For decades, the NBA has been a star’s league. But even among the stars, there’s an exclusive club. Russell and Dr. J. Bird and Magic. Jordan. Kobe. They’re all part of a select group that paved the way for the NBA superstar of today. And in Icons Club: The Evolution of the NBA Superstar, Hall of Fame reporter Jackie MacMullan explains how some even shared secrets with each other along the way.
Here’s an excerpt from Episode 8, which looks at how modern icons, like LeBron James and Stephen Curry, navigate the new normal in the NBA—trying to repay the debts they owe to those who came before and to use their great wealth and influence to improve the league, and the world, for the next generation.
Stephen Curry grew up dreaming of his own big moments. His father, Dell Curry, was a respected NBA veteran, and Steph, a self-described “rug rat,” grew up hanging around NBA locker rooms.
Like most players his age, he marveled at Michael Jordan’s greatness, and fantasized about taking off from the foul line for a dunk.
But then reality sunk in. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, he was built more like the kid next door than the next great NBA icon.
“We tried all the double-clutch moves, stick your tongue out, post moves and all of that, but I knew watching guys like Reggie Miller and Steve Nash who were a little bit more in my lane in terms of how I could actually play,” Curry says. “Reggie, his footwork and his ‘get it done’ mentality, nothing about his game is pretty. It was just, ‘I’m getting the results done, I’m knocking these shots down.’ You would never teach anybody Reggie’s form, but you would teach him that clutchness type of vibe. Steve was the exact same way. Testing the limits on what is possible from a point guard in terms of balance and scoring and distributing, the creativity of passing, not being the most athletic guy but still being effective, and being an MVP twice. So, those are my guys.’’
Curry was draining 30-footers at mid-major Davidson College when LeBron James, 3 years older and already in the NBA, dropped by for a look. He huddled with the young college star after the game.
“I started chopping it up with him,” Curry says. “He gave me a lot of good knowledge on the level of expectations I should set for myself, and the way to keep tunnel vision on getting better no matter what the situation around me was, maintain a control on what I could control.”
No one was calling Curry the Chosen One when he was drafted with the seventh pick in 2009. He could shoot, but really, that can take you only so far, right?
Curry revolutionized the game with his long-range prowess. Normally, defensive players picked up shooters just outside the 3-point line.
Curry needed to be checked starting at center court. His quick release and innate understanding of how to maximize the pick-and-pop not only earned him dazzling style points, it also opened up the court for his teammates. He could hit treys away from the ball, or using screens, or by simply twisting defenders into a pretzel with his artful ballhandling skills.
Suddenly, every team wanted dead-eye shooters who could space the court and fill the seats.
Steve Kerr, who still holds the record for career 3-point percentage, and has coached Curry to three championships, says because of Steph, the Icons Club needs to open a new wing in its hallowed membership.
“Well, he broke the mold,” Kerr says. “This club was supposed to belong to, at first, the behemoths and then the freaks of nature. And all of a sudden, here’s this guy who’s 6-foot-3, 185 pounds who is doing things that nobody else has ever done before.”