The NBA Finals will get underway on June 4, to the ecstasy of millions of basketball fans. Sports writers and commenters will bask in the glow of basketball analysis while die-hards will engage in banter in locales ranging from barber shops to workplaces. Much of the deserved hoopla and praise will center on two of the greatest b-ball savants of our time: LeBron James and Stephen Curry.
But the games being played on the hardcourt will serve as a backdrop to more serious matters. As America confronts whether Black lives truly matter in protests and shutdown actions carried out on the streets from Oakland to Cleveland, the larger meaning of Stephen Curry and LeBron James should be examined in this moment.
Both James and Curry are shining examples of Black men serving as active, loving fathers in the public sphere. In an age where conservatives and liberal proponents of respectability politics alike pin Black pathologies on the absence of Black fathers in the household, James and Curry should be lauded and celebrated for promoting by way of example how Black men can support and raise our children.
But even when superstars such as LeBron and Stephen proudly display their roles as fathers, their behaviors are policed and scrutinized by white society. Sports reporter Brett Frielander and sports commentator Skip Bayless both found it necessary to tweet that Riley Curry shouldn’t be at after game pressers so reporters could do their jobs. Sports reporter Brian Windhorst joined in on the action and sports talk jock Colin Cowherd opened his mouth to state: “Steph Curry was great, I came in this morning and you couldn’t use any of [his press conference] because his kid was yapping in the background.”
Sports analyst Ric Bucher tweeted:
The USA Today found it necessary to ask the entire country a question of great importance: “Should NBA players be allowed to bring kids to press conferences?” Apparently, the larger society should have a vote and voice in deciding how Black fathers choose to be involved in their children's lives. This insanity even extends to Bay Area high school teacher Matt Amaral, who attempted to explain why he doesn’t want Steph Curry to visit his high school. In a post that since went viral, Amaral blogged:
“Your father Dell Curry was an NBA great just like you are after him, but you will not remind the poor kids at my school that they have never had such a wonderful instructor and they never will.”
Not only does Amaral ignore the fact that many NBA players made it to the League without a strong father (like, ahem, LeBron James), Amaral ignored the fact that before he published his blog entry, Steph Curry very publicly and emotionally spoke about his father during his MVP acceptance speech and alluded to difficulties in his relationship with his father when he stated: “A lot of people thought I had it easy with Pops playing in the NBA…but it was an interesting journey.” Basically, it’s quite possible that Stephen Curry could convey to Amaral’s students that Black boys can grow up and do succeed even when our fathers are absent or less than perfect.
In many ways, Dell Curry did exactly what many Black fathers aspire to do: Obtain the means to provide the best in life for their children with the advantages we have accrued in our lifetime precisely so that our children are “born with silver balls” and can avoid the soul-snatching dangers of living in hyper-segregated, disinvested, and redlined communities.
Every American should be celebrating that LeBron and Steph are making fatherhood cool. James has talked at length in multiple venues about the joys of being of father and the pain of being fatherless. Stephen Curry has also let the world know how he is a proud father. But in our country, it’s more socially and politically convenient to continue to berate and belittle Black men as a whole for not being there for our children even though the CDC researchers have found that: “By most measures, black fathers are just as involved with their children as other dads in similar living situations—or more so…”.
Data reveal that Black men are every bit as engaged as fathers as those from other racial/ethnic backgrounds—Stephen Curry, LeBron James, and other NBA players are a testament to this fact. In fact, we can argue that Steph and LeBron provide evidence of the fact that Black men are more engaged with their children in some ways. When’s the last time you seen a white athlete bring their children to their pressers and hold their children in their laps?
Although the New York Times makes splashy headlines with articles entitled “1.5 Million Missing Black Men,” research such as the CDC’s counters the myth that Black men are absent from the lives of our children. Black men are active and engaged in the lives of their children in spite of tremendous odds. We’re raising our sons, loving our daughters, cherishing the mothers of our children, and building our communities. We don’t always get it right. We live, we love, we lose, we learn. We fall, but we rise.
Stephen Curry and LeBron James are living proof.