Dell Curry recalls how nervous he was that day at Time Warner Cable Arena and how remarkably not nervous his son, Stephen, was.
The date was June 4, 2009. This was Davidson star Stephen’s first pre-draft workout. He was auditioning for his hometown NBA team, having grown up around both the original Hornets and the Bobcats. He’d be competing with another projected lottery pick in Duke’s Gerald Henderson. Among the other four players participating: North Carolina’s Danny Green, who would go on to win a championship with the San Antonio Spurs.
The dad in this story entered the workout full of anxiety. Not the son.
“A young kid going into this setting for the first time could be a little nervous,” Dell Curry recalled “He didn’t look nervous at all. I was more nervous than he was. I walked away from that workout assured he was going to be a good NBA player.”
“Good” no longer applies to how Stephen Curry has performed as a Golden State Warrior. The word is “great.” He won the league’s Most Valuable Player award this season over such superstars as Houston Rockets guard James Harden and Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James. Averaging 23.8 points and 7.7 assists, he led the Warriors to their first NBA Finals appearance in 40 years, with Game 2 Sunday (8 p.m., ABC).
But in 2009he was a skinny kid who was 21, but looked 16, with a reputation for endless shooting range.
Curry was coming off a junior season in which he was averaging more than 28 points per game and was developing his skill at point guard. The Bobcats’ roster included recent lottery draft picks in Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin at point guard and they felt they were set.
Curry had shot so well during drills at the NBA Combine that his name soared up draft boards. So much so that Stephen’s agent, Jeff Austin, who also represented Dell during his 16-season NBA career, saw no purpose in working out for the Bobcats, who had the 12th overall pick.
Dell and Stephen saw it differently. Dell had played 10 seasons with the Hornets and was now doing analysis on Bobcats telecasts. Stephen hung out at Hornets shoot-arounds almost from the time he could walk.
“This was his hometown team and that was way before” anyone viewed Stephen as an NBA prospect, Dell said. “I thought he should do it and Steph was all for it.”
Bobcats president of basketball operations Rod Higgins sold Austin on the idea Stephen could treat this workout as a dry run for the auditions he’d later do for teams higher in the draft order. And, Higgins recalled, he threw in that NBA standard inducement that if Stephen excelled they’d try to trade up to get him.
This was the first workout of that spring for the Bobcats and they wanted to make it as competitive as possible. In addition to Curry, Henderson and Green, Higgins brought in Garrett Temple from Louisiana State (who later played for the Bobcats), Toney Douglas from Florida State and K.C. Rivers from Charlotte’s Independence High and Clemson.
“Obviously it was one of our more competitive workouts,” said Higgins, who left the franchise a year ago. Bobcats coach Larry Brown “loved for skill, plus competition, to be in every workout.”
This audition lasted about an hour, on the short side of what’s typical in the NBA. Brown’s pre-draft workouts were less physically taxing, but more cerebral, than most. Henderson said that’s just natural because Brown is such a “hands-on,” intricate teacher of the game.
“What he encourages you to do, what he almost forces you to do, is think the game,” Henderson said.
Henderson, who became the Bobcats’ No. 12 pick in 2009 and is now a Hornets tri-captain, had another recollection from that day: He was a bit envious when he saw Dell Curry in the practice gym.
“I thought it might be cool to have my dad there, too,” said Henderson, whose father played 13 NBA seasons.
Dell wasn’t Stephen’s only family connection in attendance. Younger brother Seth, who later played for Duke, watched the audition and then grabbed a ball to put up some shots.
Higgins said the head-turner was how dedicated Stephen was to being a professional basketball player.
“I saw the talent all the way along, but the credit goes to his work ethic,” Higgins said. “Steph works his tail off. That’s how he was reared. He doesn’t believe in taking days off and that shows in his achievements.”
Dell agrees with Henderson that Brown ran a unique workout and that worked to Stephen’s benefit.
“He did a lot of individual work – footwork, ball-handling, passing,” Dell recalled. “If you couldn’t do it, it stuck out. If you could do it, it really stuck out.”
Brown’s post-workout comments underline Dell Curry’s recollection:
“I heard people rave about the way he shoots the ball. The most impressive thing to me is how he passes the ball. He’s a great passer,” said Brown, a former North Carolina point guard.
So great that June 4, 2009 might be as close as the Bobcats-turned-Hornets ever come to bringing the favorite son home. The Warriors drafted Stephen seventh overall, five spots ahead of the Bobcats.
Scott Howard, then the Bobcats’ director of scouting, saw this as a lost cause as soon as the workout concluded.
“Based on what I saw,” Howard told Dell, “we got no chance of getting him.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell