In Epic Athletes: Stephen Curry, acclaimed journalist and bestselling author Dan Wetzel tells the inspiring, electrifying story of the NBA superstar, beginning a new series of sports biographies for young readers!
Featuring comic-style illustrations by Zeke Peña!
When you think of Stephen Curry, one word comes to mind: greatness. From shooting three-pointers with laser precision to his clutch ability to hit buzzer-beaters time and again, he has established himself as one of the best players in pro basketball.
But greatness was never a guarantee for Steph. The son of a talented NBA player, he dreamed of one day playing professionally just like his dad. Yet Steph, who was always smaller and weaker than the competition, was told over and over that he would never be talented enough to be a college star or NBA playerlet alone the MVP of the entire league. Through tenacity and hard work, he proved them all wrong and went on to dismantle the record books.
With the high energy of a TV commentator, and featuring dynamic comic-style illustrations, this engaging biography tells the story of an NBA All-Star and the path he took to achieve his dreams.
* "Wetzel knows how to organize the facts and tell a good story. . . an unusually informative and enjoyable sports biography for young readers." Booklist (starred review)
A Junior Library Guild selection!
About the Author
New York Times bestselling author Dan Wetzel has been a Yahoo Sports national columnist since 2003. He's covered events and stories around the globe, including college football, the NFL, the MLB, the NHL, the NBA, the UFC, the World Cup, and the Olympics. For years, he's been called America's best sports columnist, appeared repeatedly in the prestigious Best American Sports Writing, and been honored more than a dozen times by the Associated Press Sports Editors. Follow him on Twitter.
Read an Excerpt
Twenty thousand Cleveland Cavaliers fans stood inside Quicken Loans Arena and tried to distract Stephen Curry. They stomped their feet. They waved their arms. They cupped their hands up to their faces and screamed.
It was Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals, and Cleveland's J. R. Smith had just drained a three-pointer. A Golden State lead that only minutes before had stretched to thirteen points was now just four, 101–97. There were 29.0 seconds remaining, still enough time for the Cavaliers to mount a comeback. Golden State led the series 3–2 and was trying to win the franchise's first NBA title in forty years. The Warriors wanted to end the series right then, in this game, and avoid having to play a decisive Game 7. They didn't want to give Cleveland superstar LeBron James another chance to win it all.
Cleveland had all the momentum. It was up to Curry to stop it, win the game, and grab the championship that he had spent a lifetime dreaming about.
Golden State had won sixty-seven games in the regular season, among the most by any team in NBA history. Behind Curry and teammate Klay Thompson, dubbed the "Splash Brothers" for the way so many of their long three-pointers splashed through the net, the team had cruised to The Finals with a 12–3 record. It was expected to beat Cleveland handily, especially after one of the Cavs' stars, Kyrie Irving, was lost to injury.
Instead, LeBron raised his level of play and Cleveland took two of the first three games. To make matters worse, Steph, the best player in the league that season, was in a slump. His usually reliable shot was off. At the end of the Game 2 loss, he shot just two of fifteen from three-point range. He even tossed up an air ball, missing the rim altogether. "Shots I normally make I knew as soon as they left my hand that they were off," Steph explained. "That doesn't usually happen."
In the media, there was talk that Steph wasn't tough enough for the big games and the pressure of the NBA Finals was getting to him. He had shaken that off and returned to form in Games 4, 5, and now Game 6. The Warriors clawed back and took the lead in the series. They couldn't imagine it all coming undone in the last minute.
Everything rested on the slim shoulders of Steph Curry, who had been fouled and awarded two free throws. If he missed one or both of the shots from the line, Cleveland still had a chance. If he hit them, Golden State was almost assuredly going to win.
With the pressure mounting and the noise of all those Cavaliers fans raining down on him, Steph walked to the free-throw line. For years he had dreamed of and practiced for this moment. His entire life he'd been told over and over the same thing by coaches, scouts, and the media — that he would never be good enough to be a great college star or NBA player, let alone the MVP of the entire league.
