The Game That Changed Steph Curry's Life

IMAGE Getty Images/Matteo Marchi

Ever wonder what your favorite athlete does when they just aren't playing very well? Do they watch a Will Ferrell comedy? Play Mario Kart with their kids? Suffer a fit of deep, existential angst? We wanted to know, too. Welcome to How I Take a Loss.

For our latest edition, we talked to Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, who, yeah—no introduction needed. Back in November, Curry was out and about with Callaway, hitting balls in a rare midseason break from hoops. (If you're unfamiliar: Steph Curry is a golfer. And a damn good one, too.) To celebrate the extension of his partnership with Callaway Golf, Curry—a guy who has won a couple things!—agreed to talk to Esquire about losing. Here, Curry gets into it all: Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, playing as himself in PGA Tour 2K23, and the loss that made Steph Curry, well, Steph Curry.

ESQUIRE: What kind of golfer are you when you're having a miserable round?

STEPH CURRY: Well, it depends on if it's in [the NBA] season or out of season. Because in season, it's hard to have any bad day on the golf course—because you're just thankful that you can get to play face to face, get out and recharge. If it's in the middle of the summer and I'm having a bad day? A little refreshment is necessary. Maybe a little cigar out there.

What's the drink you can have a couple of but still golf?

I am not picky at all, but usually it's a little tequila soda. Let's just keep it clean.


I know you've golfed with Barack Obama over the years, but I can't exactly find the results of those matches. Who's winning and losing?

There's a reason for that! I think a couple times we've been on the same team. One time, we were on opposite teams. I think he's got a 2-1 lead on me overall. But our games are in different places so that's why you need your index out there, because we got to make sure that appropriate strokes get counted.

And just for the record, what's your handicap at the moment?

Currently it's +1, but the jury is out if I'm actually playing up to that. I had a really good summer though.

You wrote a children's book recently. The lesson of it is that you may simply be born into this world short, or small, or entering life on the back foot—and you can come back from that. Why do you think kids need to learn a hard lesson like that so early?

Life will teach you everything you need to learn and know—you just have to be open to what those lessons are, and not lose your confidence through them. But I attribute it to the underdog mentality that I've had in my entire life. Being a late bloomer; being the shortest, skinniest kid on teams that I played on when I was a kid. And trying to always compare yourself to the person to the left or right of you. [I wanted to] really break down the message that you are enough. Your gift is special and it's just about harnessing that and it'll take you places. That's not just a sports lesson. It’s a life lesson.

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Can you take me back to a time when you were really struggling with those lessons, and not feeling like you were enough?

In the youth team I was on, I didn't play at all. When people say they were on the end of the bench? I was on the last seat on the bench. I was confident in my abilities. I knew I could shoot but I didn't look the part. And part of that was a big reason why I didn't play. Because kids were a lot taller, stronger, faster than me—and I just really couldn't keep up. So at the time, I didn’t really know how to compartmentalize all those different emotions. But I was also patient. I could put in some really hard work and try to get better. And even when I did get my opportunity, I failed immediately and missed two big free throws to lose a 10-and-under national championship.

It’s like that feeling when you get hit by a pitch as a kid—and your face just wells up.

You're exploring the world, exploring yourself, and learning who you are on the fly. But like you said, all those problems seem like the world might be ending at times. You don't really have the perspective to go from. So yeah, it's part of the journey.

Earlier this week, Curry and Callaway Golf announced a multiyear extension of their partnership. Curry’s handicap nowadays? "currently it's +1," he says, "but the jury is out if i'm actually playing up to that."


Photo by Callaway.

Did your parents ever give you any tough love around that time—anything you maybe didn't want to hear at the time?

My mom gave me a… I call it a motivational speech, now. But it was exactly how you explained it—something I didn't want to hear at the time. She basically told me that nothing was going to be given to me. And that if I was passionate about basketball, and if I was passionate about anything else in life, then I would have to work my tail off to even just be decent at it, let alone be great at it. And if I could figure out how to embrace that, then she would do everything that she could to support me and help me through some of those ups and downs. But it wasn't going to be something where she could do the hard work for me, or my dad couldn't either. Nobody could do the work for me, I had to do it myself.

What incited that talk?

It was when I was 13, at an AAU game in Memphis, I think I had about 12 turnovers in the game, looking like I'd never played basketball before.

So what’s your shooting-slump cure, straight-up?

I think over time you realize your life can't be predicated on the results of basketball. So thankfully I've been blessed to have a great base in terms of how I spend my time off the court. Spending time with my wife or my kids, playing golf, watching movies. I don't play too many video games other than PGA Tour 2K23. All those things are consistent. No matter if I have successes or shooting slumps, I make sure those things are consistent so that I still find joy in those moments when things aren't going my way.

Why are you bringing up old stuff though, that's messed up!

Do you play as yourself in PGA Tour 2K?


That has to feel bizarre. Are you dressing yourself up in the game?

Well, I mean, they hooked it up. Because as the game comes out of the box, you got gear on there, you got the Callaway, you got the fresh beard. Everything is pretty smooth.

What does it feel like to lose to your brother?

I haven't felt that feeling too often.

From grade school to the NBA, what’s the hardest single-game loss you’ve ever had? Which one felt the worst after?


... Game 7 in 2016.

Yeah. I had to ask.

Yeah. That was probably the lowest feeling after a game, for sure. Why are you bringing up old stuff though, that's messed up!

People can read this and learn from it! Even non-athletes.

There weren't many learning lessons in that moment. The learning lessons came since then, in terms of recognizing how hard it is to do what we do every day, how hard it is to win at that level, and not taking anything for granted. But then also, the journey back to the mountaintop after you lose. Whether it's in Game 7 or whether it's in the play-in tournament, like we did two years ago. Whatever that loss is, you just find that reset—and then the climb back up is the hardest part.

I have, what, three championships since? And all the different things that have happened since then. The lessons are in those moments, not so much on that night when you're walking off the court.

What does Curry say is the worst loss he’s ever felt in his basketball career? You guessed it: 2016 Finals, Cleveland Cavaliers, Game 7.

Photo by Ezra Shaw//Getty Images.

And I'm sure, you being a leader, there's obviously an extra responsibility for you to pick yourself up quicker so you can help the other guys, right?

There is a lead-by-example mentality around that. All those things I just said, you have to embody it day in, day out. But yeah, I think that happens naturally. The way that I approach my sense of leadership and all that. It's not me having to walk in and give these big grand speeches and be kind of rah-rah and that. It's how you live that out on the daily. I enjoy that responsibility and that role that I have.

The last thing I wanted to ask you is: you've won four championships. In 50 years, if that's all you won, would you still feel happy and totally fulfilled with your career?

Tough question. I would say yes, but it doesn't change the fact that I want some more right now. Tough question to answer when you're in it. It's always the kind of thing that you have to balance feeling accomplished and content with what you've done, versus getting greedy with what you can accomplish going forward. So yeah. We'll follow up on that in 50 years.

FromEsquire US

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