- Programming note: Watch "Race in America: A Candid Conversation" featuring Steph on Sunday, Jan. 9 at 9:30 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Bay Area.
It was never Stephen Curry’s goal to change the way basketball is played. The Warriors' superstar simply analyzed his gifts, took a logical approach to applying them and was committed to the process. He could not have known the result would be so effective and captivating that many, many others would follow.
That he inspired a basketball revolution nobody had imagined was purely incidental.
Revolutionaries, however, are restless by nature. Victory widens the platform, which expands ambition. Curry’s next revolution, already under way, will be profoundly intentional.
He wants to change the faces of golf.
An avid golfer from childhood, Curry wants to tear down the walls that have given golf the reality-based perception of exclusivity, the province of the white and wealthy. He wants to introduce it to those previously excluded, whether by design or discouragement. He wants golf to spread from country clubs to city parks, to push it to a place where every level not only accepts all – regardless of race or gender – but invites and warmly embraces anyone with a desire to learn or the skills to compete.
This is Curry’s mission, as explained in an episode of “Race in America: A Candid Conversation,” on NBC Sports Bay Area.
“The work that I’m trying to do and I think is necessary is creating a new way to look at the game,” Curry says. “We have to make it more fun, more accessible to the right people at earlier stages in their life. You have to make it less expensive, and that requires buy-in from all the major club manufacturers, all the athletes that have the ability to shift that narrative. Maybe look at alternative ways to create equipment, to create places for people to go that’s not the old-school, traditional country-club vibe.”
“It’s slowly getting there,” Curry adds. “There are a lot of organizations and groups and people that are thinking about it in those terms, to not just continue the old ways but thinking about new ways to accomplish all of those things. But I think the more we introduce the game earlier to kids, both boys and girls, that culture ... get to a much better place.”
Curry understands that his upbringing opened the golf door closed to many youngsters. His father, Dell, gravitated toward golf in the later stages of his NBA career, introducing the game to his sons, Stephen and Seth, as well as his daughter, Sydel. Only one of them was hooked.
“If it wasn’t basketball season, that’s what I was doing,” Stephen says. “If you dropped me off at the golf course and come pick me up six or seven hours later, then I would be the happiest kid in the world.”
It is this joy that Curry aims to share with those who don’t know the game, or can’t afford it or feel uninvited.
While there have been repeated pledges to make the game “loom more like the face of America,” less than three percent of recreational golfers, according to the National Golf Foundation, are Black.
A generation after the multiracial phenomenon that was Tiger Woods put a big foot in the door, his astonishing success building a towering profile, there are fewer Black faces on the PGA Tour than a generation before. The game remains a distant island for most Black men and women.
Curry aims to diversify the demographics of that island.
“The numbers are really bad, to be honest, when you come into the high school and collegiate golf and professional golf levels, in terms of minorities being able to play,” he says. “And that’s something I’m very passionate about. Something I feel I can bring a different angle to as a basketball player that also loves golf.”
The most publicized expression of Curry’s desire came in August 2019, when he committed a six-year, seven-figure financial donation to restart the golf program at Howard University, a historically Black school in Washington, D.C. Otis Ferguson IV, a student who longed for a golf program at the school, approached Curry months earlier with the idea. Curry was engaged from the moment he heard the word “golf.” Their correspondence led directly to his involvement in growing golf in the Black community.
Having a household NBA name begin a positive affiliation with Howard golf would “turn a lot of heads,” Curry figured. He knew he was shining a light into a dark place that needed it. He also was thinking beyond the game of golf.
“It was about creating a vision of where golf can take you in life,” he says. “At an HBCU like Howard, with the prestigious history that it has and the amazing alumni base that it has, we could create scholarships and opportunities through golf and do it in a very meaningful way that you’re creating an amazing experience for kids but you’re also giving them a launchpad to set up an amazing and successful life. The idea of using golf as a conduit for that is pretty amazing.
“If I can get kids to go to Howard, based on a golf scholarship, and then be able to tell that story to younger generations and say this is where you could end up, and this is what we’re going to try to do to help you get there, that made the most sense.”
Changing the faces of golf is an admirable goal. Some considering the history of the game would say it a fool’s errand. Others might conclude it’s impossible.
Apprehension, however, has nourished Curry’s journey to and through the NBA.
Remember? Skinny three-star recruit attends a small local college (Davidson). Is the third point guard taken in the 2009 draft. Is afflicted with early injuries. Wins consecutive MVP awards, the second as the only unanimous winner in the 75-year history of the league. Three-time NBA champion. Revolutionary.
Curry persisted and persisted and, eventually, succeeded so spectacularly that he altered the strategy of the game.
Doubt him, if you will, but remember that nothing puts more steel in the backbone of a revolutionary, incidental or intentional, than waves of skepticism. That’s always the gig.