BEIJING – The Chinese government, as part its policy of deciding when and where large groups may congregate, sent late word that the turnout planned for the Under Armour store would not be allowed after all. Eight people who won contests could attend as Stephen Curry of the Warriors appeared to promote a new shoe line. More than eight, authorities might shut down the event before the gathering could grow into a demonstration.
When Curry showed up Monday afternoon at the Joy City Mall, about 50 people were inside. That number included employees and several news crews, but also appeared to go beyond eight customers … depending how many of the customers were actually employees as props. Another 50 or so were outside in the mall, blocked from entering by a thick, clear, plastic-like divider that rolled down from the ceiling. Rules were being broken.
Inside, they cheered when he arrived, shouted “Curry! Curry!” when they wanted his attention and smiled when he took on challengers in Pop-A-Shot. Outside, when the divider briefly came up, they surged toward Curry as he gave out autographed posters and posed for pictures. He stayed 80 minutes, bragged about the brand and charmed the room like it was in Oakland.
There was a demonstration, all right.
This is a 25-year-old in breakout mode. In 10 or 12 months, Curry has gone from the guy trying to survive a flurry of ankle injuries and supposedly being a risky investment for the Warriors with an extension at $44 million over four years to being considered by many the best shooter in the NBA. Then came a star turn in the playoffs and, now, a man who can draw a crowd around the world.
“It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s been fun,” he said. “Stuff that I can involve my family with during the summer so I don’t miss much time with them. It’s all new and I’m just trying to make adjustments, figure out how to stay focused on what’s actually important.”
For all the expectation that Curry could one day reach these heights, when it did happen, it happened fast. This time a year ago, he was trying to prove he could stay healthy an entire season. Eight months ago, Western Conference coaches left him off the All-Star team.
Though he had impressed earlier, the real takeoff started in the second half of the 2012-13 season. The Warriors remained on a playoff arc and Curry was en route to finishing second in the league in free-throw percentage, third in 3-point percentage, seventh in scoring and seventh in minutes while setting a NBA single-season record with 272 made 3s. He followed that with the kind of dominating stretches in the playoffs that a player must have on the resume’ to truly be considered a superstar. He often carried Golden State past the Nuggets and then to a Game 6 against the Spurs before the joy ride ended in the West semifinals.
And then he followed that with the offseason. Curry signed an endorsement deal with Under Armour. He signed an endorsement deal with MoGo to promote the first flavored mouth guard. He and teammate Klay Thompson will be on one of three regional covers of the Sports Illustrated basketball preview. And Curry and coach Mark Jackson will be featured in a commercial for ESPN’s NBA coverage, cruising in an RV with Mike Breen.
“This summer, it kind of got carried away because everything happened so fast,” said his father Dell Curry, who played 16 years for five NBA teams. “Everyone wanted a piece of him.”
To where the concern grew within the family that Stephen would be pulled in too many directions.
“That’s what we were worried about,” Dell said. “But if it didn’t happen this summer, it won’t happen.”
The new season is a new test for Stephen. He played 90 of a possible 94 regular-season and playoff games in 2012-13, so at least the health concerns that shadowed him a year ago in camp have faded, even if he did have to deal with a reminder sprained ankle in the postseason. Now, he will have to handle the wave of attention that has rolled in.
Curry is like Golden State as a whole in that way — the playoffs were a coming out party and there went the element of surprise on the court. As the most recognizable of the Warriors, though, he will face the majority of the hazing. Opponents will probably play him rougher, as the Nuggets previewed in the first round, and certainly put additional focus in scouting and pregame prep compared to a year ago at this time.
Except that if Curry backslides, there will be individual scrutiny about the negative impact of fame. Gaining a lot since the second half of last season also means facing a burden.
The Joy City appearance, at least, went about as well as could be expected. Curry said he was pleased with the event, even with the government restrictions. At 6 p.m., as the event was wrapping up, the divider was still down, blocking the usual entrance between the store and the mall. And a couple dozen people were waiting on the wrong side anyway.
Yes, there definitely was a demonstration.