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Golden State Warrior Steph Curry speaks to the media after a 106-105 win over the Toronto Raptors in Game 5 of the NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. Curry can’t shine on the basketball court, but he found a way to do it on Instagram this week.

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

With the sports world at a standstill, sharp-shooting NBA star Steph Curry can’t shine on the basketball court, but he found a way to do it on Instagram this week.

There are plenty of pro athletes posting PSA’s on social media about the importance of hand washing or physical distancing to stunt the spread of COVID-19. But the Golden State Warriors superstar point guard stood out from the pack on Thursday when he took to Instagram for his own live Q & A with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading expert on infectious disease in the United States.

It provided a different look at the silky-shooting three-time NBA champion and six-time all-star who has 29.8 million followers on Instagram. The live shot showed Curry, at home like everyone else, dressed down in a grey hoodie, huddled over his phone, thirsting for the latest information about the global pandemic.

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The rich and famous athlete, who has answered thousands of interview questions in his career, was this time the interviewer. Curry aimed to separate fact from fiction and reach a younger audience that may not be consuming news from traditional sources.

The Warriors confirmed that the idea for the live Q&A came from Bryant Barr, Curry’s close friend and former teammate at Davidson College. Barr acts as president of SC30 Inc., a company the two started to handle Curry’s off-court business portfolio. They reached out to Fauci.

Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, has become a trusted voice on the pandemic and speaks in a matter-of-fact way – and not just to major networks and newspapers. The 79-year-old director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases hits younger audiences with a reality check, through interviews on the likes of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah or the Barstool Sports podcast Pardon My Take.

“One of the reasons that I wanted to have this Q&A, was to hopefully reach a different demographic, because we’ve seen the visuals of people at the beach, or the parks, at crazy public gatherings and not really adhering to that social-distancing concept,” said Curry, kicking off the chat that drew 50,000 live viewers.

The hoops star fumbled through a few technical hiccups while getting the doctor on the line as live questions from fans flooded onto the screen along with hearts and emojis. Curry grinned with relief as Fauci finally appeared. The now-familiar silver-haired doctor from White House news briefings and countless interviews struck a more casual look for this conversation – suit jacket off, and sitting in an office in front of a wall packed with framed photos and a small basketball hoop.

“I like that background,” the Warriors guard said with a laugh, as he repeatedly thanked Fauci for making the time to talk.

For 28 minutes, Curry tossed questions at Fauci about the fast-spreading virus. The doctor provided digestible answers as Curry leaned in intently.

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Fauci explained that COVID-19 is “10 times more serious” than the flu, pointing out that the overall mortality of influenza is about 0.1 per cent compared to 1 per cent to 3 per cent for this novel coronavirus.

He predicted that regular daily life could start to resume when the current sharp upward trajectory of cases turns downward. He stressed that those with mild symptoms should not go to the hospital, but isolate at home and call a doctor for instructions. Fauci said the virus could come back next year, but the world would be better prepared for it, and possibly closer to a vaccine that is currently in testing. He stressed that young, healthy people are not immune to this and should also be physically distancing.

“What we are starting to see is that there are some people that were younger people – your age, young, healthy vigorous – who don’t have any underlying conditions who are getting seriously ill. It is still a very, very small minority. But it doesn’t mean that young people like yourself should say, I’m completely exempt,” Fauci told Curry.

“One, you need to protect yourself because you’re not completely exempt from serious illness. But two, you can become the vector, or the carrier of infection where you get infected, you feel well, and then you inadvertently and innocently pass it onto your grandfather or your grandmother or your uncle who’s on chemotherapy for cancer."

Several celebrities were among those viewing the live Instagram Q&A, including Barack Obama, NBA player Andre Iguodala, pop star Justin Bieber and rapper Common.

“Listen to the science,” Obama posted in the comments. “Do your part and take care of each other. Thank you, Steph and Dr. Fauci.”

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Viewers posted hundreds of questions in hopes they might be asked, and added comments such as “Steph Curry is my president”, “Fauci 2020” and “thank you Jesus for accurate information.”

Curry had done his research before the interview. He humbly admitted what he didn’t know, and sometimes packed several questions into one. Fauci organized the questions into simplified bits and complimented the basketball star for his smarts.

Curry acknowledged that he himself had flu-like symptoms two days before the NBA shut down and was tested right away for COVID-19. However, the test was negative. He asked if one can get infected more than once with this virus.

“We haven’t done a specific testing to determine that,” Fauci said. “But if this acts like every virus ... the chances are overwhelming, that if you get infected and recover from the infection that you are not going to get infected with a same virus. You can then safely go out into the community and feel immune. Get back to work. Get back to your job, but you’ll be able to have what you refer to as herd immunity.”

In a Twitter post on Friday, Barr said the live Q&A and its archived version have already been viewed for more than 40,000 hours across Curry’s social channels. He called it “a monumental day in the fight against COVID-19. @StephenCurry30’s chat w/ Dr. Fauci presented facts that were easy to digest for everyone.”

In Canada, Olympic hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser is playing a similar messenger role on social media. Wickenheiser, who works in player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs while juggling medical school, is working to dispense accurate information about COVID-19 directly from her colleagues practising medicine to her 73,000 Twitter followers.

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The six-time Olympian and member of the IOC’s Athlete’s Commission is posting to celebrate the work of her medical colleagues and to illuminate the harsh realities of their supply shortages and long hours. She’s also host of live Instagram events on the weekends, talking about everything from hockey to coronavirus.

In both cases, young, bright influential athletes are working to show their supporters truth over fiction.

As Curry was winding down his live chat, he asked Fauci what he really wants people to know. The doctor said he doesn’t want people to be scared to death, but he also wants people to believe the world is dealing with a very serious problem.

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