Stares abound, everywhere he goes. Today is no different.
“Media day is always crazy, but I’ve never experienced it as the reigning champs,” Stephen Curry says with a laugh. “As I sit on the phone right now there are 10 cameras pointed at me off the corners of the court.”
That’s what happens when you win regular-season MVP and the NBA title in the same season. You get 10 cameras in your face at all times, plus an international tour with the trophy, appearances on every late night talk show, sneaker releases, video game parties, award shows and hundreds of media requests every day. Oh, and his second daughter, Ryan, was born over the summer, too.
“From the time last August when we won the World Championship for Team USA ’til June 16 celebrating the Finals, a lot has happened,” Curry says. It’s quite the understatement. “On and off the court, expanding my family too this summer with a new daughter, so, like, all this stuff is happening at once. I just try to stay appreciative and thankful for all the good stuff that’s going on. Obviously there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it, but it’s been a special year. I’ll remember it for a long time.”
His list of life achievements both personally and professionally over the last year alone probably deserves its own book. He was the overall leading vote-getter for the 2015 All-Star Game. His jersey overtook LeBron James’ as the top seller in the NBA. High school kids worship him. Old heads respect him. An Uber driver in Baltimore told us he owns six different pairs of Curry’s Under Armour sneakers. Curry is adjusting to a new class of superstardom. The kind where NBA players call you their favorite NBA player.
A couple days before the Lakers made Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, he stopped by to chat with us. We asked him to name his favorite player.
OK, which current NBA player do you liken your game to?
“Steph Curry,” Russell repeated. “I don’t want people to take it the wrong way when I say Steph,” he adds quickly, in case anyone thought he was promising to win an MVP any time soon, “but when he first came into the League, he wasn’t the player he is now, and I see similar characteristics on the floor.”
OKC Thunder rook Cameron Payne called Curry his favorite, too. In fact, only LeBron, KD and Kobe got more votes for favorite player than Curry on NBA.com’s annual Rookie Survey. And it’s not just rookies, either. In September, a fan tweeted Curry’s former Warriors teammate Jordan Crawford, asking him to name his favorite player in the L. “Right now gotta be Mr. Curry,” Crawford replied, before adding with the help of a few emojis, “Steph Curry is the only player around my age when I see play he makes me want to get in the gym immediately.”
Milwaukee Bucks point guard Greivis Vasquez, who worked out with Curry a few times before the Warriors made him the No. 7 pick in the 2009 Draft, echoes Sizzle’s sentiment. “Steph has become an idol for a lot of young kids, but also for a lot of guys in the League, too. I look up to Steph,” says Vasquez, who is a year older than Curry, “because at first, people were doubting him—‘Oh, he’s got an ankle problem,’ or about what he signed for. And then all of a sudden, he made himself into the player that he is right now.”
Seriously, it seems like everyone has a Steph Curry story. Raptors first-round pick Delon Wright met Curry when his brother Dorell was playing for the Warriors. He gushes remembering when Stephen would take time to chat with him during warmups back then, and now he admits “I’ve watched so much film on this guy.” Before doing battle as Western Conference foes, fellow UA endorsee and Spurs PG Patty Mills faced off against him in what would be the final game of Curry’s illustrious collegiate career.
Fifty years from now, when your kids’ kids read about Curry’s ascension to MVP and champion, it might make sense on paper: Former NBA player’s eldest son is better than he ever was. But when you look at Stephen Curry, at 6-3 and not even 190 pounds, dominating the 21st Century cyborgs that modern-day athletic training has produced, it’s astounding. So often our basketball heroes are just that: Superheroes. LeBron, KD, Anthony Davis. They’re athletic freaks of nature, born with one-in-a-million genes. You can’t dunk like LeBron, move like Durant does at 7-feet tall or stuff a puny drive like AD. Physically, Steph won’t ever either (“I don’t know,” he says, “maybe I’m finally hitting my growth spurt!”). But it doesn’t matter.
“The one word that comes up all the time is fearlessness,” says Mills. “The stature, and his size, he’s been told a lot of times that he can’t do it, but then he comes out and gets better. It’s like a beast has been awakened.”
Word up. Over 80 regular-season games in 2014-15, Curry averaged 23.8 points, 7.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and a career-high 2.0 steals per game, shooting 49 percent from the field, 44 percent from the three-point line and 91 percent from the free- throw line (best in the League). And the Warriors won 67 games, easily the NBA’s best record. In 21 more Playoff games en route to the title, he bumped his scoring to 28.3 ppg, while his other numbers hovered around the same. In the Finals, he guided the Dubs to a 4-2 series win over LeBron and the Cavs.
