- NEW GROUND -

With a killer jumpshot, playground-ready handles and an ever-approachable demeanor, Stephen Curry has become this season's most valuable, and possibly most popular, player.
The Stephen Curry Experience, as far as research for this particular cover story, begins in earnest on the afternoon of January 8, in a very welcoming environment.

Bussed from nearby Oakland to Alameda on a coach that Under Armour has rented out for a few days, myself and some other basketball/sneaker writers arrive at St. Joseph Notre Dame High School as the cheerful, well-kept after-school crowd of students slowly disperses.

SJND is where masterful point guard Jason Kidd became a national name, leading the Pilots to state titles and leaving a mark that lives on in the stuffed trophy case just inside the door we walk through. One of Kidd's former teammates, Kris Stone, is now UA's Director of Sports Marketing for Basketball. These days, SJND wears Under Armour, as does Curry, so it's the perfect gathering place for today.

As the media and some kids linger in the St. Joe's gym, Stephen arrives through a backdoor. None of us are privy to his entrance, but I'm told that when the magnitude of the moment—quarterback of the best team in the NBA thus far and copping All-Star votes by the hundreds of thousands, Stephen is about to introduce that super-rare accoutrement to NBA stardom, an eponymous signature shoe—hits him, he wells up with tears.

I'll tell you this much: Based on how he acts over the next few hours, Stephen sure isn't here just to collect a check.

The Curry One is first unveiled to four kids from the Make-A-Wish Foundation the Warriors brought here and the gathered media (and by extension, the collective millions who follow us or our respective outlets on social media) by the comedian and Oakland native, Mark Curry (no relation to the star of the day) as well as UA's VP and Creative Director for Footwear, Dave Dombrow, at a wide table on a stage overlooking the basketball court.

Moments later, Stephen joins them with a grin as wide as the Golden Gate Bridge. I save my notes on his shoe comments for the sneaker sidebar in our new issue and hone in on whenever Stephen speaks about his basketball life—past, present and future.

As befits a player whose All-Star votes and jersey sales indicate that he's supplanted Kevin Durant and any other contenders as the game's second most-popular player after LeBron James (Kobe obviously has his loyalists, but he's viewed more like a retiree at this point), Curry's story should read familiar by now.

His father, Dell, was a 16-year NBA veteran, known for knocking down threes so proficiently that he didn't need to do much more to earn his keep. Dell made 1,245 triples in his career, which is still good for top-40 all time, and in the '93-94 season, with a 6-year-old Stephen watching as many games as possible, Dell averaged 16.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists while playing all 82 games for the Charlotte Hornets.



"It's been a fun ride so far. Obviously I grew up in the game with my dad playing in the League," says the 6-3, 190-pound Curry, who honestly doesn't even seem that big in person. "You would think that I'd have an easy path to follow in his footsteps and play the game. To see him play and grow up in the gym was great, but a lot of things didn't go my way early in my career. Getting to the high school level and trying to overcome physical limitations with my size and what people thought of me, it was just a lot of hard work. I'm blessed from up above and with family support, and that motivated me to keep going. I'm just trying to write my own story, and this is the best part so far. I've overcome a lot, a lot of critics that didn't think I could make it on this level. I'm just trying to keep my head up and keep working."

Indeed, as Stephen has said many times, despite an all-state high school career at Charlotte Christian, he could not get scholarship offers from high-major college programs (not even Dell's alma mater, Virginia Tech).

When nearby Davidson did offer him a scholarship to ball, Stephen took it, and instantly set about turning the small, liberal-arts college into a mid-major powerhouse. After three seasons of scaring college basketball's goliaths with his version of a slingshot (quickly released three-pointers that were consistently wet anywhere from 20 to 30 feet away), Stephen entered the 2009 NBA Draft.

Despite his slight build, Curry quickly showed he had the skills to make it in the A, averaging 17.5 ppg and finishing second in ROY voting. His sophomore season saw him up his per-game stats, win the Skills Challenge at All-Star Weekend, win the NBA Sportsmanship Award and set the Warriors' single-season record for free-throw percentage (93.4). It was a whole lot of niceness, really. Nice shooting form, nice player, nice attitude. But the Warriors weren't very good and, nationally at least, few people noticed what Curry was up to. Year three of his career is when ankle injuries started to plague him, and even in year four (2012-13), he was still a guy knocking down threes somewhat in oblivion. Fantasy owners loved him as long as he was healthy, but, per SLAM friend Julie Phayer of the Warriors, Curry received just 169,000 All-Star votes that season. (He received 1,470,483 this year.)

On the court, he improved across the board last season, and, through this season's first 46 games, he's been the MVP, averaging 23.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 8.2 apg and 2.2 spg while shooting mind-bending percentages from every key distance: 48.5 from the floor, 91.5 from the line and 39.4 from three-point range. Traditional fans love him because he's so fun to watch; statheads love him because he plays smart and can play fast and slow (so far this year, usually fast for the high-flying Warriors).

So, what happened? Besides getting the ankle healthy and improving his confidence with the help of Mark Jackson, who was the Dubs' head coach from '11-14, Curry's game also benefitted from an NBA that is changing right before our eyes.

