I'm currently reading the book "The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Heads of Basketball's Best Players" by Idan Ravin, a lawyer turned basketball trainer, and he has a full chapter on Steph that I thought everyone would enjoy. The whole book is stories of how he got into the industry and working out with different players (Durant, Kobe, Curry, CP3, etc) and is a pretty interesting read. Not the best book from a reading standpoint and it does come off as a bit self congratulating, but its still interesting as a basketball fan. I actually decided to get it after this instagram post from Curry.
Anyway, here's the chapter on Steph:
"Strike while the iron is hot."
Did I just say that? I wondered, slightly embarrassed.
I try to avoid contrived motivational-speak, yet I dropped this cliché on the college All-American I’d just met, standing at the doorway to the Charlotte Bobcats locker room.
Stephen Curry had recently finished his amazing run through the NCAA tournament in his sophomore year, scoring thirty against Gonzaga, twenty-five against Georgetown, thirty-three against Wisconsin, and twenty-five more while his Davidson team lost to Kansas in the NCAA Regional Finals. His memorable performance widened his NBA appeal, and now he’d have to decide whether to skip his last two years of eligibility and take a leap of faith before the deadline to enter the draft.
"I still want to develop as a point guard," he said. "I agree, and you will, but you’re already sitting at the top."
Looking at his life from the outside, I saw all the things that could go wrong for him during another year of college basketball—injuries, poor play, gimmicky defenses—and little that could make his draft stock any hotter than it was right now. But Steph didn’t think the time was right, staying at Davidson for his junior year before taking the plunge. I assume faith had something to do with his decision.
When we connected again a year later, it was for longer than a few seconds. He had recently relocated to Washington, DC, to prepare for the NBA draft based on the recommendation of a mutual friend of ours, Tim Fuller, Chris Paul’s former college assistant coach. Steph’s family came with him to the gym on our first day. My overprotective parents would have done the same, so I appreciated their involvement in their twenty-one-year-old son’s life. His father stood at one stairwell while his mother sat at another, holding a small hardbound version of what I guessed were the scriptures because of the cross engraved on the cover. Every athlete I had worked with to date found comfort in the heavens, and I assumed Stephen was raised with a heavy dose of religion.
He already did everything well, probably because his father, a former NBA player, exposed him early to the game. Steph relied on a quick unorthodox push release, clever ball fakes, awkward finishes at the rim, and, like a squatter, could find open space on the court left unattended by defenders. Unorthodox players like Steph have an edge.
Think of basketball in terms of music theory. Rhythm consists of sounds and silence organized to form a pattern. There may be a steady beat, but there can also be different kinds of beats that are stronger, longer, shorter, or softer than others. Now consider the rhythm of a ball from the moment it leaves a player’s fingers to when it ricochets off the floor and returns to his hand, and the subsequent beats created whenever the ball strikes the ground. The rhythm, meter, and beat of this dribble will change, depending on the force exerted on the ball, the movement of the feet, and the angle of the hand—like slicing a tennis or golf ball. A player can create rhythm and beat from the most ordinary movement, such as striding to the basket for a layup. He picks up his dribble to attack open space, plants his lead foot, sweeps the ball from one side to the other to create momentum, and takes one last step before thrusting his body upward—collectively, the time it takes represents rhythm, while every step toward the basket forms an independent beat, which all could change, depending on his speed and where he places his foot and the ball.
Talent and experience enable NBA players to measure rhythm and beat subconsciously and use them to anticipate their opponents’ movement. Steph’s unorthodoxy would be vital to his success against defenders who might move quicker or jump higher; if he could disrupt an opponent’s ability to anticipate, it would gain him the fraction of a step he needed to get to the basket or free himself for a shot. We deconstructed Steph’s strengths and then showcased them in an unorthodox way, like preparing a chicken Caesar salad but stationing the perfectly prepared chicken, lettuce, anchovies, croutons, and dressing independently around the plate. He learned to alter the velocity of the ball to change its beat, shoot with either hand to alter movement patterns, and release the ball off either foot to prevent defenders from timing their jump. We focused on playing the game as expected, with proper footwork and mechanics, then as unexpected, with purposefully errant footwork and mechanics. He surprised me with how quickly he integrated the new material into his game, so I arranged for him to travel with me and train alongside other NBA All-Stars, such as KD, Melo, Joe Johnson, and CP.
During Steph’s draft preparation, NBA teams called me to amass intel on his character, work ethic, and ability. I didn’t see him as a typical rookie; I thought he would transition seamlessly to the league. After witnessing his father play more than a decade of pro ball, Steph was already socialized to the NBA experience. Nothing was going to startle him, not the speed of the game, egos, bank accounts, beautiful women, access to fame, or pressures to perform. More important, temptation wouldn’t rattle him. He was raised with a strong religious background, and his spirituality and conviction kept him appreciative, humble, and centered on what mattered to him. Only self-restraint, courage, strength, and perspective could enable someone to say "not now" to fame, fortune, and a dream.
Of course, Steph’s background meant he was different in many ways from most of his fellow first-round candidates. Steph was handsome, well-mannered, polished, and preppy. He spoke with a North Carolina twang and had the manners of a Southern gentleman. He earned good grades. He didn’t ink his body with dozens of tattoos or rep his neighborhood in public. He spent his weekends at church, with family, and on the golf course. Thanks to his father’s success, he grew up in and around privilege. Sounds like an amazing candidate—but some teams saw these attributes as a danger rather than a positive. They wondered about his toughness; how could he fit the part if he didn’t look the part?
Physical appearance and socioeconomics don’t dictate toughness. Some of the greatest players in the world weren’t raised in housing projects and didn’t earn technical fouls for fighting or pounding their chests after a dunk. Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul came from two-parent middle-class families, yet I consider them two of the toughest sons of bitches in the game. They compete against aggressive defenders who slap at their injuries—targeting the torn ligaments on their wrist and thumb when they release the ball or attack the basket—in an effort to hurt them, scare them, and remind them of their pain. Yet their performance hardly waned, and they never leaned on their injuries as an excuse.
To me, toughness means protecting what you love. The stereotype of the poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks who fought his way into the NBA didn’t apply to Steph, but anyone who followed his progress could see how much he loved the game. It took toughness to transform into an NBA lottery pick at a small Division I program while carrying a team of overachievers on his shoulders deep into the NCAA tournament. Steph recognized the futility of trying to challenge other people’s perceptions with words, and let his game talk loudly for him.
As I spent time with Steph I saw how he embraced his father’s NBA legacy and accepted who he is and where he came from. His greatness comes in a different package from what most basketball people expect, but judging him on that basis would be as big a mistake as those years-ago playground players made when they dissed me because I didn’t look the part. Steph’s respect for and commitment to the game comes across in his idiosyncratic rhythms and a deadly shot that is all his own. He plays the game because he wants to, not because he needs to in order to help out his family; that’s part of what makes him special. And seeing Steph’s approach made me a little less hesitant to talk about my own background and journey. I rarely shared my story with my guys because I was afraid my unusual route to the highest levels of the game would give ammunition to my critics. Steph helps remind me that performance wins out in the end. Other people's preconceptions can make it more difficult to gain an opportunity, but once you get your chance, it's up to you what you do with it.
Steph left me a ticket when the Warriors made their only trip to Madison Square Garden in February 2013. The game was on ESPN, and a national audience saw him score fifty-four points and shoot eleven of thirteen from behind the three-point arc, but the Warriors lost to the Knicks, 109–105 (Melo scored thirty-five and JR added twenty-six). The fans couldn’t help cheering a little as Steph traded baskets with the entire Knicks team, recognizing that they were watching someone and something very special. I was less surprised. I knew Steph’s capabilities and smiled when I heard their conflicted noise. Later that evening, JR texted me, "Steph’s a problem."
I waited for Steph after the game. The postgame media must have bombarded him, because it took him longer than usual to shower and change. We spoke for only a few minutes because I wanted him to catch up with a few of his college friends who were in town. He gave me a hug.
"I’m proud of you. You were amazing tonight," I said.
"Thanks, man," he said. "I can’t wait till next summer. I’m finally healthy to work out for an entire summer."
"You’ve become a star. One of the very best like we always said you would. I hope you finally see it."
"I do, man, I really do."
Toughness is as toughness does.