This story appears in FCA Magazine’s May/June 2016 issue. Subscribe today!
Late at night, as one day bleeds wearily into the next and physical stamina struggles to keep pace with emotional attachment, Dell and Sonya Curry spurn sleep, reach for the TV remote, and invite the flickering images into their eyes.
And what they see astounds them.
Like millions of others watching Golden State Warriors games this season, they see their son—currently the greatest, most electrifying basketball player on earth—making history. They see a player whom almost everybody once thought was way too scrawny doing things previously unseen at the highest levels of the game.
They see Stephen Curry revolutionizing the NBA.
“I could’ve never imagined what he and the team are doing,” Dell says.
But watching their highlight-reel child lead a once-woebegone franchise to great heights can be exhausting. Dell, a TV analyst for the Charlotte Hornets and a longtime NBA veteran, and Sonya, the owner and headmaster of a Christian Montessori school, live in Charlotte, North Carolina. Both their sons play for West Coast NBA teams (25-year-old Seth just completed his first full season with the Sacramento Kings). So whenever at least one of the boys is playing a West Coast night game and Dell isn’t traveling with the Hornets, he and Sonya stay up late to watch the games live, often toggling between TVs in separate rooms. A late tip in the Pacific time zone can mean Dell and Sonya aren’t falling asleep until 1:30 or 2 a.m.
“It’s kind of messing up my whole work schedule,” Sonya says. “We just say that between November and June, we’re just tired.”
But for the Currys, it’s well worth it. In his seventh professional season, “Steph”—he of single-moniker fame like “LeBron,” “Kobe” or “Magic”—has become the face of the NBA. As he leads the Warriors in their pursuit of a second-straight NBA championship, the 6-foot-3 point guard is treating the league like his personal playground, making his MVP season of a year ago look comparatively pedestrian with outlandish shots and eye-popping statistics. His peerless 3-point prowess is shattering records and forcing panicked defenses to stretch like worn-out elastic to account for his ever-increasing range.
“I dreamed about being an NBA player and being successful,” Curry says, “but I never thought I’d get this far or understand the situation going on right now. It’s been a whirlwind.”
From the beginning, though, Curry had faith. He believed God could do exceedingly more than anyone expected—even when he was an adolescent beanpole blipping faintly on the fringes of college basketball’s recruiting radars.
O O O
So here we are, staring wide-eyed at Stephen Curry’s Traveling Carnival Sideshow …
“Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and behold the world-famous wunderkind—half Ray Allen, half Harry Houdini—as he makes a 35-foot 3-pointer while submerged upside down in a tank of water wearing a straightjacket!”
… but how in the world did we get here?
Once—and it doesn’t seem that long ago—Curry struggled to attract interest from any major NCAA Division I programs. And now? Everybody wants a piece of his time.
Now there are endless autograph lines, soaring jersey and sneaker sales, a need for personal bodyguards, exclusive rounds of golf with President Obama, Twitter love coming in from NBA peers across the league, and genuine discussions about whether he can become—dare we say it?—the greatest shooter of all time.
Pause. Breathe in deeply. Exhale.
Perhaps we should start at the beginning.
Stephen, the oldest of three children, was born in 1988 in Akron, Ohio, but grew up mainly in Charlotte in their devoutly Christian and superbly athletic family. Basketball aside, Sonya played volleyball at Virginia Tech, while Stephen’s younger sister, Sydel, will be a junior on Elon University’s volleyball team this fall.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” - Romans 8:28 (ESV)
When Stephen was born, Dell, a 6-foot-4 guard, was a second-year pro with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He spent 10 of his eventual 16 NBA seasons in Charlotte, a career highlighted by a “Sixth Man of the Year” award in 1993-94 and a league-leading 3-point percentage (.476) in 1998-99.
Stephen, who was 14 when Dell retired in 2002, soaked up all of it. Growing up with an NBA father “harnessed my love for basketball,” says Stephen, who wears his father’s jersey number (30). “I loved being around my dad. Every kid wants to do what his parents do. I always had a ball in my hand.”
Young Stephen often accompanied his dad into NBA arenas and locker rooms, and initially Dell’s teammates got a kick out of allowing the boy to join their shooting games at practice. But they quickly learned not to sleep on the little whippersnapper.
“All my teammates realized he could shoot the ball at a very young age,” Dell says.
