How lessons from a dirt court turned Steph Curry into the greatest shooter in NBA history

The greatest run of shooting by the greatest shooter in NBA history traces its roots to a humble rim and fiberglass backboard tacked up to a utility pole in rural Virginia back in the 1970s.

In the debate surrounding if Stephen Curry’s prolific shooting touch boils down to nature or nurture … the answer is both.

Curry has made 72 3-pointers in his last 10 games and 54 in his last six. It’s an unheard of stretch of brilliance — he’s hitting 55.1% from behind the arc and averaging 43.7 points a game. Sixty-five times in NBA history a player has hit 10 or more 3-pointers in a single contest.

Curry has done it four times in his last five games (and 21 for his career).

“Nobody’s ever shot the ball like this in the history of the game,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “Even by Steph’s own lofty standards, this is above and beyond.”

Stephen Curry smiles after scoring during a game.Stephen Curry smiles after scoring during a game.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry is in the midst of an unreal shooting streak, notching 72 3-pointers in his last 10 games. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

For Curry, this is the culmination of a journey that began even before he was born. It is a testament to great talent passed down from his parents coupling with expert teaching and a work ethic that, even now, often sees him launch 1,000 jumpers in a day.

It starts with a simple hoop on a farm outside of tiny Grottoes, Virginia. It was installed by Curry’s grandfather, Jack, in an effort to keep Curry’s father, Dell, busy. Dell was a heck of an athlete, but he lived deep in the country, some 10 miles outside of Grottoes, which itself had just a thousand or so residents back then.

He couldn’t just walk to a park, or even a friend’s house and find a game. You can’t throw a football to yourself. You can shoot baskets.

In this case, the hoop sat above an uneven, dirt court which itself was surrounded by small declines. If you drained a shot, it would fall gently through the net and land directly below the basket where you could scoop it up and shoot again. If you missed, however, it could end up anywhere — down a hill, in the mud, even rolling off into the woods.

“Make it or chase it,” Stephen would tell ESPN years later.

Compounding the issue, the rim was famously tight. About the only way to assure a ball went in was to swish it.

As a result, Dell Curry, a perfectionist at heart, sought a high-arching shot that would land softer than church music. And since there wasn’t much else to do for fun, Curry spent hours and hours practicing by himself. Presumably very few people, let alone anyone with such natural athletic ability, have ever shot a basketball as often as Dell Curry.

He became an expert and later teamed up with his high school coach, who had a hoop inside his barn to avoid weather, to refine the shot even further.

“I wasn’t the fastest guy, couldn’t jump the highest, so I knew I had to get my release off quicker,” Dell told the Sporting News.

It drove Dell to stardom at Virginia Tech (where’d he’d meet his volleyball-playing future wife, Sonya) and then 16 seasons in the NBA where he averaged 11.8 points a game and shot 40.2% from behind the 3-point line.

When Steph was in middle school, he was a good player and an excellent shooter. Dell, however, noticed that his form resembled more of a heave from the shoulder than an actual shot. It’s common with young players, especially small ones. The trap is that players tend to stick with it because it works, at least at that level.

By high school and beyond, Dell thought, the release would be too slow and the trajectory too low.

Dell offered a deal. He’d help fix Stephen’s shot, which didn’t seem to even need fixing, but only if Steph committed to rebuilding his mechanics. And not just for an afternoon or two … this would require months and even years. The hoop in their suburban Charlotte driveway or inside local gyms could replace the dirt court in Virginia, but the mentality had to be the same.

Steph agreed. So did his younger brother, Seth. They were always willing to work.

Seth Curry and Stephen Curry shake hands before their game.Seth Curry and Stephen Curry shake hands before their game.
Philadelphia 76ers’ Seth Curry, left, and Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry worked on their shooting technique with their father, Dell, and his lessons from the NBA and rural Virigina farm court. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The initial going was rough. Steph actually started hitting fewer shots. Everything felt weird. Dell kept pushing, gently.

“He wasn’t like a drill sergeant,” Steph would say years later. “He was more supportive. He encouraged my work ethic. It was nice to have one of the best shooters in NBA history to help me.”

They shot for hours; 500 shots, 1,000 shots, more.

“I took my form and just got as many repetitions as I could until my arms got tired,” Steph said. “[Then] I came back the next day and did the same thing.”

At the time, Steph was entering and playing in high school, hoping to beat bigger players and bigger schools. He would blossom late, famously attending mid-major Davidson when ACC schools passed him by.

During all those practice sessions, no one could have envisioned the NBA, let alone three championships, two MVPs or a stretch like this.

It was just about perfecting the form that his dad perfected all those years before.

“Fundamentals,” Steph said. “You’ve got to have good balance. A lot of people focus on your hands, but it starts at your base, at your feet, being square to the basket and having good balance. You’ve got to have a solid follow-through, each shot is smooth. [Then it’s] trying to shoot the same way every single time … the best shooters shoot the exact same way every time they look at the basket.”

That’s true during an epic hot streak inside NBA arenas or a generation prior out on a simple basket deep in the Shenandoah Valley.

“It’s a never ending-process,” Steph said.

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