Fatherhood In the NBA Has Come a Long Way Since the Jordan Era
Today’s NBA stars are less “like Mike” and more public with their children
The current generation of NBA stars boasts dynamic athletes who inspire excellence through impressive talent, just like generations of hoopers before them. But one thing that has changed in the league, and significantly, is the role fatherhood plays. The league today is filled with proud Black fathers, men who don’t hesitate to bring their children into the spotlight with them.
We think of the late Kobe Bryant as Gianna “Mambacita” Bryant’s father, and Steph Curry as scene-stealer Riley’s dad. Dwyane Wade openly expresses love for Zaya at every turn. Yet, as The Last Dance unwittingly showed over the past five weeks, tremendous Black NBA stars rarely allowed themselves to be proud Black dads publicly.
In the late 1980s and ’90s, Michael Jordan’s superstardom couldn’t help but affect his relationship with his children — not just as a father on the road for months at a time, not just as a man with a notoriously tireless work ethic and competitive drive, but as an icon whose impact couldn’t help but create expectations for his kids. During his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, Jordan turned to three of his children and said, “You guys have a heavy burden. I wouldn’t want to be you guys if I had to.”
We’ve evolved past the need for players to be presented as cyborgs. They can now, quite literally, embrace their humanity.
During that era, could someone simultaneously be considered the best basketball player on earth, an endorsement-deal king, and father of the year all at once? Not quite.
Now skip ahead two decades to the 2015 NBA Finals. The league’s newly crowned MVP, Steph Curry, was busy helping his team to its first title in 40 years, but in a postgame press conference, another new star emerged. Curry’s daughter Riley, two years old at the time, interrupted the humdrum postgame sports-speak, told her father to be quiet, and curiously wandered the press conference staging area. Yes, Chef Curry became the most popular player in the league that year — but that moment made…