Little-known fact: Stephen Curry was tossed out of his first workout with the Davidson Wildcats for being a few minutes late to the gym.
It got better. Boy, how it got better.
Curry chuckled Thursday as Davidson men’s basketball coach Bob McKillop told that story about the scrawny kid who showed up from Charlotte Christian in 2006. He was similarly entertained by the reminder he was so gassed in a workout weeks later that McKillop offered him a white towel – the boxing signal for “surrender.”
Curry never surrendered, and the rewards of his persistence surrounded him on the stage at Davidson’s performing arts center. To his left was the Larry O’Brien Trophy, annually awarded to the NBA champions. Curry’s Golden State Warriors won that gold globe by taking out the Cleveland Cavaliers in June’s NBA Finals.
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Weeks earlier, Curry – once a lightly recruited guard out of high school – was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. He was outfitted from head to toe Thursday in Under Armour gear. The shoe and apparel maker recently signed Curry to an extension of his endorsement deal that reportedly could be in the $200 million range.
It’s a great life, and Curry came back to share that existence with Davidson’s student body. He will also beat the “Keep Pounding” drum at Sunday’s Carolina Panthers home game against the Houston Texans.
The entire college was invited to a question-and-answer session at midday on Thursday. To call this a homecoming understates the occasion. This was love-in.
McKillop reminded Curry of all the questions he got at the end of his freshman season about whether he might transfer to a more prominent basketball program.
“Transferring never crossed my mind. This was all meant to be,” Curry told the crowd of students. “You support me. My support of Davidson is never going to stop.”
That induced a girl to shout, “We love you!” Curry replied he felt like he was playing a rock concert.
Curry hadn’t been back to campus for some time, so he was thoroughly feted. He informally worked out with the basketball team, participating in a pull-up contest. Then he christened the still-under-construction practice facility, banking in a 3-pointer. (Yes, he called “bank.”)
Curry made a significant financial contribution to the building fund that made the practice facility happen, according to McKillop, who sent out the email invitation to the student body late Wednesday afternoon. By 10 a.m. Thursday, 1 1/2 hours before the event, a line of hundreds of students wrapped around the outside of the performing arts center.
When Curry came on stage, clutching that championship trophy, the students broke out in a spontaneous chant of “MVP! MVP!” Curry is six seasons removed from being a college All-American, but he’ll be an icon at Davidson forever.
That’s about more than his 25.3-point scoring average in three seasons. It’s about the loyalty he demonstrated to a small, academically demanding college, when he just as easily could have jumped to any ACC school.
“There is no place like Davidson. I try to put that into words, but it never quite comes out right,” Curry said. “Everyone has their own (college) experience, but Davidson is top-tier. You’re here for a reason.”
Maybe the one disappointment in Thursday’s homecoming was the students hearing Curry didn’t bring along his daughter, Riley, whose precociousness made her a darling of the NBA Finals. There was a loud “Whoop!” from the students at Riley’s mention.
Late in the session a student asked Curry what’s the coolest thing he’s done since winning the title. Curry mentioned the opportunity to play golf recently with U.S. President Barack Obama.
“That was the best,” Curry said, “until today.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell