DAVIDSON, N.C. — On the first day of the fall 2007 semester, Stephen Curry sat Gender and Society program at Davidson College, a small liberal arts school 20 miles north of Charlotte, North Carolina
Professor Gail Kaufman, who was in class, began the roll call in alphabetical order.
At the end of Cs, she calls out, “Steven Curry?”
The students burst into laughter. Curry laughed. “It’s Stephen,” he said politely.
Kaufman had been on vacation the previous year, which is probably why she seemed to be one of the few Davidsons who didn’t know how to pronounce his name—either the college or the town of 10,000 at the time.
Five months ago, Curry led Davidson to the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament during his freshman season, attaining local celebrity status that would eventually dwarf his superstar as Golden State’s four-time NBA champion. But to his classmates, Curry is just one of them. He made fun videos with friends, studied in the library, and ate at Outpost, the only late-night restaurant on campus. Curry said he’s “always a breakfast guy in the evening.”
“Everyone is a true student of Davidson,” said Curry’s friend and college teammate Jason Richards. “There are no superstars. No one walks the trails like, ‘Oh wow, there is so-and-so. “You know who it’s going to be passed on on the way to class, and you know the name of everyone in the class. That’s what makes Davidson so special, so special to Stephen: no one is bigger than the academy itself.”
But as the past few days have shown, Curry is nearing the end.
“Isn’t that the… place?”
Marshall Olsen walked into Stephen Curry’s freshman dorm at the start of the fall 2006 semester and saw a pair of oversized Charlotte Hornets basketball shorts on the floor. He asked who they were. Curry said they belonged to his father, Dell Curry, who spent 10 seasons with the Hornets.
“For the first few months, he was just called Dale Curry’s kid,” said Ulson, who lives in the hall.
But one afternoon in October, Stephen Curry’s roommate and teammate Bryant Barr told some friends: “Guys, Steph is real. He’s going to be big.”
Before Curry’s arrival, the school’s athletic director Chris Clooney played four seasons on the men’s basketball team. “I describe Davidson basketball as BS and AS — before Stephen and after Stephen,” Clooney said.
Clooney’s team was successful, and Curry was seeded 15th in the NCAA Tournament the year before Curry arrived. But once Curry comes along? “It’s a launch pad,” Clooney said.
Curry became Davidson’s career leader in scoring and 3-point shooting. The Wildcats reached the tournament in his freshman and sophomore seasons, including a magical run to the Final 8 in 2008. Curry had 40 points and eight 3-pointers in the first-round win over Gonzaga.
After his junior year, Curry went to the NBA, and the Golden State Warriors selected him with the seventh overall pick.
After the 2008 tournament, applications surged, said Chris Gruber, Davidson’s director of admissions and financial aid. “That puts us in the spotlight in a lot of situations,” he said. “It puts us on a map of, ‘Isn’t that the place to be?'”
Even now, Gruber said, schools are “going with the flow.”
The Davidson men’s basketball team relies heavily on recruiting international players. Coach Matt McKillop, whose father Bob once coached Curry, said the first conversation usually starts with a recruit saying, “I know Davidson — Stephen Curry went there.”
Jane Avinger and her husband Bob Avinger started racing after moving to Davidson in 1967. Curry kept them going, she said. When the Wildcats reached the Round of 16 in Detroit in 2008, they bought tickets and went there to cheer on the team. “We’ve never done anything like that,” she said.
Signs of curry are everywhere in town. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream on Main Street has a waffle cone dipped in iridescent colors called #30, named after Curry’s jersey number. A large mural of curry is painted on the walls inside the Sabor Latin Street Grill on Jetton Street. Curry’s basketball-themed children’s book “I Have Superpowers” is displayed at the checkout counter at Main Street Books.
On Thursday, Curry announced that the basketball court at the Ada Jenkins Center, Davidson’s nonprofit, will be renovated by his Curry brand in conjunction with Under Armour. Eat, learn, play. He founded the foundation with his wife, Ayesha Curry; and the Summit Foundation.
