The NBA provided Stephen Curry with cover on the North Carolina anti-anti-discrimination bill Thursday night, and Curry happily took it.
Put simply, the NBA has recoiled at the passage of House Bill 2, which forbids any city in North Carolina to enact any statute forbidding discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people. The bill passed and has received the signature of compliant governor Pat McCrory.
And when we say “recoiled,” we mean “subtly threatened to take away the 2017 All-Star Game.”
Thus, the news marched boldly up to Curry’s doorstep Friday, given the fact that he is a proud citizen of North Carolina as well as a figure of cultural import (hey, we as a nation want the opinions of jump shooters; what do you want from us?), and he gave the standard careful Curryesque answer – which is, “I’ll answer it when I have to answer it."
What he did was focus on the carrot, the All-Star Game, rather than the stick.
“I know the NBA has a stance on equality and incorporating all beliefs and people from all sorts of backgrounds. It’s interesting how that intersection is, with the state law and the NBA having an event there.
“Hopefully ... the right things need to happen, that the All-Star Game stays in Charlotte, because that would be huge for the city. And being from there, I think this will be the second time it’s been there. It would be (something) just to show what Charlotte’s all about, regardless of where you fall on that law. So, hopefully, they can figure it out and keep it there because I think it’s really important for the city of Charlotte and I’m sure we can figure that out."
In even responding, he made a stronger statement than any that Michael Jordan, who interestingly is the operating boss of the Charlotte Hornets, has ever made on any subject. Jordan is well known for having ducked any political issue in his time as a player or executive, and House Bill 2 could turn out to be a direct knee to his groin if Adam Silver and the other owners decide to carry out their threat.
Curry’s remarks, though, were based on his own careful view of (a) his image and (b) his economic influence. A recent ESPN story by Sherwood Strauss pointed out how he became the power behind the growing Under Armour empire, so his political choices become corporate choices as well.
He was aggressive, if understated, when the Donald Sterling issue bloomed into disaster two years ago, being perfectly willing to help shepherd a players’ boycott if the NBA didn’t punish/suspend/extract Sterling from ownership.
In addition, he is positioned to be a voice of and with the players’ union if and when the negotiations for the upcoming collective bargaining agreement start to boil. LeBron James and Chris Paul have already shown signs of wanting to be involved in the process, and Curry will be as involved as he chooses to be.
But the North Carolina issue has forced itself upon him by virtue of his home, his parents’ home, his popularity in the state that houses his alma mater, and the fact that he is now one of the nation’s most recognizable celebrities. His silence speaks as much as his choice of words, and he has a hard decision to make.
To take up causes, or ignore them. To be a voice, or to be a mute.
You see, we are an odd nation (let us count the ways) in that we want our athletic celebrities to speak up on social issues, until the moment they do. At that point, the always popular meme “stick to sports” comes into play for anyone who voices an opinion that doesn’t mesh with that of the person who hears it. This works at both ends of the political spectrum, and in our current state of toxicity, silence is also adjudged to be a statement for whomever is hearing it.
Most of the time, an athlete gets to make that choice to speak or not, and reaps the whirlwind based on that choice. Stephen Curry doesn’t get that choice, not any more. He will be asked because, certainly in this case, he doesn’t get to not be asked. A statement was demanded of him, and he chose to be as careful as he could without actually being forced into an actual commitment for or against the proposition.
In other words, he decided to let the NBA do what it will do about House Bill 2. He decided not to become the guy who gets yelled at to “stick to sports.” He decided to bide his time on actually expressing a direct opinion. He decided, in sum, to be neither silent nor vocal, and while the short-term value in that is obvious, the longterm danger is equally evident. At some point, a person of his throw-weight has to stand for something and do it where others can see, or forever be branded as someone who ducked his duty.