Too small, they said. Too short, they claimed. Too little, they argued.
Curry now stood six foot three and weighed 190 pounds. That was small by NBA standards. LeBron, for instance, checked in at six-eight and 265 pounds of muscle. Curry had always been undersized, though, and he adapted his game around that fact. He was sometimes the smallest kid on the court in middle school. As a high school sophomore, he said he was "a little scrawny kid, like maybe five foot six, five foot seven and 120 pounds." So he learned to shoot the ball with a high arc to avoid the outstretched arms of taller kids who would try to block his shot. By using quick dribbles and his speed, he found ways to create space on the court to get the ball up in the air and away from bigger players attempting to steal it from him.
He also knew that if there was one place on a basketball court where his height and weight didn't matter, it was the free-throw line. No one is allowed to guard you there. No one can stop you from hitting every shot you take. The free-throw line doesn't care who you are. It's just you, the ball, and the rim, fifteen feet away, ten feet in the air. In a sport with so much movement, it is the one time everything is the same, from grade school basketball to here in the NBA Finals. It's the one time the game stands still — but the pressure is still impossible to ignore.
Steph couldn't count the hours he'd spent perfecting his routine and shot from the line. He was never going to be a great dunker. He was never going to be able to muscle over opponents and score easily. He understood his strengths and didn't complain about his weaknesses. He knew he had to take points where he could get them. Besides, if bigger players were going to test his toughness and foul him, if they were going to attempt to bully him, the best revenge was to make both free throws. Eventually they'd stop or lose the game.
It started back in the driveway of his family's home in Charlotte, North Carolina. It continued through his days at Charlotte Christian School and then Davidson College, the small school that believed in his potential. It remained a daily habit across his first six years in the NBA, when many wondered if he'd ever become a star.
No matter how good Curry got, he never stopped working on the basics, and that meant free throws. The key to hitting free throws is using the exact same approach and technique on every shot, even before you release the ball. It was a lesson his father, Dell, taught him at an early age. If you are dedicated to your training, then you always have something to lean back on.
Dell would know. He spent sixteen seasons in the NBA. He was a great player, which was another criticism Steph heard growing up: He wasn't as good as his dad. Comparing a kid to an NBA player was unfair. How could a seventh grader, a high schooler, even a college player be as good as an NBA player? If Dell Curry weren't his father, no one would have compared Steph to an NBA star. He'd just be Steph. Yet that's what so many did. Steph heard it his entire life but never felt resentment toward his father. He loved him and loved the support he provided. These free throws were for Dell, too. Through all his years in the NBA, Dell was never on a championship team. This would be a title for the entire Curry family.
Steph knew that in these tense moments he needed concentration, repetition, balance, and follow-through. He was the best free-throw shooter in the league, hitting 91.4 percent of his attempts during the season. So even here, on the verge of attempting the most tense and dramatic free throws of his life, nothing changed. He went with what he knew best.
He stepped to the line and stared directly at the rim. He ignored the screaming fans, the waving arms, and the nervous teammates on the bench, who were silently praying that he'd make it. He took a deep breath and then exhaled to calm his nerves. He chomped on his mouth guard, which was hanging halfway out of his mouth, a habit he'd picked up through the years that now felt natural. "It calms me down," he explained. He took one dribble and then smoothly shot.
The Cleveland fans groaned before again ratcheting up the noise and commotion. Maybe, they thought, they could rattle him and make him miss the second shot.
Curry reacted like no one was in the arena. He was just a kid all alone back in his driveway rather than one shot away from icing the NBA championship. He casually slapped hands with a few of his teammates and then stepped back into the routine.
Deep breath, exhale, chomp the mouth guard, one bounce, perfect form.
Moments later the game and championship were won, Golden State 105–97. Steph congratulated James on a series well played, dribbled out the clock, and pointed up to the sky. He then jumped up and down and hugged his teammates.
