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The Sundance Film Festival got a heavy dose of Steph Curry on Monday night, hosting the world premiere of Stephen Curry: Underrated with the NBA superstar in attendance as he received multiple standing ovations and a hero’s welcome in Park City.
The film — from Sundance vet and award-winning director Pete Nicks, Apple Original Films and A24 — debuted inside Park City’s Eccles Theatre to a capacity crowd that included Ryan Coogler, a producer of the film, beloved coach Bob McKillop and a handful of Curry’s teammates from Davidson, the Cinderella stars of March Madness in 2008, including Jason Richards, Thomas Sander and Andrew Lovedale, all of whom appear in the film.
Stephen Curry: Underrated is described as an intimate look at the NBA superstar’s “improbable coming of age at tiny Davidson College, where, under the wing of coach Bob McKillop, the team made a thrilling run in the 2008 NCAA tournament. With access to Curry throughout the 2021 season, the film also weaves the Golden State Warriors’ attempt to win another NBA championship following one of the worst seasons in franchise history.” [Spoiler alert: They won.]
The behind-the-scenes glimpse offers insight into Curry’s personal life as he juggles the demands of a superstar career with fulfilling a promise he made to his mother when he left Davidson early in favor of a career in the NBA that he would eventually get his college degree. The film also features never-before-seen footage of Curry’s childhood and time on the court when he was just an aspiring athlete with big dreams. Also adorable: scenes featuring his home life with three children including a scene-stealing son, Canon W. Jack, as well as footage of his time at Davidson including a rap cameo on The Davidson Show.
Asked what it was like to see the emotional ride play out on the big screen, Curry said it was surreal.
“It’s amazing to know that that story can inspire people to keep on keeping on, to surround yourself with amazing people, to push through the doubts, push through the criticism, push through the times when people kind of count you out,” Curry explained during the post-screening Q&A when he was joined on stage by Nicks, Coogler, producer Erick Peyton and teammate and longtime best friend Richards. “To see it up there on the screen, it gave me even more juice and motivation on what the future holds. But such gratitude and appreciation; nothing was by accident, it was all designed by God. The fact that we’re up here on this stage to share that story with everyone makes it every more special. Definitely an amazing night all around.”
The showing marked a Park City return for Nicks who won a Sundance directing prize in 2017 for his film The Force. Nicks, the head of Proximity Media’s nonfiction division, followed that up with another feature doc, Homeroom, that won the inaugural Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award at Sundance in 2021.
Both films focused a lens on Oakland with the former examining the city’s troubled police force amid calls for reform while the latter centered on an unprecedented year for Oakland High School’s class of 2020 as the students faced a pandemic, college applications and the elimination of the school’s police force. Those two films capped an Oakland-set doc trilogy for Nicks after his debut, 2012’s The Waiting Room, set inside a hospital struggling to care for uninsured patients.
“The Waiting Room, The Force and Homeroom, all these [films] examined the powerful relationship between community and institutions. When this opportunity came along to tell Stephen’s story, Stephen is himself, in a way, is an institution,” said Nicks, who called the doc “an origin story.” “Ryan has built a career telling stories from his perspective of someone from Oakland first with Fruitvale Station. All the pieces locked together for this project.”
Oakland has had a huge influence on Curry and his family, as well as Coogler. “I’m from Oakland, bro,” the blockbuster Black Panther filmmaker said when asked what inspired him to get involved in bringing the underdog story to the screen. “Born and raised there. My wife is born and raised there. My parents were born and raised there. I’ll do whatever he wants to do.”
Sundance confirmed that the Curry doc would screen at this year’s festival in early January and since then, buzz has been building about whether he would attend the unveiling. The timing seemed to suggest that he would as the Golden State Warriors played the Brooklyn Nets last night (losing 120-116) with days off scheduled for Monday and Tuesday before the team heads back home for a Wednesday matchup with Memphis Grizzlies.
Sundance slotted Underrated for those days off with it premiering Monday night and another showing set for Tuesday at Salt Lake City’s Rose Wagner Center. The audience seated inside Eccles on Monday gave the doc a warm embrace, even breaking into applause multiple times throughout the film for scenes that were punctuated by some of Curry’s biggest victories, such as the 2008 March Madness run and the recent 2022 championship.
There were earnest moments, too. McKillop thanked Nicks for taking on the project and relayed the impact Curry has had on his life by paraphrasing Saint Francis of Assisi. “Preach without using words, that’s what he does. He preaches without using words. You touch his life and you leave him happier [and] you leave yourself happier. Stephen brings such great joy, and if you can’t figure it out, basketball is life. What happens on the basketball court is exactly what happens in life. The wins, the losses, the joys, the sovereigns, the tears, the laughter, the love, the teamwork. Stephen represents the best of all of those qualities.”
Asked how he was able to keep a level head in some of the low moments or after big losses, Curry then borrowed from what McKillop.
“Like Coach said, there’s wins and losses in life. There’s doubts that come from within, there’s criticism that comes from the outside. But I’m very intentional about finding gratitude and appreciation and joy in everything, even the smallest of things. You saw a little bit of my family and coming home and feeling that joy no matter what happens on the basketball court or what happens in life,” he explained. “I feel like my wife will tell you, that’s the one thing that I try to be — intentional about every single day. It started before Davidson but was amplified even more in the ups and downs that you saw in those three years that I was there. The confidence that [Coach] instilled in me from day one. Be intentional. You have a choice, we all have choices. When you wake up every day, have gratitude and find joy in life right here.”
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