Will Reigel couldn’t believe his horrible luck. Of all the people he could bump into while touring Davidson College, it had to be the one guy he really couldn’t stand? It had to be Steph Curry?
Over the previous two years, Reigel had built up a good dose of loathing for Curry, dating to a high school game between Curry’s Charlotte Christian and Reigel’s Charlotte Latin in 2006. The two rival schools played four times that year — twice in the regular season, once in a holiday tournament and once in the state playoffs. Latin went 0-for-4, including the one game Reigel couldn’t forget.
Just a sophomore and guarded all night by Curry, Reigel went to the free throw line, his team down one with four seconds left in the game. Curry walked by, looked him right in the eye and smirked.
“No pressure, Will,” Curry said.
Reigel missed them both.
And now, two years later, as Reigel is checking out Davidson, there’s Curry. Only the smirk is gone, replaced with a warm smile. Curry remembers his name, even asks Reigel about his high school team. “I’m thinking, ‘What the hell?’ I’ve held a grudge against this guy for two years, and now he’s the nicest guy in the world. Before that, I was probably the only guy that did not like Stephen Curry. Then even I couldn’t hate him.”
Who can? Curry is a two-time NBA MVP. His Warriors, in search of a second consecutive NBA championship, have a 2-1 lead in The Finals. His appeal is global. His pregame warm-up routine a must-see event, much like his games. His jersey, according to the NBA, the most popular among all NBA players.
It all started at Davidson, where Stephen Curry first became Steph Curry.
It’s also where he was just a regular college kid trashing a fish tank at a local restaurant.
Wait — what?
Five bucks says you won’t get in the koi pond.
Steve Rossiter looked around and did the math — 10 guys, five bucks a pop. All he had to do was one quick swim with the fish and pocket some decent money for a college kid.
But Rossiter needed help, someone to distract everybody from watching a guy swim in a koi pond in the middle of a restaurant.
Enter the innocent, baby-faced-looking phenom who had just led Davidson to within a shot of knocking off Kansas and a spot in the Final Four of the 2008 NCAA tournament.
So as Rossiter prepped for his dip, Curry turned to the hostess and offered a smile.
“While he talked, I got in,” Rossiter remembers. “The fish swam away. They were pretty big.”
Plotting how to discreetly jump into a koi pond while people enjoy dinner is rightly considered ridiculous and foolish: classic college stupidity.
It is also vintage Steph Curry. Never the initiator and rarely the actual prankster, the guard was always happy to set up his Davidson teammates, even off the court.
Need more evidence? See for yourself.
Before he became a two-time MVP and worldwide phenom who launched a thousand imitators in driveways, gyms and parks, Curry was a college kid who did what every college kid has done and will forever do. He acted like a goofball. He has an army of teammates more than willing to share his antics.
“Did you see the YouTube videos?” former Davidson forward Andrew Lovedale asks. “You have to see them.”
A quick Google search uncovers Curry starring in the Davidson Show, a sketch comedy web series at the college. With on-campus ratings flagging, the basketball team decided to do a takeover, featuring themselves for an entire episode.
The fun starts at about the 5:30 mark.
But wait, there’s more. He also shows up at about the three-minute mark in a 2008 Dance Ensemble video — a sort of flash mob video done to the Chris Brown song “Kiss Kiss.”
“He was just having fun, being normal,” Lovedale says.
Normal included watching movies and going to parties and downing his favorite chicken parm in the Commons. He and his teammates even put together a pretty lethal intramural softball team.
Normal even included getting kicked out of his first workout.
“He was three minutes late, maybe four,” coach Bob McKillop says.
On the court, that’s where Curry wasn’t normal. The folks at Davidson got an early peek at what now makes the world marvels — brazen shot selection and very few misses.
“I’d say ‘What is he doing?”’ Davidson radio man John Kilgo said. “Then after a while, I changed. I said, ‘Well that’s a bad shot for everyone I’ve ever seen play the game but him.”
During Davidson’s 2008 NCAA tournament run to the Sweet 16, Lefty Driesell, a Davidson coach in the ’60s, called and told (not asked) his good friend Kilgo that he’d sit in on the radio during the Wildcats’ second-round game against Georgetown. Soon enough, Driesell was providing color commentary. At that time, people had divided their opinions about Curry: On one side, they questioned how so many schools had missed on him; on the other, folks argued he wouldn’t be nearly as good in a tougher league.
“Well, he starts taking the ball to the basket against Georgetown’s size, and at one point, Lefty screams on the air, ‘Forget the ACC. That little sucker can play in the NBA,'” Kilgo says.
Curry doesn’t just play in the NBA now; he owns it. That makes “normal” hard to find these days. An extraordinary basketball player who just wants to be an ordinary one doesn’t fly with a public drunk on celebrities. Rossiter remembers a late-night dinner in New York when Curry and the Warriors were in town. Curry’s two phones just kept dinging and dinging and dinging, one message after another.
“I thought to myself, ‘Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t text him so much,” Rossiter says.
But at Davidson, and with these people, he can go back to being a regular, to being a guy in search of a good prank.
