by Joshua Cooley
[This story first appeared in March 2012. Except where noted, NBA statistics have been updated to reflect the 2014-2015 season.]
Plenty of things in life are small but mighty.
Take ants, for instance. These picnic-crashers are smaller than your fingertip, yet they can lift many times their body weight. Then there are Sour Patch Kids. Eat a mouthful and feel their powerful punch!
Add Stephen Curry to that list. He packs a punch of his own—a scoring punch, that is. Standing just 6 feet, 3 inches and weighing 190 pounds (small by professional basketball standards), Stephen averaged nearly 24 points a game last season.
Because of his size, the Golden State Warriors’ slender point guard has often been overlooked in his basketball career. But now he’s considered one of the brightest young stars in the league.
“I’m doing what I love,” Stephen says. “People sometimes take it for granted, but I thank God every day for the opportunity.”
Stephen, whose name is pronounced “STEF-in,” could dribble a basketball before he could read. Of course, that’s what happens when your father is an NBA star.
Dell Curry, Stephen’s dad, was a first-round draft pick in 1986 and enjoyed a 16-year career playing with five teams. He finished his career with 12,670 points, went to the playoffs 10 times, led the league by hitting nearly half of his three-pointers in 1998-99 and won the 1993-94 “Sixth Man of the Year Award.”
Much of Stephen’s youth was spent in NBA locker rooms, hanging out with some of the world’s greatest basketball players.
“It was cool just knowing or meeting my dad’s teammates,” Stephen says. “We got to go to cities you normally wouldn’t go to and watch him play.”
But life with an NBA dad had its challenges, too. Dell’s road trips and stints with the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors often kept him away from the family’s home in Charlotte, North Carolina. Many of the parenting responsibilities fell to Stephen’s mom, Sonya. She was a no-nonsense lady who kept a close eye on Stephen and his two younger siblings, Seth and Sydel.
Sonya founded the Christian Montessori School in Huntersville, North Carolina, where all of her children attended. When your elementary school principal is also your mom, it’s best to stay out of trouble.
“She was a disciplinarian,” Stephen says. “She set the tone for how we were supposed to act.”
Sonya and Dell both followed the Lord and faithfully took their children to church each week. In seventh grade, during a Wednesday evening youth service, Stephen prayed to give his life to Christ.
“It’s a night I will always remember,” he says.
Stephen and his younger brother, Seth, benefited greatly from Dell’s spiritual and basketball advice. They attended their father’s basketball camp each year. Stephen’s scoring abilities improved after his dad tweaked his shooting stroke before his 11th-grade year.
Stephen was such a good shooter that Dell’s NBA teammates had to be careful whenever Stephen took the practice court.
“They’d invite him to join our shooting games, and he’d challenge us,” Dell recalls. “We didn’t want to lose to a kid.”
Davidson Versus Goliath
Despite Stephen’s offensive fireworks during high school at Charlotte Christian, almost every big-time college program dismissed him. Most recruiters were scared away by his celery-stick frame—barely 6 feet tall and 160 pounds as a senior.
Those same schools soon regretted looking on the outside, instead of at Stephen’s heart.
Stephen landed at Davidson College, a tiny, NCAA Division I school just north of Charlotte. As a sophomore in 2008, he became an overnight national sensation by leading the 10th-seeded Wildcats on one of the greatest Cinderella runs in NCAA tournament history.
Sparked by Stephen’s tournament scoring barrage of 32 points per game, Davidson upset seventh-seeded Gonzaga, second-seeded Georgetown and third-seeded Wisconsin. Davidson nearly reached the Final Four before barely losing 59-57 to eventual national champion Kansas. In that game, Stephen scored a game-high 25 points.
Stephen’s sudden fame led to guest appearances on several TV shows and an appearance at ESPN’s ESPY Awards. He also hung out with NBA superstars such as LeBron James and Chris Paul. (He even got LeBron’s cell phone number.)
Although Stephen’s junior year lacked more March Madness magic, he still earned his second consecutive All-American award, set a bunch of Davidson and Southern Conference records and got drafted seventh overall by Golden State. Through it all, Stephen remained humble.
“He clearly understands what he has is a gift—a gift from God,” says longtime Davidson head coach Bob McKillop. “He is what he is because God has blessed him.”
Golden State of Mind
Even today, Stephen doesn’t look the part of an NBA star. He’s a baby-faced 27-year-old who could pass for a teenager.
But there’s no denying his skills. In 2009-10, he averaged 17.5 points per game and finished second in the Rookie of the Year Award voting. Last season, he was one of the best free throw and three-point shooters in the league, connecting on over 44 percent of his shots from behind the arc and 91 percent from the foul line. He won the NBA All-Star Skills Challenge in 2011, by showing off his dribbling, passing and shooting abilities to beat Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Derrick Rose. Not bad for a skinny, underrated kid from an obscure college.
Throughout his career, Stephen has dealt with his doubters by simply ignoring the criticism.
“I’m not playing for anybody else but myself and to use the platform I have for God,” he says.
That attitude separates Stephen from many other NBA players. He sees his stardom as an opportunity to glorify the Lord, not as a way to promote himself. He speaks regularly with other Christian NBA players, to stay on the right track. And in 2011 he got the best spiritual friend you could ask for—a wife—when he married high school friend Ayesha Alexander.
“His teammates respect him,” Dell says. “He’s not a guy to go out and party. He’s going to try to live his life as an example.”
In 2010, he started an annual golf tournament with Dell in Davidson, North Carolina, to benefit a local organization. He also gives back through various children’s, military and fitness charities. In 2014, he won the Community Assist Award for his work in California’s Bay Area.
“We’ve always tried to teach our kids that what you have is from God,” Stephen’s mom says. “Yes, you’re putting in effort and time. But your talent and opportunities are from the Lord, so honor Him with that.”
“A lot of people thank God for wins or great performances,” Stephen adds. “But for me, anytime I’m talking to fans or doing things in the community, people see I’m different. There’s a reason why. I’m trying to get a message across.”
It’s a big message from a small-but-mighty star.
Most Valuable Player
In 2015, Stephen Curry led the Golden State Warriors to their first NBA championship in 40 years. During the finals, TV commentators marveled at the Warriors' unselfish play.
Stephen was also voted Most Valuable Player of the regular season. During his MVP acceptance speech, Curry said, "People should know who I represent and why I am who I am, and that's because of my Lord and Savior."
Like his father, Stephen keeps his family close. He made headlines for bringing his young daughter, Riley, to his post-game press conferences.
Hot Shooting Tips
Stephen Curry is one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA. Here are his tips on how to become a great shooter:
1. Aim at the three rings inside the net that face you at all times.
2. This shot is going in, is the only thing you should be thinking when you release the ball.
3. Always position your body with your shoulders square to the basket and your feet shoulder-width apart.
4. Keep the ball in the fingertips of your shooting hand. Your other hand should be flat on the side of the ball with as little pressure as possible.
5. Your elbow should be tucked into your body and straight up and down. Pretend you’re pouring a bucket of water into the rim.
6. Use your wrist like a spring ready to catapult. Your legs should bend and extend.
7. Keep your follow-through up until the ball hits the floor after going through the net.
8. Practice your shot every day and from every place that you might get shots during a game. Start in close and work your way out.
This story first appeared in the March 2012 issue of Clubhouse magazine. Copyright © 2012 Joshua Cooley. Photo © Noah Salzman/Wikimedia; used under Creative Commons license.