Before Steph Curry and Klay Thompson became the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the NBA*, they were just a pair of skinny kids with famous fathers.
Old NBA game footage shows a wispy Curry trailing his 6'5" father, Dell, before Charlotte Hornets games. Steph didn't try out for the varsity basketball team as a high school freshman, believing he wasn't big enough. He did have uncanny hand-eye coordination. At 13 he beat his dad at golf for the first time, shooting in the low 80s. As an eighth-grader he scored 54 points in a police league game, heaving shots from his hip. "He was tiny," says Dell, "but he could always shoot it."
Klay never saw his dad in action. He was one when Mychal retired, in 1991, after playing 12 seasons in the league and winning a pair of titles with the Lakers. Though his 6'10" father was a post player, Klay fell in love with jump shots. His favorite challenge: see how many threes he could hit in a row without touching the rim. As a 14-year-old, with his dad rebounding at a park, he sank 15. Until then Mychal had always thought Klay should become a pitcher. Now he wasn't sure. Says Mychal, "That's when I thought he might have a gift."
It is Oct. 3, and Thompson and Curry are standing on top of a piece of plexiglass in a back alcove of Oakland's Oracle Arena. Outside an Indian summer blazes and temperatures are in the high 70s. Inside it is cool and dark, and Curry blows on his hands. Ten feet in front of him, a photographer perches on a ladder, framing the scene.
Thompson stands on the left, holding a steady grin and a basketball at arm's length. At 23, with wide shoulders, long arms and immaculately tailored sideburns, he looks like an NBA player. A late growth spurt propelled him to 6'7", and he shoots the ball like a pro, keeping it high and releasing it above his head. Last season he took 526 three-pointers and made 40.1%, one of the best marks in the league for a volume shooter. If you were to create a prototype for a wing marksman, he would look an awful lot like Thompson.
The photographer leans in.
"O.K., lift the ball up," he says, nodding at Curry.
Curry jams a brand-new NBA game ball into his right hand. Technically, he's grown to man-size proportions—6'3" and 185 pounds—but at 25 he still looks like that kid who followed Dell around, just enlarged. His arms are thin, his goatee aspirational. His eyes appear large for his head, like a children's character in an animated movie. If you were to call any NBA player cute, it might be Curry.
Curry raises his arm, trying to aim the ball at the camera, but it slips loose. Curry winces and tries again, his right forearm muscle bulging. Again, the ball plummets. Raymond Ridder, Golden State's vice president of media relations, hurries off to find a pump. Moments later he returns, and air hisses out of the ball. Curry flexes his hand, shakes it three times. Thompson resumes his pose, jaw muscles twitching from all the smiling. Curry tries again.
Thump. Curry frowns. He can do many remarkable things with a basketball. Palming one, it turns out, is not among them.