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Countdown to the NBA Season: Steph Curry and Black Excellence

The Johnson household's favorite NBA player is Steph Curry. Second place is pretty far back there. To us, Curry is emblematic of the values of our family: excellence through dedicated practice, being polite in victory yet accepting your brilliance, being humble in evaluating areas of self-improvement. Oh, and of course #BlackExcellence.

Curry plays the point guard like few other players at that position, either in the past or present. Sure, he does what point guards should do: pass and protect the ball. He can pass the ball in ways that take you back to Magic and the Lakers of the late 80's, or Pistol Pete Marovich of another era. He can handle the ball as well or better than anyone I've ever seen play the game. The ball is an extension of his arm and hand, and it follows his commands like a yoyo on a string.

And yet, Curry is a world-class scorer, capable of putting up 30 a night, and 50+ on any given night. He does so in the paint around the rim, from mid-range, and from beyond the arc. Sometimes way beyond the three-point line. The NBA arc at it's fullest extent is 23 feet 9 inches from the hoop. Steph shot 443 shots from 25-29 feet last season and he hit 43% of them. At my best, I have hit 35% out of 50 shots from 24 practice! My boy hit 43% in NBA game situations.

He scores primarily by creating off of the dribble. The last player I can think of who could score as prolifically has Curry from 3-point-land off of the dribble---as opposed to set shooters like Kyle Corver or Curry's father Dell---is Steve Nash. But during Nash's best 3-point season, he made 47% of his 371 attempts, or 174 total made 3-pointers. Not bad, eh? But check it. Last season Curry hit 44% of his 3s...on 646 attempts for 286 made! That broke the previous record of 272 made threes in a season, which was set by, wait for it, Curry in the 2012-2013 season.

Let me tell you from experience: Hitting a three-point shot is not easy, even if you are starting from a set position with no defenders. It's another thing entirely to do so off of the dribble with a defender all up in your grill. Yet this is Curry's signature shot. Here's an example against my (new) hometown team for the game winner:

Here's a slightly less typical, yet completely Curry-esque three-point shot off the dribble, proving that there is no such thing as a bad Curry shot:

I cannot emphasize enough how difficult that shot is/was. But Curry does it on the regular. As Ta-Nehisi Coates put it:

Last season Curry was crowned the League Most Valuable Player (MVP) on his way to leading the Golden State Warriors (Oakland, CA) to their first championship during the season in which he set the three-point record. Yet these feats were not anticipated by the "experts." 

We can delve further back in time to Curry's sophomore year of high-school when we find a kid standing only 5' 6" and weighing in at 120 pounds (For reference, I'm 5' 6" and 163 pounds, which is very far from the NCAA and NBA averages). Lacking strength, he had to shoot the ball from his waist, which takes time to reach the release point and equates to "easily blocked" on the basketball court. His father, Dell, recognized that he'd have to develop a new shot, pretty much from scratch. This sort of complete self reinvention is not something that high-school students are particularly good at. But then again, Steph was/is not typical. 

Curry spent the summer before his junior year practicing his new shot dat after day. His brother Seth, an aspiring NBA player and soon-to-be rookie on the Sacramento Kings, said, "It was tough for me to watch, them in the back yard late nights, a lot of hours each day...They broke it down to a level that he couldn't shoot at all. He'd back there at times, crying, doing it rep after rep after rep until he could master it." But it paid off. During his junior season he averaged 19 points a game. But a problem remained: he was undersized. 

Based on his slight stature, the major North Carolina programs took a pass on him, so he went to Davidson. During his sophomore season he averaged 30 points a game in the NCAA tournament leading his virtually unknown squad to the Elite 8. Eventually, he was drafted by my favorite team, the underdog Warriors. But even then, people doubted him. Here's Curry reading his draft report, written by the aforementioned "experts":

(h/t Katie Hinde and Robin Nelson for this video!)

This is not to say that every undersized kid on your local court has a chance. Far from it. But for those of them who put in dedicated practice, the potential for excellence is there. Whether it be basketball, or astrophysics, there are Black kids all over our country standing by to showcase their skillz. But only if white America provides these kids with the same opportunities afforded their white peers. Because of his NBA-legend father, Curry had a leg up even when the "experts" doubted him with their fixed-mindset assessments. But most kids don't get that opportunity.

But once we're given that opportunity? #BlackExcellence ensues, f'real!


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