- Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.
Stephen Curry, just 10 3s shy of breaking Ray Allen’s all-time 3-point record, has put together the kind of historic career through 12 seasons that every young player dreams about.
In a generation defined by shooting, Curry is regarded as the best.
“I think people have compared him to myself and to Reggie [Miller] and to other past shooters, great shooters in the NBA, but he really operates somewhat in a lane of his own,” Allen said recently.
It wasn’t always that way, though. Curry was once a 180-pound rookie — still better known as the baby-faced guard from Davidson College who had burst onto the national stage thanks to a smooth jump shot and a confidence beyond his years — competing in his first 3-point contest alongside some of the NBA’s best, including Boston Celtics swingman Paul Pierce and Denver Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups, who are currently ninth and 18th on the all-time 3-point list, respectively.
“I’d watched the three-point contest my entire life,” Curry told ESPN. “My dad had been in it plenty of times. A lot of guys that I looked up to, Reggie [Miller], Ray [Allen], Rex [Chapman], a lot of dudes that I know that experienced that and I was so excited just to have the first opportunity.”
As a commentator for Turner Sports, Miller knew he was seeing the future of basketball flash before him during that 2010 All-Star Weekend in Dallas.
“Here comes my guy right here!” Miller exclaimed as Curry got set for the first round.
It didn’t take long for Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith to see what Miller saw in the Golden State Warriors point guard.
“Reggie, he shoots like you,” Barkley said. “Even when he miss, it looks good.”
Curry closed the night falling just short of Pierce after missing three of his five shots in the final rack, but he knew in that moment that he belonged on the biggest stages the game provided.
“I lost, finished second, but the talk around the sidelines, like all the guys, all the All-Stars, all the guys who showed up there [was] ‘Ahh, I’m betting on you! It’s about to happen!'” Curry said.
“I wasn’t even shooting that well my rookie year, I just had a reputation that kind of preceded me because of my dad, because of how I played at Davidson. That was the first time I really was like — and it’s Paul Pierce, too, in ’09. That’s like Paul Pierce — and it was like, ‘This is dope.’ People think I can shoot the ball as well as I do, so that’s kind of cool.”
Eleven years later, Miller doesn’t hesitate when asked if Curry has surpassed him and Allen as the greatest shooter in NBA history.
“Yes,” Miller said. “He is. He is.”
The 2010 All-Star weekend became a defining moment for a young sharpshooter on his way to superstardom. 12 seasons later, ahead of the performance that will officially cement him as the greatest shooter in NBA history, players and coaches who have shared the court with Curry recall the moments they knew they were witnessing a generational talent.
Davidson College, 2006-2009
Bob McKillop, Davidson College head coach: “We played Eastern Michigan in his first college game. He has nine turnovers in the first half and we’re down 18 points and he wasn’t even playing the point guard. So I reflected back with our coaching staff at halftime and said, ‘Should we take him out of the lineup?’ And then we just said, ‘Well, he lives in the moment, he’s going to come back in the second half.’ And he wound up getting 15 and 13, I think. 15 points, 13 turnovers. Not the kind of double double you want; nevertheless, it was all the result of that experience in Las Vegas where we saw something special. And we saw his ability to live in the moment, to transcend time. They talk today about the short memory, whatever, he was absolutely consistent in that throughout his career for us.”
“The next night he dropped 30 on Michigan.”
Dell Curry, former NBA guard: “His first college tournament. I went to that tournament, I was coming back through the airport, and coach McKillop said, ‘Your son’s going to make some money playing this game.’ So just the first college tournament that I saw him in … I knew he was a special guy, wired differently mentally because he had a horrible first half. I mean, he might have had eight turnovers. And he came back in the second half and was just as aggressive, did not phase him one bit, played great in the second half.”
Doc Rivers, Philadelphia 76ers head coach: “I was in the crowd when he played my oldest son, Jeremiah, Davidson-Georgetown, and watching him, what he was doing there, you just said, ‘That guy’s different.'”
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors guard: “I watched him lead Davidson to the Elite 8 with a bunch of marginal college players … nah they were good, but nobody made it to the pros. They beat a bunch of teams with professional players, future professional players. I just think that never wavered when he got to the NBA. I think he played the exact same way. You look how he played at Davidson, his rookie year, that’s why it’s pretty shocking that there was six draft picks in front of him after he led the country in scoring, but hey, I’m not a drafter.”
Golden State Warriors, 2009-Present
Chauncey Billups, Portland Trail Blazers head coach: “He had that game against the Knicks at the Garden, and I was watching that game, and when I seen that game, I said, ‘Well, goodnight, Irene. It’s over now.’ Because the confidence that comes with that, and you’re doing it in that building on that stage, in front of the world, I knew it was over. There was no turning back from that and I’m just so happy for him.”
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors power forward: “The shot against the Clippers. When he came across the lane, behind the back, behind the back, stepback, at the top of the key. That shot. Remember that shot? This is the one for me where it was just like ‘Nah, I’m different than all of ya’ll. Like a lot of guys can shoot, but I’m way better than everybody.’ I think that was the moment where it was just like, ‘That’s it.'”
Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors head coach: “I think that famous shot of me holding my hands on my head after the shot he took against the Clippers, where he dribbled behind his back and threw four guys — that shot really actually was kind of a seminal moment. And for me, that was when I realized I just need to forget everything I had ever learned about what’s a good shot and what’s a bad shot. Because with Steph the old rules don’t count. You have to establish a new standard in your own mind about what’s a good shot and what’s a bad one. So I think that shot was the ultimate display of confidence and bravado. So even though in my head I’ve got all my Hall of Fame coaches, Phil Jackson and Pop and Lenny Wilkens, and Lute Olson, Cotton Fitzsimmons, they’re all telling me, ‘That’s a bad shot! That’s a bad shot!’ I had to eliminate all those voices from my head and realize this guy is — he’s different. He’s built differently. And not only do I need to allow him to do it, I need to embrace it. Because he gives us a dimension that is terrifying to teams. So I don’t remember the last time I said to Steph, ‘Hey, that’s a bad shot, maybe get a better one.’ He just goes.”
Kevon Looney, Golden State Warriors center: “My rookie year is the year that we won 73 games and he put on a show every night. I think the first time I really realized it was probably when we played in New Orleans. And he had like 50-something and it might have even been in three quarters. He’s shooting from half court, he’s doing all these crazy things, he’s falling down and he’s shaking his shoulders. I’m like, ‘This has got to be the greatest show ever.’ I’m coming from college, a year out of high school, like I ain’t never seen nothing like this. So after that I started to realize that he’s something special, he does that every night.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks power forward: “The play in OKC. I think there was like 10 seconds left and he pulled up from about two steps after the half court line. That was, like, 2016? I was young. I was like, ‘That guy is good.'”
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers forward: “I mean, first of all, the fact that the other night when they played, we were really tracking him to see if he would make 16 3s in a game, it just lets you know how freaking amazing this guy is. I mean, if there’s one guy in NBA history that can make 16 3s, it would be Steph Curry. I’m literally sitting there and I’m doing the calculations in my head, I’m like, ’16 3s … OK. I know he’s made 12 a few times. Well, if there’s somebody that can do it, it would be him … ‘ He’s hit so many big-time shots and buckets against us. Obviously he’s been phenomenal his whole career, and more importantly, just a great dude. And I wish I could be there if he’s breaking the record … We’re all witnesses to what Steph Curry has done in his career and the way he’s changed the game and he’s a once-in-a-lifetime basketball player.”
Steph drains six 3s, setting him nine behind Ray Allen
Steph Curry knocks down six 3-pointers in the Warriors’ win, putting him only nine behind Ray Allen.
Steve Nash, Brooklyn Nets head coach: “I think when I first started playing against him there might have been a little bit of big brother, little brother where I felt like I had the upper hand. And then by the time I was going out of the league, it was like I had no business being on the court with him … The guy makes incredible shots all the time. What, did he make one the other day from like the exit in the arena?”
Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns point guard: “I think for me too, being involved in grassroots basketball, AAU basketball, and knowing Trae Young when he was younger and playing AAU and seeing Trae come across half court, pulling up, shooting, that’s all Steph. That’s all that. See the way kids shoot the ball now, so deep and stuff like that, that’s the influence that he definitely had.”
Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs head coach: “I think he was still, for some reason, under the radar in the beginning. He’s kind of slight stature; at the time he wasn’t that strong. He always looks like he’s about 17 or 18 years old. You didn’t look at him and say, ‘Hey, he’s gonna to do this.’ But as the years went by and you realize he’s one of the greatest shooters you’ve ever seen, it became apparent that everything, record-wise, would be available to him … Because his movement, along with his shooting ability, his ball-handling along with it creates so much space for him to get shots off. He’s put in a lot of work and I don’t think people understand that.”
Jerry West, LA Clippers executive: “Look at the stars that attract people, ok? He just has something different. He’s not dunking all over people, he just is so clever and to get away from people, the way he finishes shots around the basket. Everyone talks about his long-range shooting; forget that. The toughest shots in the world, he’s going to make them, around the basket. He’s just that clever and dedicated to his craft.”
— ESPN’s Israel Gutierrez and Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.
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