During Davidson’s 2008 tournament, hundreds of townspeople showed their support by hanging sheets on their porches. Citizens were encouraged to hang up their sheets again last week as Curry returned to town for a special celebration. “Proud of you #30,” one reads. “Congratulations, Stephen,” was written on another sheet of paper in black and red ink in Davidson’s school colors.
“It’s crazy that he’s going to end up in college here and play for this team because in hindsight, he’s clearly the best player in the world,” said Adah Fitzgerald, owner of Main Street Books. “Like what? He doesn’t even have to come back often or give much attention to our town – we’ll always be big fans.”
“I’ve never seen you smile like this”
Some people drove from Florida to the nearly 5,000 people on the Davidson campus on Wednesday. Davidson Mayor Rusty Knox was also present. Davidson boys soccer players Sai Tummala and Jack Brown, who said they were drawn to the school because of Curry, sat on the floor with other students. So do Curry’s wife and the couple’s three children: Riley, 10; Ryan, 7; and Canon, 4.
Finally, Stephen Curry was there too.
Dressed in a hat and robe, he shook hands and hugged as the crowd cheered. Curry smiled and sat in the seat next to Aisha in the front row. Thirteen years after leaving Davidson, he received a bachelor’s degree in sociology.He missed the school’s graduation in May because he was a small Busy winning his fourth NBA championship. But now, Davidson is holding a ceremony for him.
“I made a joke the other day: If the president came to town, would we have an event like this?” said Joey Beeler, director of sports communications at Davidson.
Afterward, Curry said it was “almost overwhelming.”
The ceremony also marked Curry’s entry into the school’s Track and Field Hall of Fame and the retirement of his No. 30 jersey. Davidson has long required candidates to graduate first, but the rules changed in 2019, in part because of Curry. Still, he turned down the honor, wanting to wait until he graduates.
He took classes during the 2011 NBA shutdown and called athletic director Clooney in December 2019 to make plans to complete the final few courses of his degree. Then the coronavirus pandemic stalled his plans. But last winter, Curry called Clooney again.
Clunie schedules conference calls and video conferences with professors before practices, after shooting drills, and even after games. Curry said he did most of the work in March and April, when he missed more than a dozen games with a foot injury.
“Some professors had to tell him to slow down,” Clooney said.
Kaufman, professor of gender and society, is an advisor to his thesis on promoting gender equality in sport. With the NBA playoffs unfolding, Curry isn’t over yet. At midnight Wednesday, Kaufman got an email from Curry: “Dr. K, I want to assure you that I will have everything done by Friday night, for you,” he wrote.
“In that moment I was like, ‘Oh my God, wow,'” Kaufman said. She added: “Sure enough, he finished the dissertation, which was fantastic.”
By completing his degree, Curry provided his college coach Bob McKillop with a 100 percent player graduation rate during his 33-year tenure. McKillop, who was close to Curry, retired in June, a day after Curry was named the NBA Finals MVP.
“He gave this community, this college, this athletic department a gift that, in my opinion, is unparalleled — a gift of his time and his love,” McKillop said. “These are the two most precious gifts I think we humans have.”
During Wednesday’s commencement ceremony, Curry held up his diploma and grinned. He turned the fringe and tossed his hat high onto the stage, the crowd cheered and his phone held high.
“Stephen, few alumni are as famous as you are,” Davidson President Doug Hicks said at the ceremony. “Well, actually, no.”
People chanted “MVP!” as Curry took the podium as the final speaker of the afternoon.
“The best decision I ever made was to come to Davidson College,” he said, adding that he cried when he decided to leave the NBA early.
“Every time I step on the court, every time I try to impact my life, Davidson represents my life,” he said. “How we represent Davidson in every room we walk into — that matters.”
Later, in an interview, he said his Golden State teammate Draymond Green texted him after the ceremony.
“He said, ‘I’ve never seen you laugh like that — when you’re on that stage,'” Curry said. “I don’t think people can read it.”
Curry said Davidson “was the start of a major transformation in my life, and I have so many memories of every experience, everyone I met, and the support of the community throughout. It speaks volumes about why I’m coming back, and why Yesterday was so special. It was a huge part of my origin story.”