As much as we can visualize it, “stage left” has always been a secret. To some it’s a physical place – to others a mindset. Hazy eyes see soul-less stagehands dressed in black, with intrusive headsets attached to their scalps. On the other side, this is where life begins for the bold – a factory of mustering up greatness, fine-tuned for the masses. This doesn’t take place front of a microphone or beneath the beacon of white hot lights. No, the real action takes place just to the left, stage left… where Riley Curry waits.
The daughter – the miniaturized version of her father and her father’s father. She isn’t Riley Curry unless she’s those things first – a fact Riley is constantly reminded of. Moments before going to the podium, Riley clings to her father’s hand. As she glances up at our Most Valuable Player, his eyes gaze out into the crowd. Stephen Curry is present but he isn’t there.
“It’s a secret… a thin line” Riley says.
That thin line Riley speaks of is an ever-changing boundary between being present and being there. She’ll continue to hold on to her father’s hand because he needs her more than he knows. Not many have that kind of power over reigning MVPs but Riley does. Imagine the living breathing contradiction of a rodeo bull – deadly and confined. It’s no coincidence that Riley’s favorite animal is a cow. She needs her father as much as he needs her. And as they prepare to walk on stage, her hand clasped to his, she wonders if this hand is guiding her forward or holding her back. One thing is very clear to Riley…
“It’s a waste of time to even ask,” Riley says after Wednesday night’s festivities. “To live in a moment is about being in the now – not in the past or the future. It is what it isn’t.”
Her presence being debated cuts deeper than we know. Early this year, ESPN analyst Brian Windhorst called for the NBA to put an end to Riley’s place at the podium. “Antics” he calls it – something Riley can’t say without a grin on her face. Windhorst claims that she makes it difficult for him to do his job – that Riley Curry is a distraction.
“Think about it.” says Bob Costas of NBC Sports. “You’ve got this person who – her entire life she’s being whittled down to nothing but a daughter and now… she’s less than that. She’s your distraction.”
“He means well,” Riley says of Windhorst. “They all do.”
As the national debate thrusts onward, Riley is learning the true meaning of celebrity. Though her supporters outnumber the opposition 1,000 to 1, it’s those who fight against Riley that scream loudest. How is it that one voice can soar across stars and clouds, above all other statements of reason, to land and erupt like a volcano in a sea of compliments, creating a land mass of hate? How?
Those who have no idea offer Riley wet paper advice. She’s always been told to treat the hate as white noise. Riley never understood the concept.
“White noise is still noise. Like, you still hear it, right?” she says.
Riley recalls the last time her father approached the podium. She was waiting in the hallway just outside. He had caved under the pressure of public opinion, something Riley considered unlike him. Much like his sure fire 3-point shot, Steph Curry’s moral compass was rarely shaken. Riley’s father, as she knew him, had more respect for himself than this – or so she thought.
“Another point nobody ever brings up is the losses,” says ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan. “Steph is proud to parade her during a win but he dare not bring her up during a loss. Is that love unconditional?”
As she sits on the cusp of her lowest moment, “Uptown Girl” by Billie Joel begins playing in the hallway. As Riley hums along to a song she doesn’t know that well, she’s suddenly struck with a sense of service. She looked up at her father – smiling for the men and women asking empty questions for their ‘stories.’ Riley has a story too, now. It’s a short one and the title is simple… “Duty.”
Despite all the negative weight, Riley and her father stand hand-and-hand. There is no mention of the last presser, in which Steph approached the stage as a lone sheep. What was the point? The audience doesn’t care. The world doesn’t care. Riley, like a soldier, marches forward – three little steps for every one of her father’s – all to offer the support he needs but may not deserve. This is the life that was handed to Riley Curry.
“She’s soft. Kids back then would’ve demanded respect,” says TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal.
At the end of the day, the bits were done well. Riley did all the things we expected – she interrupted her father, roared in the microphone, walked through curtains, and crawled under the table. She didn’t have a choice. This was the will of the people. Riley is acting as middle management of the adorable, just punching the clock when it’s her time. Much like an acting president, she sees the lie that is personal choice and power.
“I couldn’t do it” says President Barack Obama.
Fulfilling expectations can be difficult with a face like Riley’s. It’s the perfect combination of ornery and cute. She didn’t ask for this responsibility. It is her blessing and her curse – a real life super power.
“Super power? More like infectious disease. Look at this,” says Riley, pointing to her cheeks. “Watch when I spin like this or jump up and down with my tongue out like this. You can’t resist that.”
That was all the time we had with Riley. As she unhooks her lapel mic and takes a drink of her lime-flavored La Croix, she exhales. Onto the next checkpoint. And just as she turns around, Riley says something so subtle – a simple rule of thumb yet a spot-on explanation of her relationship with her father and the world at large:
“I’m blessed. Ya know?”
We don’t know, Riley. And perhaps we never will.
*Editor’s Note: Obviously not real. Can’t believe I’m required to do this.