As Thursday’s 2018 NBA draft approaches, I thought it would be fun to look at the way, nine years ago, Steph Curry handled what is always an uncertain and imperfect process.
Long before winning three NBA championships and two NBA Most Valuable Player awards, Curry was just a great shooter from Davidson who was skipping his senior year and badly wanted to be drafted by the New York Knicks, not the Golden State Warriors.
I covered Curry’s draft experience that year live from New York — he traveled to the draft with his family and Davidson coach Bob McKillop — and wrote a number of stories about him for the Observer during that time. Here are a few italicized and unedited paragraphs from those original stories, as well as a comment on what actually happened next.
From 2009, just before the draft: In the past two months, though, Curry’s draft stock has risen like the outdoor temperature. The Curry family would prefer to see Stephen get chosen by the New York Knicks at No. 8. They believe the fast-paced system run by coach Mike D’Antoni in New York would be a perfect fit.
Comment: It’s interesting to remember now that the Curry family really hoped Steph would wind up on the East Coast in the nation’s largest media market in New York. Charlotte drafted No. 12 that year and was never a major player in the Curry sweepstakes. At the time, the then-Bobcats thought they were set at point guard with (gulp) D.J. Augustin. Charlotte ended up choosing Gerald Henderson at 12.
Curry worked out for only four teams individually that year, passing on many other opportunities as he and his agents and family tried unsuccessfully to sway the draft process. The four teams were New York, Washington, Sacramento and Charlotte.
From 2009, just before the draft: If Curry, 21, is taken by a team other than the Knicks, he promises he won’t be a holdout. Quarterback John Elway once forced his way out of Baltimore by refusing to play for them in 1983 after getting picked No. 1 overall (he was traded to Denver instead). But Curry insisted he will do no such thing.
“I’ll make the best of whatever happens,” Stephen Curry said. “I’d love to go to New York, but I’m going to show up on time and give my best effort for whatever team that drafts me.”
Comment: At the time, Golden State seemed very far from a golden ticket for Curry. The Warriors were coached by crusty veteran Don Nelson, who was known for being hard on rookies. Golden State had also gone 29-53 the previous year and already was laden with guards. Coach Steve Kerr did not take over at Golden State until 2014.
From 2009, just before the draft: “Steph is a guy who can create for himself and also for others with his passing ability,” LeBron said. “He’s like a Rip Hamilton in our league. He never stops moving. Those types of players, they’re hard to guard. No matter how big you are, guys in the NBA don’t want to continue to chase guys like that.”
Comment: It’s instructive to remember that LeBron James was an early adopter of the Steph Curry phenomenon, befriending Curry while Curry was still at Davidson and watching him play for Davidson in person a couple of times (including a game in which Curry scored 44 against N.C. State). LeBron had no doubt that Curry was going to be a very good NBA player. But even LeBron vastly undersold Steph’s potential, as evidenced by the Rip Hamilton comparison.
From 2009, just before the draft: About a dozen of the top picks in tonight’s draft are all staying at the same Westin hotel in midtown New York, so a number of basketball fans have clustered outside the lobby for autographs. Once Curry got past those fans Wednesday, however, he had clear sailing. No one recognized him, he said, as he walked the streets of New York.
“I was incognito,” he said.
Comment: Can you imagine this happening now?
From 2009, just before the draft: Unbidden, the desk clerk at my New York hotel offered his opinion upon check-in Wednesday when he realized I was from North Carolina.
“I hope the Knicks don’t take Stephen Curry in the draft,” the desk clerk said in a thick Noo Yawk accent. “I’m not a scout or nothing, but I just don’t think he’s NBA material.”
Comment: The desk clerk wasn’t the only one who underrated Curry, starting with all the in-state ACC teams that snubbed him in the recruiting process.
From 2009 Draft Day: In many circles, Thursday will be remembered for far different things than the NBA draft. Singer Michael Jackson and actress Farrah Fawcett both died Thursday. South Carolina governor Mark Sanford continued to make national headlines due to his affair with an Argentinian woman.
Comment: I sure didn’t remember any of this, did you? Curry was drafted on the very same day that the man behind “Thriller” and the woman whose poster was on millions of bedroom walls in the 1970s died.
From 2009 Draft Day: When the pick was made, Curry briefly bowed his head.
“That dipping my head wasn’t about not going to the Knicks,” Curry told me moments later. “I was just thanking God for allowing me to be drafted. Plus, it also helped me focus and drown out the boos of the Knicks fans a little.”
The Knicks fans that dominated the WaMu Theater crowd in Madison Square Garden booed Golden State’s selection of Curry because they wanted Curry to become one of their own. However, Dell Curry sat in the green room two seats away from his son, knowing that it probably wasn’t going to happen.
Comment: Nelson had told Dell Curry the day before that Steph wasn’t going to get past No. 7, if he lasted that long. The Knicks were picking No. 8 and ended up with Jordan Hill, who never amounted to much. The first six players picked before Curry in 2009? In order, they were Blake Griffin, Hasheem Thabeet, James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn.
From 2009 Draft Day: Curry walked down a back hallway at Madison Square Garden Thursday night following the draft, saying “Golden State, Golden State” softly.
You could tell Curry was trying to get used to the name of his first NBA employer — located in a place three time zones and 2,700 miles away from Davidson, Charlotte and just about everything he has ever known.
Comment: And yet it worked out OK for him.