To get even nerdier, Curry finished last season with a usage rate over 25 percent, an assist rate over 35 percent and an offensive rating over 120, with a true shooting percentage over 60 percent. To put that in historical terms, the only other player to put together a season like that over the last 15 years is LeBron, who did so in 2012-13. Throw in Curry’s top-5 steals rate, and it’s one of the most well-rounded seasons ever, unique to him.
So with an MVP and a ring in the bag at 27, does he keep a running checklist of career accomplishments?
“Nah,” he says. “I don’t, really. I mean, it’s about winning. Like, whatever it takes to make that happen. For me, I don’t want to lose focus on what’s important. So yeah, winning MVP was amazing and something that I’ve worked really hard for. But that wasn’t the goal, to come into the season and say, I want to win MVP. You come into the season and say you want to be better than I was the year before, be smarter than I was the year before, more consistent than I was the year before. I think that’s the motivation I need to go out and play well every single night. I’m not really putting the pressure on myself to say, I need to go out and earn an MVP award. That’s where I lose focus, so that’s my approach. I think it helps me just stay in the moment.”
Every appropriate adjective in the English language—and probably others—has been used to described Curry’s game, in the pages of this magazine and others. They range from mesmerizing to unstoppable to revolutionary. Boil it down and it’s pretty basic: No player in the game today is more fun to watch flow. Look no further than the Dubs’ first pre-season game of their title defense, when against Toronto, Steph whipped the ball behind his back twice on a fast break, swung the ball, sprinted to the opposite corner, received a cross-court pass, launched a three and turned to dap up Andre Iguodala on the bench before the ball even went through the net. (Which it did, obviously.)
With his theatrics, Curry has become not only one of the three or four best players walking the planet, but a worldwide pop culture icon. Of all the opportunities that came his way post-Championship, Stephen points to his round of golf with President Barack Obama as the highlight. Nevermind that the rest of the foursome included his pops and Ray Allen.
(Recognize, dude played golf with Obama. Which means if you don’t like Stephen Curry, you’re not only a fun-hating loser with no appreciation for the aesthetic beauty of basketball, but you’re now officially an un-American fun-hating loser with no appreciation for the aesthetic beauty of basketball.)
Hitting the links with the POTUS was oddly appropriate, since Stephen and the Currys have quickly become the First Family of Basketball. There’s his father Dell, the OG who played for five NBA teams in the ’90s. There’s his younger brother Seth, who lit up Summer League and could finally break through with Sacramento this season. There’s his daughter Riley, who has almost as many fans as her dad, and who will probably run for President some day. His wife, mother and sister can’t be shown during a TV broadcast of one of Steph’s games without a flurry of Twitter screencaps accompanied by heart-eyes emojis. Everyone wants a piece of the Curry crew.
Like in September, when Curry—in the midst of a stretch that saw him travel from New York to Baltimore and back, then New York to North Carolina and back in a half week’s time—planned what he thought would be a low-key trip back to his alma mater, Davidson College, about 25 minutes outside Charlotte. The plan was to catch up with a few of his former coaches and teammates who still live or work in the area. But when word got around that he was scheduled to be in town, the school asked if Curry would mind doing a short Q+A with some students. Of course, Stephen obliged.
The event, scheduled for 11:30 on a Thursday, wasn’t announced until the night before, in hopes of keeping hordes of his fans around the state from descending on the typically quiet college campus. By 7 a.m. the next morning, there was already a line twisting out the door of the school’s Duke Family Performance Hall. And before he could even make his way from the parking lot across campus, Curry’s presence sent things into a frenzy. Flanked by security guards, including one assigned solely to protect the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and a shrieking herd of kids peppering him with pictures, it was like something out of a One Direction tour stop.
The fireside chat was hosted by Steve Rossiter, a teammate of Curry’s on the 2008 Davidson team that captured everyone’s imagination during March Madness by making the Elite Eight as a 10-seed. Curry reminisced about his early Davidson days (like his 13-turnover collegiate debut, a win) told stories from his celebratory summer and laughed as a group of girls in the front row playfully cheered his every response. Afterward, when Rossiter and the rest of Curry’s old bball buddies headed over to an on-campus cafeteria for lunch, he says so many people wanted face time, it took Steph 45 minutes just to take a bite of his food.
Global celebrity status notwithstanding, Rossiter insists that Curry is “the same exact person that he was when I first met him.” Steph’s just, you know, a little bit busier now.
