, you should’ve said, ‘Hey, skip the rest of practices and we’ll see you at 7:30 every night.’ ”

Neymar
The funniest guy is Dani Alves. He’s an amazing guy. I like when he posts a video of him singing. The way he goes in the locker room, he jokes with everybody, he always keeps our morale up, he has a good energy. He gives nicknames to everybody. So, he always has a different story to tell, but what we love the most is when he posts a video on Instagram, he starts singing. We laugh a lot and we love when he does that.

His nickname is “Good Crazy.”

Steph
Hahaha! You want that crazy around! You need those kinds of people in the locker room. It’s a long season, so you gotta have … gotta have some jokes and some good vibes. That’s funny, though.

Neymar
The oldest guy, but amazing. Hahaha!

Stephen Curry
Golden State Warriors