clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Curry, Calm and Collected

Steph Curry’s shot revolutionized the NBA, but his greatest weapon may be his ability to find balance. So even as his Warriors struggled to rebound from Kevin Durant’s departure, as he suffered through the worst shooting slump of his career, and as his role in his family changed, the two-time MVP was looking for ways to get back on top. “Just reimagining what impossible is,” he says.

John P. Dessereau

During the first half of a December game against the Pacers, Warriors coach Steve Kerr realized he had to talk to Stephen Curry. Though Golden State was 21-5, a half-game behind the NBA’s best record, Curry was a bit too eager to break Ray Allen’s 3-point record, and the rest of the team was too eager to appease its biggest star. Curry, seven 3s shy of the all-time mark, was being spoon-fed the ball and bricking—badly.

Curry had converted just 29 percent of his 3s in the two previous games, and his misses were pushing the team out of rhythm. Against Indiana, he was doing the same: looking off teammates, shooting questionable shots early in a possession, and threatening to upend Golden State’s impressive start. A reminder was needed.

“Just let the record happen,” Kerr told his star guard at halftime. “Who cares if it happens tonight or tomorrow night or the next night?”

Curry scored 13 points in the second half, including the game-tying bucket. He broke the record the next night at Madison Square Garden with Allen, previous 3-point champ Reggie Miller, and his parents in attendance. “It was a beautiful ending to this last week,” Curry said after the game.

When Kerr was hired by Golden State in 2014, he periodically tried to tell Curry what the guard needed to do—namely, the shots he could and couldn’t take. But he soon realized that all Curry needs is an occasional “You’re amazing, but relax” pep talk.

“I just had to get out of my own way,” Kerr says. “And once I realized how powerful that force was, I realized, leave it alone. He can take some bad shots. He can make some crazy plays. Let him do it. And maybe I have to rein him in once in a while, but that’s it.”

It’s a lesson everyone around Curry learns: Eventually, he’ll find a way. Because even though Curry’s shot has revolutionized basketball, perhaps his greatest weapon is his unflappability.

“He’s got great discipline, but he’s also got great freedom,” says Bob McKillop, Curry’s coach at Davidson. “He’s got an incredible balance in so many aspects of his life.”

That balance has been tested of late. Five consecutive Finals appearances were followed by two injury-riddled seasons that left the Warriors outside of the playoffs altogether—including one when he played just five games because of a broken left hand. He drew the limelight and then shared it to make room for Kevin Durant, only for Durant to walk in free agency after three seasons. Even his historic shooting has fluctuated; he looked like the runaway MVP earlier this season, yet has recently endured one of the worst slumps of his career.

But with the original title blueprint intact—Curry, flanked by Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and high-level role players like Andre Iguodala—the Warriors are very much back in the title picture. And Curry, who will make his eighth All-Star appearance this weekend, is still looking to add to his legacy.

“I’ve always been in the moment, always enjoyed the journey, always enjoyed the work that goes into it, and that always is going to remain the same,” he told me, “which will hopefully be the key for me to keep doing what I’m doing at the highest level for many years to come.”

Golden State Warriors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

In February 2010, then-Clippers guard Baron Davis was in Oakland to face his former team. Rico Hines, a Golden State assistant at the time, warned his old buddy from Los Angeles about this rookie from North Carolina with a low-key competitive spirit. Davis wasn’t hearing it.

“Baron was really good at the time,” Hines says. “I remember talking to him, and he was like, ‘Yo, man, hey, I’m going to do this, this, and this to them.’” Curry finished with 36 points, 13 assists, and 10 rebounds—his first triple-double—while Davis missed 11 of 12 shots in a 132-102 blowout win for the Warriors.

Curry showed the same competitiveness in November at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, when he shot, shimmied, and glided his way to 37 points, five assists, and seven rebounds in his first matchup against Durant with a revitalized Warriors supporting cast behind him.

“From the beginning, he was locked in,” Draymond Green told me last month. “The reality is there are certain games that mean more than others throughout the regular season and I think that was one of those games.”

Four years earlier, Curry expected Durant to meld perfectly into the Warriors’ culture. He thought they would win a few titles and ride off into the sunset together. “He was our brother,” Curry says. A month after Durant signed, Curry organized a team event at Steph’s East Bay home, where there were balloons that spelled out “Super Villains”, as a winking nod to the narrative created by Durant’s decision. On the floor, Durant had free rein to break Golden State’s free-flowing offense to get his own looks. “He wasn’t just some hired gun–type vibe for us,” Curry says. “We were really trying to integrate him into how we do things.”

But despite winning two titles and making three runs to the NBA Finals, the team couldn’t escape the noise. More importantly, when problems arose, the team swept the events under the rug in an effort to appease Durant. When Green got into a heated discussion with Durant in Sacramento during his first season, the two laughed it off publicly, touting how they watched the Super Bowl together the following day. When Curry and Durant couldn’t decide who should shoot the ball in the waning moments of an overtime loss against Memphis, the team told anyone within an earshot that it wasn’t a big deal. “Even with conversations with ‘Whose team is it?’ I couldn’t care less,” Curry says. “Straight up. But the commentary is real.” Winning cured the brewing turmoil initially, but each practice was analyzed, every movement was critiqued, and every game was a referendum of the team’s standing in basketball infamy, causing a strain on the hoops utopia Durant sought.

“I think the biggest thing was understanding how big the spotlight was from the jump,” Curry says. “And paying a little bit more respect to how big of a decision that was for him to come here. Because once he made the decision, you almost take for granted … the commentary around the league, media, other teams, all that other stuff that you can’t really avoid. We thought, and we all approached it that we could have our own bunker almost and be kind of sheltered.”

It reached a breaking point in mid-November 2018, when Green, who helped recruit Durant in 2016, called him out on the sideline, a sequence many—including Curry—believed sealed Durant’s free-agency exit.

“That moment was probably the one where it’s clear that it isn’t a foregone conclusion that he’ll be back next year,” he says. “There were just a lot of other distractions that were popping up left and right. That we were all having to try to answer to, him included, and a lot that was centered on his future. That was the moment where we all knew we were trying to win a championship.”

A few months after the blowup, Curry was on the tarmac at a New York–area airport and got a text from Durant saying he was leaving. Curry was en route back to the Bay Area from a promotional trip in Asia but figured he’d check in on Durant in New York, where the forward was rehabilitating a surgically repaired right Achilles tendon. When Curry arrived at Durant’s Manhattan apartment, a trip down memory lane commenced. They talked about their time playing together, like in the 2010 World Championships, when the two first became teammates. As they chatted, the reality of Durant’s latest free-agent decision started to sink in. “I obviously just wished him well, because at the end of the day, if you had decisions like that and you’re a grown-ass man that’s trying to do what you feel is right for you, I’m not coming in here trying to change your mind,” Curry says. “Hopefully, he gets back as quickly as possible and trying to connect with him on that level and on a stay-in-touch-type vibe. Because the league works fast. Things change really quick.”

The Warriors managed to turn Durant’s Nets deal into a sign-and-trade that netted them D’Angelo Russell. But with Thompson out for the season, ensuing injuries to Curry and Green, and then a global pandemic, the 2019-20 season was essentially a wash. Russell was traded to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins and draft picks at midseason, but the rest of the roster was rounded out with nameless journeymen and a few unproven young players.

“He was frustrated,” Kerr told me recently. “And we were a little bit lost given all the departures and the injuries. It was not an easy time for us. We were just trying to keep the ship sailing smoothly, but we didn’t know what was next.”

On the court, Durant’s departure meant Curry had to assume most of the scoring burden—with limited spacing. In 2020-21, Curry reached career highs in both points (32) and shots (21.7) per game. Off the court, it meant redefining his leadership status. In previous years, with leaders like David West, Shaun Livingston, and Andre Iguodala on the roster, Curry could lead purely by example. This season, he’s been the organization’s on-court CEO.

“A lot of times in shootaround, we’ll be going over a scheme or something and maybe an opponent’s head play and I’ll see him pull a young guy aside and kind of whisper to him,” Kerr says. “And he doesn’t say what he has to say in front of the whole group. He says it privately to guys. He really connects with people one-on-one. He doesn’t ever embarrass anybody. I think he challenges them, but he does it in a way that is very healthy.”

Curry’s performance against Brooklyn was aided by the fruits of his mentorship style. Jordan Poole—whose rookie press conference was held six days before Durant’s departure—scored 17 points, while Jonathan Kuminga, one of two first-round picks from the 2021 draft, added a few highlight dunks. Iguodala, in his 18th year, sank a third-quarter buzzer-beater for good measure. The vibes were back, but more importantly, after three years without Durant, Curry’s Warriors showed they could still get it done.

“It was a statement to us that we’re a different team,” he says. “We’re better. We know who we are. We know how we can beat the best teams in the league.”

LA Clippers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Stanley Cox was in the final preparations the night before his annual backpack giveaway in 2019 when he got this text from Curry. Each year, Cox, the rapper better known as Mistah F.A.B., wrangles up backpacks, bikes, and supplies for his North Oakland community. Cox met Curry during his rookie year and has enjoyed a courtside view of some of Curry’s biggest moments at Oracle Arena, but still couldn’t believe what he was reading.

“I’m pullin’ up,” the text read.

So Cox kept gathering supplies for the event at Pepsi Park on 44th street in North Oakland. The next morning he received another message from the same number.

“I’m 10 minutes away.”

A few minutes later, Curry, along with his wife, Ayesha, showed up to the event ready to hoop. For the next few hours, Steph ran shooting guard alongside Cox in five-on-five games as kids swarmed the gates around the court.

“The admiration that I have for that dude is paramount,” Cox said recently from his Dope Era clothing store, which sits seven blocks from the Warriors’ old practice facility. “It goes beyond basketball.”

Curry’s earliest memory of Oakland is in the Jack London district, doing “day in the life” online promo videos just below his apartment. He spent the next decade shaping his career at Oracle Arena until the Warriors moved into Chase Center, across the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. He’s since moved to Atherton, a Silicon Valley suburb a few miles south of San Francisco, but his connection to Oakland still runs deep.

“Everything that we accomplished, and everything I know about myself as an NBA player was built with the love of Oakland behind me,” Curry says.

But despite the deep, decade-long bond between Curry and Oakland, Cox has a confession.

“I was a Monta Ellis fan.”

The admission is common among Bay Area natives. In the years before Curry was drafted by the Warriors, Ellis was a fan favorite. His high-scoring talent and ties to the “We Believe” Warriors resonated with the East Bay, even if it drew the ire of his coach, Don Nelson.

“He wasn’t an easy guy to coach,” Nelson said about Ellis by phone in December. “He wanted to do it his way. And he didn’t really want to pass that much. And I kept telling him, ‘You got all the ability to be a two-way guard, you could be a point guard. You could get eight, 10 assists easily if you just would see the game.’”

So Nelson, a free spirit who’d coached the fast-paced Run TMC Warriors, fixated his attention on a sharpshooter out of Davidson.

“I hadn’t seen a guy with his skills since Steve Nash,” Nelson said. “And I thought he would be another Steve Nash. Whatever it is, he had it.”

Nelson got his point guard of the future with the seventh pick, but the newest Warrior had other ideas.

“Steph thought they could play together,” Nelson said. “He said, ‘I think we can do it.’ I figured we’d trade the little guy, and keep Steph. And just start over.”

Even with Ellis taking the lion’s share of the shots, Curry finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. But the Warriors sputtered to 26-56, and Nelson parted ways with the organization.

“I was going to make him an All-Star,” Nelson said. “Put the ball in his hands, and he was going to be my guy. I was going to build with him. I just thought he was a special player. I was for sure right about that.”

Three titles and two league MVPs later, Nelson’s clairvoyance proved true. But in the hallowed grounds of Bushrod Park—“Our version of the Rucker,” Cox says—Curry isn’t Steph, the superstar; he’s “Delly Bo,” a nickname christened by Cox himself shortly after they met. (“Delly” for Steph’s first name, Wardell. And “Bo,” a term locals use at the end of surnames to signify that they rock with you.) Down the road at the East Oakland Youth Development Center, Curry has become a legend for his community work. And in a region defined by gentrification, where the influx of transplants often means the locals are sent packing, Curry has stayed with the same franchise that drafted him 13 years ago. While the team may have changed venues, Curry has built basketball courts in the Town’s impoverished neighborhoods. He’s also filmed commercials in Oakland’s community centers and used homegrown locals as extras in the TV spots. “He did it right just by being himself,” Damian Lillard told me in December. “Anytime you are genuine and authentic, and then people get to witness your greatness like they’ve witnessed with Steph, it’s easy to cheer for. You know you not supporting a facade or somebody that’s pretending.”

When the Warriors played their last regular-season game in the Town on April 7, 2019, Curry pushed for the team to wear the jerseys immortalized by the “We Believe” squad one last time, and the organization got special approval from the league. “It meant a lot to me to close out Oracle in style,” he says. Now, his work address is across the Bay in San Francisco, in the glitzy, technologically advanced Chase Center, just up the road from Curry’s new estate. But as he strives for another title elsewhere, his mind occasionally drifts back over the Bay Bridge. “From what people know me on the court, and this journey with the Warriors, it was built in Oakland,” he says “It’s bittersweet for sure because everything changes and evolves.”

Then Delly Bo makes a declaration.

“What we should do is have one game every year where we go back to Oracle,” he says. “Just for the hell of it.”

Indiana Pacers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Shortly after guiding his Wildcats to an upset victory over Alabama in December, Davidson coach Bob McKillop received a text with a familiar message.

“Keep sleeping in the streets, Coach,” it read.

The five-word phrase is a callback to a quote from legendary coach Kevin Loughery that McKillop instilled in Curry during his first few months at Davidson: “If you want to be a great shooter, you got to be willing to sleep in the streets. You got to be willing to get locked out the house.”

McKillop would use it to settle Curry whenever things weren’t going his way. “In other words,” McKillop said by phone last month, “you got to let go.”

Lately, Curry has needed the message more than ever. As the All-Star break approaches, Golden State has the NBA’s second-best record, but Curry has near career lows in every offensive category. He’s also had to adjust off the floor. After 33 years of marriage, his mother, Sonya, and father, Dell, are divorcing. The world had a rare glimpse of how Steph is reconciling his new family dynamic during the biggest moment of his life. Shortly after he broke Allen’s 3-point record, he embraced his father near Golden State’s bench. Then, a few minutes later, he proceeded down an MSG tunnel to see his mother for another emotional embrace.

“I had to make sure I was in that moment with both of them separately and this wasn’t just this whole kind of thing,” Curry says. “That is how I choose to approach that. Because it is challenging.”

Curry’s parents have always been guiding forces in their kids’ lives. Nearly a year after the divorce, Curry, now a father and husband himself, is still grappling with how to navigate the new dynamics.

“It’s challenging for sure,” he says. “I could be mad and be like, ‘Y’all effed this up.’ I could have that approach. But it’s going to be an acknowledgment of both of y’all in terms of how y’all raised me. The calmness I have in myself is because of y’all.”

That emotional balance was tested early in Curry’s NBA career, when nagging ankle injuries halted his takeoff. And again in 2019, when a broken hand forced Curry to miss more games than ever before. “The first doctor actually suggested that it was going to be like a four-week deal,” he says. “So I was like, ‘Cool. I can handle that.’” A second opinion revealed he needed surgery, meaning a four-month recovery, and a trip down the coast to Hermosa Beach for rehab.

Curry set plans for another title run in 2020-21, even though Durant was gone and Thompson had suffered yet another season-ending injury. “Reckless confidence,” he says. But reality eventually set in: While his individual numbers had never been better, his team no longer mattered in the grand scheme of the league. “It gave me a new perspective, I guess,” he says, “on how hard it is to do what we did, and what we were trying to do, and how hard it’s going to be to try to rebuild it.”

It all came together last month at Chase Center, when Thompson returned to the lineup to join Curry, Green, and Iguodala on the floor for the first time since the 2019 NBA Finals. When Thompson was rehabbing his Achilles in the hopes for a return for the 2020-21 season, Curry would invite him to his private gym for workouts and one-on-one games. So when Thompson slammed a vicious dunk over three Cleveland defenders midway through his season debut this January, Curry ran around the sideline with glee. “He’s been an incredible role model for me,” Thompson said after the game. “And we’ve had such a great history together as far as just playing for championships and playing for the USA team. It felt natural again. Steph is one of the best to ever play and it’s just an honor to be his 2-guard.”

Curry has already accomplished a lot during his career. A month away from his 34th birthday, he’s already racked up enough team accolades (three titles, five consecutive Finals appearances) and individual honors (two MVPs, seven All-NBA teams, a spot on the NBA’s 75th-anniversary team, and now his eighth All-Star appearance) to last a lifetime.

He’s also aware of the looming finish line. When the Warriors were in Dallas at the beginning of January, Curry snuck a peek at Dirk Nowitzki’s jersey retirement. He snapped photos, watched the speeches, and even daydreamed of being immortalized along the city blocks of Chase Center.

“It was dope just to watch the whole thing,” he said by phone a day later. “Playing 21 years for the same organization and what that means. There’s a hope for me that I can check that box off too in my career.”

But, with the Warriors back in the title mix after a few rough years, he’s still driven to do more.

“Just reimagining what impossible is,” he says when asked what his goal is.

Which raises the question: How long can he keep this up?

“As long as the good Lord and my body tell me I can.”

The Bill Simmons Podcast

Burning NBA Questions With Zach Lowe

The Ringer Gambling Show

NBA Betting Preview Part 2: Western Conference

The Ringer Gambling Show

NBA Betting Preview Part 1: Eastern Conference

View all stories in NBA