“It’s like, is he gonna respond to my text or return Obama’s call?” says Rossiter, without even a faint hint of facetiousness, despite how ridiculous it may sound to say aloud about a kid whose oversized No. 30 Davidson jersey used to look so big on his tiny frame it almost resembled a cape. “It puts it in perspective when you’re around him again. He gets pulled in so many directions, and he has all these obligations now besides basketball, with sponsors and appearances. It amazes me every single time, just how much stuff he has on his plate, and how he handles himself.”
After the Finals, Curry called his trainer in Charlotte, Brandon Payne of Accelerate Basketball. Knowing the kind of summer he was about to endure, Curry told Payne he needed him to move out to the Bay for the offseason. So Payne packed up and headed west, tasked with keeping Steph’s basketball schedule on point throughout all the craziness that was to come.
“Sometimes I don’t even know how we fit them in. But we always find the time,” says Payne of the off-season workouts, which the pair have been doing together since linking up during the lockout in 2011. “Sometimes that’s at 6 o’clock in the morning, sometimes that’s at 10 o’clock at night. We find time to get on the court, to get in the weight room, no matter where we are.”
Payne even sent Curry detailed workouts to complete during his five-day UA promo trip in Asia. At times the workout plans are atypical, designed to include neuromuscular or cognitive benefits, because Payne says, Steph is too good at normal basketball drills.
“I have to come up with things to keep him engaged, because he masters things so quickly,” Payne admits. “It’s difficult to come up with enough things to keep him stimulated.
“With him, there really are no boundaries,” he adds, speaking in particular about his scoring ability. “He has such tremendous shooting mechanics and he has great balance, his hips are always in the right place. So for him it’s just really about trying to find that extra six inches to a foot to get an even cleaner look off, and doing it in different ways that defenders haven’t seen before.”
At one point during his visit to Davidson, he was asked about the single most creative play from his historic 2014-15 season, when he careened through traffic against the Clippers, dribbled backward, turned and fired what for any other player breathing would be as ill-advised a three-pointer as you can chuck up with plenty of time left on the shot clock. For Curry, it was pure cash. ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy called it “the greatest move I’ve ever seen.”
Curry re-traced his steps for the crowd but couldn’t explain the shot choice other than to say simply, “creativity got the best of me.”
It’s hard to contain the MVP’s creativity. That’s the terrifyingly fucked-up part for his opponents: Stephen Curry is going to get even better. Keep in mind, dude doesn’t even have a go-to move yet. But maybe he likes it better that way.
“I have some things that I do well, like a stepback and you know, pull-up threes and behind-the-backs, all that stuff, but I don’t really know if I have a signature move like, Alright give me the ball, I’m going to do this move. It’s all about just being creative,” says Steph. “You can always get creative, and I don’t know exactly what that will mean once I get out on the floor, what might come out.”
And like any supremely gifted artist at work, Curry is always drawing inspiration from others.
“I’m a fan of the game, so I watch everybody. I pulled a move from a high school kid that came to my camp this summer,” Curry says. “I’m always learning.”
That high school kid was Dennis Smith Jr, a five-star Class of 2016 NC State commit who attended Curry and Under Armour’s SC30 Select Camp. During 1-on-1 drills, Smith pulled a move combo that finished with a dunk so ferocious that Curry looked up from his phone, jumped off his perch on the baseline bleachers and demanded to see a replay from a nearby cameraman. A few weeks later, Steph busted out a series of mind-boggling new moves at Team USA Camp in Vegas—including a between-the-opponent’s legs dribble into a stepback jumper that he cannot be seriously thinking about busting out in an NBA game—and acknowledged they were inspired by Smith.
“It’s just little stuff like that,” Curry says. “Watching basketball, I can always pick up something, no matter who it is.”
This year, of course, all eyes will be on Curry and his Golden State teammates. Given the absurdity of his summer, Steph can’t wait. “I’m looking forward to the season to kind of slow down and be back in the grind of the day-to-day schedule of the League, practice and stuff like that,” he says. “I know there is going to be pressure. But my mentality doesn’t change, nor does my team’s mentality change. It’s not going to be easy, we’re going to get everybody’s best shot as the Champs. We’re sitting where everybody wants to be, so we have to keep that hunger and just take everything in stride this year. It’s not going to be a perfect journey, we know that.”
Abe Schwadron is the Managing Editor at numberFire and a former Senior Editor at SLAM.
Follow him on Twitter @abe_squad.