“If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.”—Wilbur Wright, as quoted in David McCullough, The Wright Brothers (2015)
Winning the Powerball jackpot. Becoming President of the US. Getting killed in a shark attack. Sorry to break the news, but the odds are long that any of these things will happen to anyone reading this piece. And, given my readers, I should perhaps add that the odds of any young man making it to the NBA are incredibly long as well. Just saying.
The above considerations make the fact I will discuss below—coincidence or otherwise—seem equally implausible. First, however, a quick readers’ survey: Who are the top two players in the NBA this season? Cases can be made for a handful of stars, including Anthony Davis, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Other players—Kevin Durant, Paul George and maybe even Andre Drummond—might even get some support as well. Dollars to donuts, though, most people this year would have LeBron James and Stephen Curry at the top of the list in some order.
Here’s where it gets fun. What are the chances that the two best players in the game (LeBron and Stephen) would both be born in the same middle-sized city Midwestern city—Akron, OH—within the span of a few years in the 1980s? Quite small, I’d wager, especially with Akron losing over 6 percent of its population during the decade of the 1980s. Is there a statistician in the house?
To be sure, this is kind of a trick question. As most of the basketball world knows, King James is Akron through and through, having been born there in late December 1984, and having famously played his high school ball in Akron at St. Vincent-St. Mary before becoming the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.
Curry is the trickier case. He was born in Akron in March 1988, late in his father Dell Curry’s first and only season playing for the Cavs in nearby Cleveland. Dell Curry enjoyed a distinguished sixteen-year career in the NBA, most of it with the Charlotte Hornets, where he played from 1988-89 through 1997-98. The Curry family moved to Charlotte after the 1987-88 season, and young Stephen spent most of his youth in the Charlotte area, playing high school ball at Charlotte Christian, then attending Davidson College just outside of Charlotte before heading to the NBA as a first-round pick of Golden State in 2009.
The rest is history, as they say, for both James and Curry. The circumstances of their births and early family lives were certainly different—James was born to a 16-year-old single mom and Curry was born into a two-parent family and his father played in the NBA—but they both began life in Ohio, just as Wilbur Wright advised. In the same city at that.
Peter A. Coclanis teaches history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He is a hoops fan and sometimes writes about basketball.