Take it from Mark Price, who in my mind is the closest thing I've seen to Curry as far as a point guard with great handles and passing ability who was also an absolutely knock-down jump shooter. Price had his own share of health issues, but when he was on and had the green light, the 6-0 G who spent most of his career as a Cavalier was a four-time All-Star prone to electrifying scoring binges. Price spent a year as Dell's teammate, a player-development coach for the Warriors during Stephen's rookie year and is now a full-time assistant for the Hornets. SLAM caught up with him before we flew out to Oakland.

"When I first came into the League, point guards were pass-first guys in the mold of a Maurice Cheeks, or someone like that who were great players but not necessarily scorers," recalls Price. "You didn't have to work quite as hard on the defensive end to stop them, because they weren't scoring 20 points per game. Then we started to have guys like Tim Hardaway, Kevin Johnson, Gary Payton, and it seemed like the evolution started at the point guard position. You began to see more and more guys come into the League with the ability to score and stretch the floor and use the three-point line. As the point guard position has evolved over the last 20 years, it's such a scoring position now. Steph is obviously number one at that—he's such a good shooter, so much attention has to be paid to him defensively it makes the game easier for his teammates."

It's been a perfect storm, in other words. "The thing with Stephen," continues Price, "is that he puts so much pressure on the defense when he has the ball in his hands because you have to play him for his shot first. That really affects the defense. Whether that's coming off the pick-and-roll, coming down the floor, you have to spend so much time focused on him it really opens everything up for his teammates. It makes the game a lot easier for them because there is so much focus put on trying to slow Steph down."

That ease has led to open shots for his backcourt mate Klay Thompson, and ample room for crafty, skilled teammates like Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala to operate. The result is a flourishing, non-stop attack, which has had fans salivating and opponents reeling. As this story went live, the Warriors are 37-8 and looking every bit like Title contenders. And he is not shying away from that.

"I'm just trying to write my own story, and this is the best part so far. I've overcome a lot, and a lot of critics that didn't think I could make it on this level. I'm just trying to keep my head up and keep working."



"I've had some great things happen individually, with three-point records and the World Cup, but the next step is winning an NBA championship, which is everyone's dream," Curry says. "That is what we're working for and hopefully on track to get. That's the mission and that's the plan."

After the group interview winds down, the assembled media gets to "play" in the Curry One. Rather than run for his life, Stephen chills, sharing small talk with the kids and UA staffers around, then serving as a ref for some of our pick-up runs. Then he plays knockout with us. All of this is done with the same wide smile he's sported since he arrived. Like I said, dude is enjoying the moment.

If SJND is a gym Stephen is just renting for a day, Oracle Arena is a gym he owns. The day after the shoe release, UA brings us out to Oracle for the Cavs-Warriors game so we can see SC in action. They call it #WarriorsGround, but this place is really Stephen's House.

With LeBron out, Curry is clearly the best player on the floor, dictating tempo, playing both ends and making sure to quell any Cleveland runs with a big shot. He goes for 23 points and 10 assists as the Dubs roll to a 112-94 win; nothing that hasn't been happening almost every game this season, in other words.

The story of the night is arguably the return of Jackson, who is in town to call the game for ESPN, and seems equal parts happy and sad that the team he helped build is now looking like the best in the League. Jax subjects himself to no q+a's with the press, but he knows why I'm in the building and makes a point to say, "Everything that Stephen is getting right now...it couldn't happen to a better guy."

Twelve hours after Stephen, the players, fans and media file out of Oracle, he strolls into Kezar Pavilion, an ancient gym located in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Stephen is here to film a dope Foot Locker spot that plays off his crazy three-point shooting. I'm here to observe whatever the shoot director allows me to.

Once again, the star of the show is happy and professional, making fans of actors and PAs who are used to dealing with less-pleasant types. From here, Stephen will roll right to the airport and fly to Seattle to see his beloved Carolina Panthers in the NFL Playoffs. He'll pose for pics and smile all day long...save for when the Panthers struggle and the Seahawk fans get rowdy with him. Either way, his status at the end of this Curry One unveiling weekend is obvious: In a matter of months, Stephen has graduated into the realm of global superstar, and he's going to (humbly) enjoy the perks that come with that status.

The Stephen Curry Experience, as far as research for this particular cover story, ends the night before this story goes to print, with the Warriors playing the Rockets on ESPN.

Having been focused on Stephen since I was in Cali, the game provides a perfect bookend. Golden State and Houston have had a pretty intense rivalry the last few seasons. Now the Dubs are increasingly seen as a Title favorite. The Rockets remain in the "contender" club. There's talk of James Harden, who recently said the Warriors "aren't that good," being the MVP over Curry. Oracle is again rocking. The game gets chippy, with Trevor Ariza bumping Curry hard heading to a timeout. All game long, Curry goes nuts. He makes some circus shots, talks shit to Houston, laughs it up with Green and has a grand old time. All while dropping his now-customary 22 and 10 while his team put up a now-customary 126 and the Rockets managed just 113. The win gives the Dubs a 4-0 season sweep of Houston and pushes their record to 34-6 (19-1 at home).

As Curry says after the game, "You can try that stuff but it won't take us out of our rhythm. You almost kind of expect it because we want to play well and be aggressive and dominate games."

The message I'm left with after these few weeks is this: Off the court, Stephen can kill you with kindness. On it, he can kill you with pure basketball skills that are tailor-made for this era. And if you test him, he'll switch gears with a toughness that, for some reason, you still didn't know he had.

—Additional reporting by Brendan Bowers


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