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The Steph Curry Origin Story

The origins of Steph Curry's greatness begin with his father Dell, a former NBA player. But to really find out where it all started, you'd have to go all the way back to Steph's grandfather Jack.
June 8, 2015, 1:08am
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

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Jeff Cohen used to sit on his deck amid the blue mountain splendor of Virginia's New River Valley and watch Steph Curry, not more than 5 years old then, go to work on the small plastic hoop in his family's driveway.

"He was out in the driveway all the time," Cohen recalled recently, "on one of those plastic goals that you can buy at Wal-Mart. I mean all the time."

READ MORE: Golden State Warriors Games Have Become Hammer Time

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The tiny basket was a Charlotte Hornets edition, recalled Cohen's daughter Ashley, who used to babysit Steph and his younger brother Seth. A teen at the time, she liked the mini basket because she could dunk on it without jumping.

The early driveway scenes are nice, says family friend Page Moir, but the Steph Curry story actually had an even earlier genesis--a miniature basketball, placed in his crib.

"It was always there," Moir says.

Now we know Curry as the sweet-shooting guard for the Golden State Warriors and the National Basketball Association's Most Valuable Player, but the Curry everyone from from his hometown remembers was the little boy who got an early start in order to keep up with his father.

That, of course, would be Dell Curry, who spent 16 seasons in the NBA, much of it in Charlotte, coming off the bench and firing away from long range to open up the lane for the hard-driving likes of Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson.

"Growing up, me and my brother would go in the gyms and practice shots that he shot just because it was our dad," Curry said of his father's influence.

The elder Curry was known as a gentleman within basketball circles. His sons saw a different side. Steph's not exactly sure when he heard his father talk the first junk, but he has endured a steady stream over the years. "Whether it's on the golf course or playing spades or anything we do as a family he's always talking a lot of smack, a lot of smack," Curry confided earlier this season. "We got a lot of shooters in that family."

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Each and every one of them has heard Dell's gospel of guff.

"We still play from time to time when we can all get in the same room. My dad can still shoot the lights out even though he doesn't set foot on a court very much," Steph says.

"He always says you're only as good as your last game. And when we last all played H-O-R-S-E together, he won. So he's got the crown right now."

Dell laughs at his son's revelation. "A lot goes on behind the scenes that people don't know about," he says of the trash talk.

And that's the thing about the Curry story—it isn't so much about basketball as it is about fatherhood.

Steph and Dell Curry participated together in the 2015 NBA All Star Shooting Stars competition. Photo by Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Page Moir is the son of former Virginia Tech basketball coach Charlie Moir, and is himself the longtime coach at Division III Roanoke College. He figures he took as many as 30 recruiting trips with his father back in the early '80s to see Dell play high school ball in the Shenandoah Valley.

Along the way, he got to know Jack Curry, Dell's father. The patriarch. A General Electric plant worker in Grottoes, Virginia, who passed down both a gentlemanly vibe and a deep love of sports—even though he seldom had time to enjoy more than a bit of fishing or attending one of his children's sporting events.

"He worked an awful lot," Dell says of his father. (His mother, Juanita, also worked shifts at the GE plant).

Busy as he was, Jack managed to put up a hoop in the family's back yard, which quickly became the test lab for the countless hours of development that produced Dell's jump shot. That shot helped Dell become a McDonald's All-American in high school, and could have gone to an array of Atlantic Coast Conference schools.

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Instead, he chose to play for Moir at Virginia Tech, even though the Hokies were a member of the old Metro Conference, which was held in far less esteem than the ACC. Dell picked Tech because he figured he could start immediately and play for four years—which is exactly what he did, again becoming an All-American.

Page recalls Jack regularly checking in with the coaching staff—never to fuss about team strategy or his son's playing time, but rather to make sure Dell was doing his schoolwork, and doing well outside the classroom.

Page himself became Dell's teammate at Virginia Tech. Then his lifelong friend, the two men later partnered to run a basketball camp at Roanoke College and also in Charlotte. He has seen both Currys develop as players—and the first thing he noticed about Dell was his huge hands, large enough to allow him to palm the ball off the dribble, much like Michael Jordan, Julius Erving and Connie Hawkins.

Such hand size usually makes for great dunkers, but the 6-foot-5 Dell had a silky-smooth perimeter game, and was known for launching long jumpers, even before college basketball adopted the three-point shot.

Steph doesn't have his father's hands, nor his height—he's generously listed as 6-foot-3 in NBA media guides. But other parts of Dell's game seem handed down. "Steph can dunk when he wants to," Page Moir says. "He's athletic, but not a leaper. He's very quick, but not super fast. But he developed a great touch with the ball over the years. And his skill level is so incredible."

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Dell grew up with a basic backyard hoop. Thanks to Dell's NBA salary, Steph grew up in a luxurious home on a dozen acres in the tiny South Park section of Charlotte. There were motorbikes and a snazzy outdoor court, just the kind of stuff that might have led the boys to a life of lazy privilege.

For Steph and Seth, who later starred at Duke, it mostly led to more court time. The boys developed their games through work. Always work. When Dell would stop in to visit with Moir at Roanoke College, Steph would snatch up a ball and head down to the gym to get up shots.

