The NBA, set to play the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte, North Carolina, has been at the center of debates about whether companies should move their business out of the Tar Heel State. The pressure for businesses to flee has been sparked by recent legislation aimed at codifying discrimination against LGBT people, with a particular focus of the transgender community.
The face of the NBA is coincidentally enough, Charlotte’s favorite son, Steph Curry. And sure enough, he has been asked repeatedly to comment on the legislation. After initially declining to weigh in, Curry said the following:
I knew I would be asked about my views on the situation in North Carolina and potential ramifications on next year’s All-Star Game in Charlotte, which I hope can be resolved. While I don’t know enough about the North Carolina law to comment more fully, no one should be discriminated against. My faith and beliefs have always been the bedrock of my life. As a Christian, I am taught that we are all equal in the eyes of God. So I treat everyone the way I want to be treated—fairly, justly and equally. I hope that is how we all treat each other.
Some have already described these words as “neutral” or “tepid” or “blah.” One site suggested that “he bricked it.” I would argue that these analyses miss something crucial: Curry’s words stand as a tribute to a movement that has refused to let LGBT and particularly trans people be the new demons—the “unwed mothers,” the “welfare queens,” the “crack babies”—of the religious right. People expecting straight athletes—particularly male athletes—to lead LGBT struggle are living in a fantasy land. They won’t lead, but they can be led, and make no mistake about it: Steph Curry is being led.
The starting point for understanding why Steph Curry’s soft condemnation matters is his current place in the pop-cultural firmament.
As the Golden State Warriors stand on the brink of a record breaking 73-9 record, it is worth noting Curry’s meteoric rise in stature both on and off the court. Most NBA stars—think LeBron James or Kevin Durant—had marketers and sneaker-pimps drooling before these hoop-gods were old enough to see R-rated movies. Curry, in his mid-20s, has traveled the distance from little-known three-point specialist—with a first name that Nike mispronounced while trying to sign him as an endorser—to a true king. He’s a prospective back-to-back MVP and ratings gold. According to an analysis for Morgan Stanley, he is worth an estimated $14 billion to his upstart sneaker sponsor, Under Armour, a company that before Steph was best known for form-fitting shirts. A player who can barely dunk has become, in terms of cultural capital, the closest thing we’ve seen to fellow North Carolinian Michael Jordan.