It takes a special team of filmmakers to make a documentary about someone as special as NBA superstar Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. One of the most popular athletes in the world today, Curry’s unconventional path to superstardom is the subject of Stephen Curry: Underrated, directed by Peter Nicks. The film is a collaboration between Ryan Coogler’s Proximity Media, and Curry’s own media company, Unanimous Media, co-founded by Erick Peyton.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with several of the filmmakers involved with the documentary, including producers Ryan Coogler, Erick Peyton and Sean Havey, as well as director Peter Nicks.
Coogler and Peyton talked about what makes Curry such a unique athlete. Coogler explained that the community around Curry has helped shape him to be the elite athlete that he is, saying that Underrated is a story “about the power of being seen and the power of community, family and mentorship, and what that does for a person in terms of realizing their maximum potential. Steph is a study of that. His heart-shaped herb is his parents, his family, Coach McKillop, his faith, everything around him is what enables him to think differently, to look at the game differently, and to work on maximizing his skillset.”
Peyton, who knows Curry well as Chief Creative Officer and co-founder of Unanimous Media, said that what sets Curry apart is his focus. “I think it’s the discipline of focus. You see his shooting, and obviously there’s a lot of hours that went into that, but Stephen has this discipline of focus of wherever he is at, he’s able to focus on that thing. If he’s in a development meeting at Unanimous, or he’s in press for Underrated, or he’s on the court, he’s able to zero in on that thing that he’s doing,” Peyton said. “And I think this film really shows that focus. It shows how he can balance, how he can be at home and focus on family, be on the road and focus on winning, and he can focus on writing this thesis paper that will allow him to graduate, and that’s what makes him special.”
Coogler is of course a renowned director, having directed films like Fruitvale Station, Creed, Black Panther and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. He talked about what made Nicks the right director for this project. “I have a personal relationship with Pete, so I know a lot about him, personally about what makes him tick as a person and as an artist and I’m very familiar with his work….I thought about the timetable that Erick wanted to work on, the fact that we had to access Steph during a time when he would be focused on his ‘day job,’ taking the Warriors to another championship. And add to the mix that his kids are getting older, his business is going, he’s trying to fulfill his requirements to get his undergraduate degree,” Coogler said. “I knew that we were going to have to have an experienced person, who’s skilled at getting access to places that have other priorities…Pete was in that rhythm. He had done these things and brought back brilliant films.”
Nicks, whose previous films include The Waiting Room, The Force and Homeroom, has a vérité style that seeks to give audiences a personal look at the stories he’s telling. “I like to take the audience inside people’s’ lives in an immersive way. This was a little different because we knew we were going to have to have people remembering, going back in time to tell the story, but we wanted to balance that with a sense of intimacy, a sense of the unexpected,” Nicks said about his approach to the film.
It can’t be easy to make an immersive film about one of the biggest stars in the world, and Nicks and producer Sean Havey, who is also the Director of Photography, discussed the challenge of following Curry in the midst of another NBA title run. “It was incredibly hard…getting the access,” Havey said. “But he is just as he seems in this film and probably your opinion of him. He’s very much an every man. He does not ‘big time.’ No matter who it is, if you approach Steph, he will look you in the eye and give you a moment of his time to have that human connection.”
“He would. But [Golden State Warriors Head Coach] Steve Kerr wouldn’t,” Nicks added. “We wanted to get inside the locker room with him and Kerr was like, ‘No, no, no. We’re doing a job over here. We’re focused on achieving our goal. We appreciate what you’re doing…’ but they didn’t want the distraction. So we had to work around certain limitations that other people that [Curry] was interacting with.”
Nicks’ other films focus primarily on addressing social and structural issues, including health care, education and policing in the Bay Area of California. I asked Nicks how this story aligned with his story-telling interests. “It’s actually surprisingly consistent. I don’t think I recognized this right at the outset when we began working on the film. Notions of the power of family and community…Oakland itself as a city has some similarity to Davidson,” Nicks said. “I think what Steph represents metaphorically does relate back to a lot of the themes that our work has explored. It’s just a different angle….ultimately it’s a Bay Area story.”
Stephen Curry: Underrated is in select theaters and streaming on AppleTV+.
About “Stephen Curry: Underrated”
“Stephen Curry: Underrated” is the remarkable coming-of-age story of one of the most influential, dynamic and unexpected players in the history of basketball. This feature documentary — blending intimate cinéma vérité, archival footage and on camera interviews — documents Curry’s rise from an undersized college player at a small town Division I college to a four-time NBA champion, building one of the most dominant sports dynasties in the world.
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.