John Falconi can attest to that. And Falconi, another former Davidson teammate, says he has no one to blame but himself.
If he had just shown up for the bachelor party, none of it would have happened. But Falconi made some lame excuse. When the guys all gathered in Cincinnati to celebrate with former Wildcats big man Thomas Sander before his wedding, and Falconi wasn’t there, they weren’t going to let it slide.
So as they all headed into a Reds game, someone hatched the plan and pitched it to Curry.
The tweet read something like, “Hey, in Cincy with some buddies. Hit me up with places to go tonight.”
And then Curry added a telephone number. It wasn’t his, though; it was Falconi’s.
This was after Curry’s second year in the NBA. Early in the mayhem, but still …
“John had to turn his phone off for weeks,” says Matt McKillop, the coach’s son, a teammate of Curry’s and current Davidson assistant. “To the point that, after Steph got hurt against Houston this year, John was still getting texts — ‘Hey, how’s the knee?’ It’s his own fault. There was no excuse for not showing. He was just lazy. And Steph loved it.”
Then there was the day last year — Feb. 25, to be exact — when Curry went from being Steph Curry to just a guy hanging out with friends. Curry started that morning off in Washington, D.C., speaking to dignitaries about the impact of malaria worldwide (Curry donates mosquito nets for every 3-pointer he makes as part of a United Nations campaign). Then he met privately with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office before flying to Cleveland, where he’d play the Cavaliers the next night. In Cleveland, he met up with a handful of Davidson teammates for dinner. One of those teammates, Jason Richards, asked Curry about Obama’s “swag.” Specifically, he wanted to know how Obama walked, talked and acted.
“So I’m thinking he won’t do anything, but then Steph stands up and starts walking like the president in the middle of the restaurant,” Lovedale says, laughing. “We walked out to the car later and my wife said to me, ‘You’re right. He hasn’t changed. He’s still just Steph.”’
Bob McKillop walks into Toast Cafe, a popular breakfast spot on Main Street in Davidson, North Carolina. Thanks to his trademark shock of white hair and 27 years as head coach, he’s immediately recognized.
Davidson is an idyllic place to be a celebrity. The cozy little hamlet lies only 25 minutes outside of Charlotte, but it might as well be a lifetime away. Locals who live in town still have to walk to the post office to pick up their mail, and the shops along Main Street are mom-and-pop local, not box-store suburbia.
Seven years after he left the place, Curry remains the town’s most popular citizen. He’s everywhere you’d expect him to be. There are pictures and displays filling the school’s gleaming, year-old Harry L. Vance Athletic Center; there’s an old newspaper clipping framed inside the student union. And Curry is in places you’d never expect, smiling down from yet another newspaper article inside the throwback Soda Shop (complete with counter service and paper plates only). The school bookstore relocated from its on-campus digs to a roomier space in town because of the demand for Curry gear and now spends as much time filling online and phone orders as it does ringing up sales behind the register. Here, and only here, can fans buy Under Armour Curry jerseys in Davidson, not Golden State, colors.
McKillop figures Davidson has more Warriors fans per capita than anyplace outside of California and recommends frequenting a local watering hole on a night Golden State plays then loitering at the post office for the postmortem the next morning.
“‘Did you see him? What do you think?’ That’s all you hear,” McKillop says.
That wasn’t exactly the reaction when Curry first arrived.
“I just remember thinking how tiny he was,” Lovedale says. “I was like, “He’s going to play pick-up with us? What’s he going to do? He’s going to get hurt.”
That feeling didn’t last long.
“He became Steph Curry pretty quick,” McKillop says.
By the end of his freshman year, Curry owned the school’s rookie scoring record. In his sophomore season, he led the Wildcats on that magical NCAA run. At the end of his junior year, he was holding a news conference, announcing he was leaving school early.
“That was a pretty big deal for us, naturally,” McKillop remembers. “I kept thinking, ‘One of our guys is leaving early?'”
Two years ago, when Ray Beltz, Curry’s former athletic trainer, was getting married, Curry drove five hours from a family function in Roanoke, Virginia, to Greenville, South Carolina. Back when Curry rolled his ankle during his junior year of college, the two spent hours rehabbing together, tightening a strong bond.
There was no way Curry was missing the wedding. He and his wife, Ayesha, found their way to the table at the banquet hall. Only two seats were empty. Belz purposefully had sat his wife’s cousin and her husband at the table, thinking they’d get a kick out of sitting with Curry. Also, he thought, they would play it cool. Except when Beltz’s family members went to sit down, they didn’t know anyone and quickly decided to relocate, squishing in at another table.
“As soon as Steph sat down, her cousin’s husband was like, ‘Oh my God, look what we did!”’ Beltz says.
Once the music started, Steph and Ayesha joined the fun on the dance floor, mixing and mingling with the guests all night, showing off a few of those dance moves first made famous in the Dance Ensemble video.
This was, after all, a Davidson wedding.
Everywhere else, Steph Curry might be a global icon. Among his Davidson family, he’s still just a goofy college kid having some fun.