Once he reached high school, Stephen led Charlotte Christian to the state tournament three times, earned all-state honors twice, and finished his career as the team’s all-time leading scorer (1,400-plus points). Yet the Currys’ phone lines remained virtually silent.
He had hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps at Virginia Tech or even land at one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s traditional powers. But major college programs were scared off by Curry’s diminutive stature—about 6 feet and 160 pounds at the time. Instead, he landed 30 minutes from home at Davidson College, a small Division I school then playing in the Southern Conference.
Before his first practice as a freshman, he received a text from his mom. Stay faithful and work hard, she implored. She also included her favorite verse, Romans 8:28 (ESV): “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” To this day, Curry still writes that Scripture reference—and Philippians 4:13—on his game shoes.
Within three years, he had become a national household name, a two-time consensus All-American, the NCAA’s single-season 3-point record holder (162 in 2007-08), the Wildcats’ all-time leading scorer (2,635 points), and author of the greatest chapter in Davidson basketball’s 109-year history. His greatest collegiate moment, of course, came as a sophomore in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, when he averaged 32 points a game and led 10th-seeded Davidson on a magical run past Gonzaga (No. 7 seed), Georgetown (No. 2) and Wisconsin (No. 3) into the Elite Eight before losing by two to eventual national champion Kansas.
Not bad for an overlooked recruit.
“I’m glad those suspicions were demonstrably wrong,” longtime Davidson coach Bob McKillop says, wryly.
O O O
The player they call the “Baby-Faced Assassin” turned 28 in March, yet he could still pass for a college freshman. He’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds. The broomstick arms we saw during his college days now bear more musculature, but if he claims to be an inch taller or a pound heavier, he’ll have to provide official documentation.
Of course, none of this matters a bit. He's been taking preconceived notions about his age and size and destroying them his entire life. Curry entered the 2009 NBA Draft as one of the greatest shooters in NCAA history, but NBADraft.net's pre-draft assessment included critiques like "extremely small for an NBA shooting guard" and "not a natural point guard an NBA team can rely on."
Cue the laugh track.
Ignoring the concerns, Golden State selected Curry seventh overall. Within a few years, raucous Oracle Arena in Oakland was reinvigorated, and a once-proud Warriors franchise that had spiraled into irrelevance was winning again. By 2013-14, the Warriors secured their first 50-win season in 20 years behind Curry’s 24 points per game and league-high 261 3-pointers.
But it was only a prelude.
Last season, powered by Curry’s MVP performance (23.8 points per game, a then-record 286 3-pointers and a league-high 91.4 free-throw percentage), the Warriors went 67-15 and rolled to their first NBA championship in 40 years.
“I’m very honored to have that award,” Curry says of winning the MVP, “and to cap it off with a championship—[it] couldn’t get any better than that.”
Actually, depending on what happens in the months and years to come, it might get a lot better.
O O O
When Curry entered the NBA, he had a strong biblical foundation and some idea, thanks to his father’s advice, of how to stay spiritually faithful in a worldly environment. But positive locker room influences are always welcome for rookies.
Enter Anthony Tolliver. In early 2010, the 6-foot-8 forward had turned a couple of 10-day contracts into a spot on the Warriors’ roster for the rest of the season. He and Curry hit it off as friends and realized they both shared a common faith, although they didn’t discuss spiritual matters much that year.
After Tolliver signed with Minnesota the following August, Curry contacted him and thanked him for the Christian example he set and how much it helped Curry grow in his own faith. Tolliver was stunned.
“I was just a guy trying to make it in the NBA,” Tolliver says. “Without me knowing it, [God] was using me to show Steph how to live life in the NBA without compromising. It really took my level of faith and my thought processes to another level to be able to help my teammates and use the locker room to further God’s glory.”
Since then, the two have remained close even as Curry has achieved superstardom while Tolliver is playing for his eighth team in eight years. They text back and forth as much as their hectic schedules allow.
“I’m just always encouraging him to not be ashamed, but to be bold,” Tolliver says. “He knows his platform is huge and he has a ton of influence. I guess my role, if I can call it a role, is to be that person always pushing him to be better. It’s always a matter of growth.”
Curry, who trusted in Christ at a church youth group meeting, says he wants to “grow even more” in sharing his faith with “teammates that may not know Jesus and how He can impact their life.”