"I'm just so happy, man," Curry said. "God is great."
The Golden State Warriors were champions at last, and Stephen Curry, the too-small, too-weak guard who no major college thought was talented enough to play for them finished with twenty-five points, eight assists, and six rebounds, including those clutch free throws in the clinching game. Amid the celebration he quickly found his father on the court and thanked the man who'd taught him that through hard work and deep belief he was capable of proving everyone wrong.
"It's an unbelievable feeling in that moment," Steph said. "I followed in his footsteps. I've talked about how impactful he's been in my life. Just being an example on and off the court of what a true professional is and how he raised me and my brother and my sister. So to be able to have that moment was special." He continued, "I can't be more proud of him as a father and a role model and example for me. I hope it made him proud tonight."
Later, Dell Curry would just smile about what his son had accomplished. It had been a long journey with plenty of hurdles to clear. All those years when he'd look at his son and hope he would hit a growth spurt. The rejection from the bigger college programs, the doubts from the media, and all the injuries and losses during Steph's first years on Golden State. When Steph was a rookie, the team had gone just 26–56, nearly last place in their division. It was typical for Golden State, which was never a power like the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, or San Antonio Spurs. No one ever thought the Warriors would amount to much of anything.
How far he'd come.
Through it all, the plan the Currys believed in came together. Hard work gave Steph the sweetest, smoothest jump shot in the league. Steph, for years, took about 2,000 practice shots a week and at least 250 a day. He took so many his hands grew calloused like he was a construction worker. Endless hours of routine made him the NBA's best ball handler. He'd embrace dull drills of dribbling forward, backward, between his legs, sometimes with a ball in each hand, over and over. He was so good, fans began arriving well before the games just to watch him practicing and film it on their phones.
Meanwhile, all those who didn't believe in him gave Steph the fire to prove them wrong, to quiet them like he did all those Cleveland fans screaming for him to miss the free throws. Every day he got a little better. So did Golden State. What could anyone say now? Steph and his team were champions, the best of the best.
"Make me proud?" Dell Curry said when told what his son had said about him. "I hope I made him proud."CHAPTER 2
Wardell Stephen Curry II was born on March 14, 1988, a Monday, in Akron, Ohio. He was named after his father, Wardell Stephen Curry I, who was known as "Dell." Dell Curry was named after his father, Wardell "Jack" Curry, so he was just passing along the family name. The Currys didn't want to live a life of confusion where both were known by the same name, so their first son was immediately called by his middle name, Stephen. But not everyone followed that rule. Growing up, Steph's friends called him Wardell, often as a way of playfully teasing him because the name was old-fashioned.
The most confusing part, however, was the unusual pronunciation of "Stephen." Stephen is usually pronounced like "STEE-ven," like its other spelling, Steven. In this case, the name was pronounced "STEFF-in." All these years later, it remains a point of confusion.
"I've gone through that my whole life," Steph said. "It's spelled the same way as the normal 'Stephen' you hear." When he met new people who mispronounced "Stephen," he told them, "you can call me Steph [pronounced Steff]. That just works for both of us."
Dell was in his second season in the NBA when Steph was born. Drafted by the Utah Jazz, he was traded to Cleveland for the 1987–88 season. He and his wife, Sonya, lived in the Akron area, not far from the Cavaliers' arena at the time. They were newly married and young parents, Dell just twenty-three, Sonya just twenty-one. They were overjoyed at their baby boy, who would soon be followed by a brother, Seth, in 1990 and a sister, Sydel, in 1994. Coincidentally, less than four years earlier another future basketball player, one named LeBron James, had been born at the same Akron hospital ("pretty crazy," Steph would say later).
Unlike LeBron, Steph didn't stay and grow up in Akron. After just one year in Cleveland, Dell was picked up by the Charlotte Hornets, an expansion franchise that was about to play its very first season in a new arena in North Carolina. There was incredible excitement for the team, the first major professional sports franchise to find a home in the Carolinas. The Hornets led the NBA in attendance right away, even though it wasn't a great team at first. Within a few years, the Hornets reached the playoffs and the players became very famous in Charlotte. Dell developed into one of the best three-point shooters in the league, averaging double digits in points in nine of his ten seasons with the Hornets. During the 1993–94 season, he was named the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, an award given annually to the best player in the league who isn't a regular starter. He retired as the franchise career leader in games played, points scored, and two- and three-point field goals made, though he would eventually be surpassed years later. He now serves as a television broadcaster for the Hornets, sometimes calling games featuring his own sons, Steph and Seth, while trying to not sound biased in their favor.
The life of an NBA family is exciting. The players are well paid. Everyone around town knows who they are. For the kids, there are games to attend and famous athletes to meet both on their father's team and the opposing one.
There are also drawbacks. The job requires a great deal of effort, not just long road trips away from the family but endless hours of practice, individual work, and training. Dell Curry was a loving and caring father, but he wasn't always able to be with the family. The night Steph was born, for instance, Dell played a game in New York. He scored fifteen points, but the Cavs lost to the Knicks. Cleveland had a game the next night in Chicago. Rather than travel with the team to Chicago, Dell caught an early flight to Cleveland and drove to the hospital in Akron to visit Sonya and see his firstborn son. He then quickly left to fly to Chicago and met his teammates for another game.
That was the NBA life, though: constant travel, practice, and games that couldn't be missed. The job of parenting often fell to Sonya, who had to make sure homework was done, discipline was laid down, and manners were minded. Sonya grew up in Radford, Virginia, a small city in the southwest part of the state. She was also a great athlete when she was young, eventually playing volleyball at Virginia Tech. In her family, hard work was expected. So was a commitment to faith. While her kids were born into privilege as the children of an NBA star, Sonya was determined to have them learn the same lessons that she had learned. She was strict. She was not going to raise spoiled children. Household chores were mandatory, and once, in middle school, when Steph didn't finish doing the dishes, his mother made him sit out a basketball game to learn his lesson. "I went to school and had to tell my team, 'Hey, guys, I can't play tonight,'" Steph recalled. "Four dirty dish plates in the sink, and I didn't get it done. You learn priorities and understand basketball is a privilege. It can be taken away."
For Steph and Seth, the biggest thrill was getting to go to Charlotte home games. They usually had great seats, met famous players on both the Hornets and other teams, and often shot baskets on the court before the game or at practices. They hung around the locker room and became friends with the players.
The problem was that the games started late and Sonya Curry wouldn't let them go on weeknights because they needed to be up early the next morning. "She'd always say, 'school night,'" Steph said. So they would wait all week for a Friday- or Saturday-night game and go see their dad in action.
While Dell was a professional basketball player, he didn't push his children into the sport. The family had a hoop in the driveway, but the kids gravitated to different passions. Steph played Little League baseball, youth football, and lots of golf. Steph had a very smooth golf swing at an early age. He played golf in high school and developed into a great golfer as an adult. Many in the golf community believe that if Steph had decided to concentrate on golf, not basketball, he could have played on the PGA Tour. The amount of practice it takes to play professional golf is as great, if not even greater, than what it takes to make the NBA, so you can't really do both.
In 2017, the Web.com Tour invited Steph to play in an event in Hayward, California, near the Warriors' arena in Oakland, even though he was just an amateur, recreational player. He did well, shooting a respectable score of seventy-four on each day. He even finished ahead of a few professional players.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Epic Athletes: Stephen Curry"
Copyright © 2019 Dan Wetzel.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
2. Growing Up,
3. High School,
5. Freshman Year,
6. The Big Dance,
7. NBA Draft,
8. Welcome to Golden State,
9. Rising Up,
About the Author,