He was five years old, maybe six, when Dell and Page started their business running basketball camps together.

"He was kind of like Riley is right now with all the charm," Moir says, referring to Steph's two-year-old daughter, suddenly famous for her scene-stealing appearances in her father's arms during playoff press conferences. "Even at that age he was a superstar with all the kids in the camp. When he was five, he could play with the 8-year-olds."

Steph's shot was typical for a scrawny youngster. "He would shoot it low, a heave, like every kid that age," Moir said. "But he just kept developing great touch with the ball." He was ultra-competitive. At one point, Steph was paired with a strong group of kids in Charlotte who put up a huge winning streak in youth league baseball. Moir remembers him crying profusely after losing a basketball game when he was 10 or 11.

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"It was his first loss in anything in more than a month," Moir says with a laugh. "He was inconsolable."

Both brothers played for coach Shonn Brown at Charlotte Christian, where Dell was an assistant. The program featured tough practices and top competition; Steph found himself matched against players who were more physically developed. At that time he was only 5-foot-6, and his size 12 ½ feet kept him from nimbly moving around the court. Perhaps that's why Virginia Tech—where Dell also had played baseball and his mother, Sonya, had been a standout volleyball player—showed little interest in recruiting Steph. Maybe that's why the rest of the ACC followed suit, and why lower level Division I schools like Davidson, Elon and Wofford were pursuing him.

Moir remembers going down to North Carolina to watch Steph play after his junior year of high school. Over a three-month span, the boy added 10 to 15 pounds. By August before his senior year, he was playing in high-level pickup games in Charlotte with NBA talent, and holding his own.

Moir phoned the Virginia Tech staff, told them that Steph was coming on. The coaches had no scholarships left, but they came back down to Charlotte and offered to take Steph on if he paid his own way for his first year of school.

Too late. Davidson's coaching staff had been working hard to land him, to make him feel appreciated. Steph accepted their scholarship offer. Virginia Tech fans have fussed bitterly ever since, and Dell and Sonya were disappointed that Steph didn't get a chance to play at their alma mater, too.

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"It was a blessing," Moir says now.

Tech coach Seth Greenberg was excellent, tough, and ran great practices. But so did Davidson coach Bob McKillup. At the time, Moir says, Tech had hard-nosed veteran guards, who would have played in front of Steph. "The opportunity he got at Davidson to make mistakes and play for a great coach… At VT, I don't know how much of a chance he would have been given."

"Coach McKillup did everything for me," Steph says. "He instilled confidence and just a belief that I could play on the next level from the first day that I stepped on campus. He pushed me every single day that I was there to be great, not only on the court but off, to build strong character that will last me much longer than I will ever play the game of basketball. That's the way he runs his program, and every guy that suits up for coach McKillup there can speak up on the principles that he teaches… It's a pretty special place."

Steph learned how to be a caring father for his daughter Riley from his parents, Dell and Sonya. Photo by Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Press accounts abound with stories of Curry's generous and unassuming nature. Too good to be true? Maybe. Only Moir can't remember Stephen Curry ever doing a bad thing as a kid. Not once.

Curry's mother Sonya, who owns and runs a Montessori school in Charlotte, is in his ear constantly about remaining humble, and maintaining eye contact with people. No sunglasses indoors, no headphones. Aloofness is not allowed. She's a devout Christian and runs a very open and inviting household. During the playoffs, the Curry house has been filled with family, cousins, college friends, who sleep on the floor on air mattresses. It's certainly not a typical approach. Most players put up walls during the playoffs. But not Steph. He's always been the good kid.

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Pushed on the issue, Dell makes a confession.

"The worst I can remember," he says about his son, "[is that] he got a speeding ticket in a school zone on the way to school one morning."

Dell says much of the credit for Steph's development—as a player and a person—should probably go to Jack Curry, who died from a heart attack in 1991. He taught Dell at a young age "to play for fun, to play to win, but when it's over, you are who you are, especially around your family."

Whether Jack gained that wisdom from his father, or it was something he learned in life, Dell doesn't know. "But he definitely passed it on to us," he says. "Steph can be one of the most competitive guys at whatever he's playing. He's confident. He's aggressive. He's careful not to show the opponent any weakness. But when he goes off the floor, he can turn that off and be a normal human being."

Case in point? Steph's postgame podium appearances with Riley, which some media members complained was interfering with the newsgathering process. "When he took her in there to the interview session, he didn't realize any of this would happen," Dell Curry explained the morning after Game 1 of the NBA Finals, as his granddaughter lay beside him watching cartoons on TV. "No one did. Just for her to be able to experience that with him, it'll last a lifetime."

Dell says that Riley likely won't make a podium cameo during the Finals; the competitive moment requires too much focus. But if the Warriors win the series, and capture the franchise's first NBA title in 40 years? Expect Riley to be there—alongside her father and grandfather, and memories of Jack, too.

"My father did a wonderful job of teaching us how to conduct yourself as a father," Dell says. "I've tried to pass it along. Steph is just doing the same."