Commentary

One hot Curry

Originally Published: April 26, 2013
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Stephen CurryGarrett W. Ellwood/Getty ImagesStephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors is clearly establishing himself as one of the best shooters in the NBA.

People say this human fishing pole, this Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, this waif who is torching the Denver Nuggets right now, is the most unstoppable, untoppable, unconscious shooter in the NBA since Pistol Pete Maravich.

Please, I say.

I saw Maravich in person. Nobody could shoot like Pistol. He could get his shot off in handcuffs. Scouts used to put his range down as "10 feet to hotel elevator." He didn't need space, teammates or a clean look. All he needed was the ball -- and he only needed that for three seconds.

"Please," yourself, they said. You need to see Curry in person.

So I went one better than that. I went to the Golden State Warriors' practice gym and challenged him to a shooting contest.

"You shoot half-court shots. I shoot 3s," I said. "First one to three wins. Loser has to wear nothing but nets for a photo." (It was a veiled reference to an anti-malaria charity we both help.)

What do you mean half-court vs. 3-pointers isn't fair?

He's 25. I'm 55. He shoots six days a week. I shoot every three months. He's 6-foot-3. I'm 6-0. He just set the all-time NBA record for most 3-pointers in a season (272). I once stayed at a Four Seasons. He's the son of an NBA star. I'm the son of a Realtor.

He agreed.

It was his day off. He didn't warm up. I'd been practicing for an hour. A rack of 18 balls was stationed next to each of us.

I took a 1-0 lead. This kid was going to be easier to beat than egg yolks. He tied it 1-1. I got some terrible bounces. Balls kept arching into the basket from somewhere very far behind me. He led 2-1. I was under the impression that half-court shots were just pure luck. I was wrong.

I lost, 3-2. The whole thing was over in less than a minute. The man is a machine. He made three of 15 from 43 feet. I made two of 15 from almost 20 feet closer, which is pathetic, but not as pathetic as me wearing nothing but an anti-malaria net.

What happened?

"Your feet were facing the wrong way," Curry said. "You were facing the basket at 12 o'clock, but your feet were pointed toward 10 o'clock. You have to land where your feet started from or you're really shooting at a moving target."

Know-it-all. It's not enough he had to beat me? He had to analyze my flaws while he was at it?

Then again, this is a kid who started analyzing videos of his jumper in junior high, all by himself. He taught himself a cobra release and a sculptor's balance. That's half the reason he's such a sick shooter. The other half is his handle. The man could dribble through a cattle stampede. Almost 40 percent of his 3-pointers this season were unassisted.

"Off the dribble, without a pass, he's the best I've ever seen," says his dad, Dell Curry, who stopped playing him one-on-one when Stephen beat him for the first time as a high school senior. (He won't take on his other son anymore, either -- Seth Curry of Duke.)

[+] EnlargeStephen Curry
Courtesy of Peter PratoStephen Curry got the best of Rick Reilly in their one-on-one shootout.
Like Maravich, Curry can get his jumper off almost any time. Spot up? Yes. Pull up? Yes. In traffic? Yes. Off the pick? Yes. Off the roll? Yes. Off neither pick nor roll? Yes. Double-teamed? Yes. Just coming off the bus? Yes. In the tub? Occasionally.

The kid has skills that make you want to rub your eyes. One day at practice, he made 34 straight 3s from the corner.

One night against the New York Knicks this season, he hit 11 of 13 3-pointers and wound up with 54 points, which was preposterous considering he was coming off a 38-point game in Indiana the night before.

"I usually know where I'm going to miss it, but that night, it never crossed my mind that I would miss," he says. "It was fun. Fans were yelling, 'Dang! Slow down! Miss once in a while!' I saw Katie Holmes in the crowd. And Victor Cruz. They didn't seem happy."

The NBA record book has the distinct smell of Curry now. His 272 3s that beat Ray Allen's mark? He did it in 61 fewer attempts. Of the top 10 3-point shooting seasons in history? Curry's eye was the deadliest (45.3 percent). No wonder the 6-seed Warriors are in the playoffs for only the second time in 19 seasons.

What's crazy-making is Stephen Curry didn't make the All-Star team. What's crazier-making is he remains so damn polite about it.

"Who were you going to take off?" he says. "My teammate [David Lee]? LaMarcus Aldridge?"

Yes. Both. Either.

That selflessness sometimes drove his dad loony as an assistant coach on Stephen's high school team in Charlotte.

"I'd bring him to the side and say, 'Son, you gotta shoot the ball, man.'

"And he'd say, 'But Jimmy's open.'"

"And I'd say, 'Jimmy's open for a reason. Shoot the ball."

Speaking of selfless, how many 25-year-old NBA stars do you know would agree to come with you to sub-Saharan Africa this summer to hang anti-malaria nets? And bring his wife, Ayesha, a former TV actress? And not his agent?

"Refs and officials come up to me all the time," says Dell, who's now a TV analyst for the Charlotte Bobcats, "and they say, 'Not only is your boy a great player, he's a great person.' I'm very proud of him."

Stephen Curry has this habit of writing Bible verses on his shoes. With his upside, he should try 2 Corinthians: 13:11:

Aim for perfection.

This kid might just get it.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com