“I’m not a guy who’s going to be trying to bash people over the head with the Bible,” he says. “I want people to know when they see me play that something is different, that I play for something different, and whether I’m talking about it [or not], I just hope by the way I carry myself and by the way I play the game, they can see there’s something different about that guy. And they find out what it is and then they know. It’s part of who I am.”
O O O
For a time during the 2015-16 season, it seemed like Golden State would never lose.
The Warriors started a record 24-0, reached 50 wins (in their 55th game) faster than any team in history and secured a postseason berth on Feb. 27—seven weeks before the start of the playoffs, the earliest playoff-clinching date ever—as they chased the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ record of 72 regular-season wins.
The eye of this Oracle-shaking storm, of course, is the Baby-Faced Assassin, looking every bit like a superstar entering his prime. When Curry gets hot, he's virtually unstoppable. He'll take you off the dribble, off a screen or on the break. He'll hit a step-back jumper, a layup, a reverse layup, or a teardrop in traffic. He'll snap the net with a man in his face, or falling over with several men surrounding him. He'll crush you from two, from three (especially from three), from the wing, from the corner, from the top of the key, from 30 feet, or from half court.
Bringing It Home Devotional: Passionate Pursuit
The "experts" said Stephen Curry didn't have the makings of an NBA superstar. He didn't even fit the typical mold of a top Division I athlete. Read more
It doesn’t matter. Curry will get his, and he makes it look easy.
In 2012-13, he set a new NBA single-season record for 3-pointers (272), only to break it twice since—the last time coming earlier this season with a record-tying 12 3-pointers in an overtime win over Oklahoma City. That was in Game 58 with 24 more games left. As of March 31, he was at 361 and counting.
Assuming good health, Curry is a solid bet to eclipse Ray Allen’s NBA record for career 3-pointers (2,973). After his age 27 season, Allen was at 1,129; as of March 31, Curry had 1,552. Curry also ranks second in all-time 3-point percentage (.443 as of March 31), trailing only his coach, Steve Kerr (.454). But Kerr, who played for 16 seasons, averaged less than one 3-pointer made per game. Curry averages more than three.
The basketball landscape—from AAU teams to the pros—is littered with 6-foot-3 dudes who love jacking up 3s. So how has Curry become the best long-range bomber in the world?
“Because his are going in,” his father says, laughing.
Natural talent and an unrivaled work ethic certainly play into it. But Tolliver points to another factor.
“The combination of ball-handling and quick release is the reason for his unbelievable success,” Tolliver says. “He’s obviously put a lot of work into his ball-handling, but it’s the combination. It’s never been seen before—to shoot like that and that quickly. It’s unbelievable. He shoots it before you can get there.”
Then there’s the matter of genes. Having a father who sunk 1,245 career 3-pointers probably doesn’t hurt.
“I think you have the gene to shoot, but you also have to have the gene to work at it,” Dell says. “You can have skill, but if you don’t work at it, it’s not going to get better.”
Stephen would not dispute any of this. But he often says he’s been given a gift. And when he does, he’s quick to deflect attention to the Gift Giver.
“I want people to know... that I play for something different... by the way I carry myself and by the way I play the game... they find out what it is and then they know. It’s part of who I am.” - Stephen Curry
“I’ve always been a believer that the Lord has put whatever talent in you, [and] whatever gift He has put in you, He wants you to get the most out of that. He wants you to succeed; He wants you to pursue and work and be passionate about it,” Curry says. “It’s not about getting any of the glory for yourself; it’s all for His [glory]. That’s where you have to keep perspective. Work at it and do all you can so you get the most out of yourself, but do it for His will.”
Curry calls his faith “my driving force.” It’s both the anchor and rudder for his life as he navigates the remarkable but often perilous journey of being a rich, famous athlete.
Those who know Curry best marvel at how little he has changed during his startling ascendancy. He still says “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” He signs every autograph possible. He still values people and relationships and reaches out to those in need.
When Dell is working a Hornets game, people who have encountered Stephen will often compliment Dell on his son’s character—even game officials.
“Basketball will stop one day, but the person you are, you’ll be for the rest of your life,” Dell says. “He’s a great person, very respectful.”
Tolliver, who has remained one of Curry’s main spiritual accountability partners, added to the praise coming from around the league: “I’m proud to be associated with the guy, honestly. People I know speak so highly of him on how well he handles all this—all the fame and fortune. It’s not easy. It’s not something everybody can do.”
And the proud mother’s words, of course, are never far behind.
“The Spirit of God and the love of God just exude through that boy,” Sonya says. “He makes everybody he meets feel special. He doesn’t overlook anyone.”
Curry’s wife, Ayesha, and the couple’s two young daughters, Riley and Ryan, play a huge part in his ongoing humility. As soon as Curry walks through the door at home, he isn’t the NBA’s marquee player; he’s just Daddy. It’s hard to be too preoccupied with yourself when you’re changing diapers or enjoying an impromptu dance party with a preschooler.
Ayesha, whom Stephen married in 2011, “allows me to keep focused on what’s important every single day, and she’s not going to let me slide,” he says. “That’s what I need.”
O O O
You know where Dell and Sonya will be this NBA postseason. When they aren’t attending Stephen’s playoff games, they’ll be on their sofa, drowsy eyes affixed to the flickering TV screen as they fend off sleep and await another post-midnight miracle from the Baby-Faced Assassin—their Baby-Faced Assassin.
Even from afar, both parents find it hard not to cheer their son on, albeit in their own individual ways. Sonya is the more animated one, prone to whoops, hollers, flailing arms and leaps off the couch. Dell is more subdued, quietly analyzing his son’s moves and occasionally allowing his lips to reveal an “atta boy” smirk. Every so often, though, Dell will forget himself, such as a March game against Utah, when Stephen hit a seemingly impossible half-court shot right before halftime.
“I think I might’ve jumped,” he concedes.
Join the crowd, Dell.
More Stephen Curry content from FCA: FCA Magazine Exclusive Interview Transcript with Stephen Curry (2016) Mobile and Web Wallpaper (FCA Magazine - 2016) Stephen Curry: In My Own Words (FCA Magazine - 2013) Web Wallpaper (FCA Magazine - 2013)
Bringing It Home Devotional:
“I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13
The “experts” said Stephen Curry didn’t have the makings of an NBA superstar. He didn’t even fit the typical mold of a top Division I athlete. But he refused to squander what God had placed within him or become complacent in his play. Curry worked relentlessly to fashion his quick-draw ball slinging, determined to refute the naysayers. And he revolutionized the strength of the small man.
Curry plays with passion, for something more than getting gold on the hardwood: “I want people to know when they see me play that something is different. I just hope by the way I carry myself and by the way I play the game, they can see there’s something different about that guy.”
He’s never been one to let man’s assessment define him, crafting and cultivating the gifts given from God to step into the spotlight to shine His glory into the world. We’re all fashioned with specific personalities, traits and talents from before time began, originating from our Creator. We’re woven with purpose.
“I’ve always been a believer that the Lord has put whatever talent in you, [and] whatever gift He has put in you, He wants you to get the most out of that. He wants you to succeed; He wants you to pursue and work and be passionate about it,” Curry says.
Calling is where your passions and God’s needs collide. What burns underneath your pulse? What drives you? What weighs on your heart more than anything else?
Don’t be afraid to fight for what you know God has called you to, even when it appears it will take a hard swim upstream against the current. At the end of the river, there will always be people standing, quick to discredit and send you right back from where you came. But stay confident that you can do all things in Christ. Seek out those who will strengthen and encourage you on your journey. Believe your God-given abilities are ready and waiting for you to harness and then let loose.
If you feel stuck in the stigmas of what society stamps as acceptable and traditional, do not let your thoughts stray to how you may not fit the mold—too scrawny, not tenacious enough, underappreciated or overlooked. What makes you unique may just be what this groaning earth needs.
Like Curry, you too can revolutionize your world. Let yourself come alive and dig into the ground of your gifts, allowing God to shape, shift and strengthen them to do a new thing that has never been seen before.
• What are some gifts you feel God has given you, but you have been afraid to use?
• Name three challenges of these fears and three ways God can equip you.
• Are there people in your life who can encourage you to develop these skills?
• Ephesians 2:10
• 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
• 1 Peter 4:10
Lord, You see me and You know me. You have knit me together with specific passions, desires and skills that I want to use. Sometimes it looks like no one else sees the vision I have, or it’s hard to know where to use the talents I possess. Help me keep my eyes on You and work at bettering myself to give You my best. Let me be bold to share what I have to offer with the world, for Your Kingdom. Amen.
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports, Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports and Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports