FULL CIRCLE: PAUL AND CURRY SHARE ALL-STAR STAGE
NEW ORLEANS – Chris Paul was already an All-Star five years ago when he took Stephen Curry under his wing.
The two had some common ties. They were represented by the same agency at the time and were both North Carolinians. Paul, the MVP runner up in 2008, started working out with Curry to help him prepare for the 2009 NBA Draft. Curry lived with him for a month.
For the first time, Paul, 28, and Curry, 25, will share the All-Star stage together. On Friday they sat within 20 feet of one another at All-Star Weekend’s annual press availability, something Curry, who will start in his first All-Star Game Sunday, called “surreal.”
He recalled his first encounter with Paul in 2009.
“Both being from North Carolina, we had that bond,” Curry said. “When I declared for the Draft and was starting to work out, we linked up and he definitely took me under his wing for about a month, traveled around certain cities in the southeast and worked out in August leading up to training camp.
“I got to see his work ethic and how he prepared for the season. It was definitely a good opportunity to understand an All-Star caliber player, an MVP candidate, a guy who is at that had already established himself as one of the best point guards in the league. I got to see what he put into the game and it definitely set me up to do the same.”
In a way, Paul set up Curry to become one of his fiercest competitors. The two put on one of the 2013-14 season’s best individual duels on Halloween with Paul scoring 42 points with 15 assists to Curry’s 38 and nine. They are the only two players in the NBA averaging at least 19 points and nine assists on the season. Curry supplanted Paul as the incumbent starting point guard on the West, making a late push in the fan voting while Paul missed 18 games with a separated right shoulder.
And the Clippers and Warriors have built enough mutual animosity for one another that prior to each meeting the teams are peppered with questions about whether or not they are one of the league’s most bitter rivalries.
Yet the contentiousness between their two franchises has not impacted the way the two point guard All-Stars, who will surely share the court for a segment of Sunday’s game in New Orleans, feel about one another.
“It’s crazy because it’s like the world is finally getting to see how good he is,” Paul beamed of Curry. “He works hard. He comes from a great family.”
Curry also comes from an NBA family. Stephen’s father, Dell, played 16 seasons, and won the 1994 Sixth Man of the Year Award. He is on hand in New Orleans as well to compete with his son in the “Shooting Stars Challenge” Saturday. The elder Curry recognized the impact Paul was going to have on his son as soon as they began working out.
“I remember watching him his senior year in AAU and remember thinking, ‘He’s going to be a really good player not only in college but at the next level,’” said Dell Curry, who like Paul is a North Carolina native. “He was a big mentor to Steph earlier in his career as far as working out and preparing himself for the Draft and for the league. [He was] a great workout partner, a very competitive guy. In workouts you want somebody that’s going to push you and Chris Paul’s the best at doing that. So, he really helped Steph early in his career become the player he is.”
For Paul, who has made something of a habit mentoring young players including Curry and Clippers forward Reggie Bullock who played on Paul’s AAU team, Sunday will be a reminder of how quickly time passes.
“It was funny sitting in the All-Star meeting just now because I looked around and there’s Dirk [Nowitzki] and Tony [Parker] and me, so I’m like actually one of the older guys in the All-Star Game,” Paul said. “It’s funny. Damian Lillard was sitting in front of me and I was looking at him and wondering what he was thinking. It really seems like it goes quick now. I remember I used to see the guys and I’d be like I’m in the same room with Tim Duncan and Dirk and now I’m one of the older guys, which is weird.”
But Paul is only 28 and in the prime of his powers as the league’s top point guard. The younger generation of guards, Curry, Lillard, Kyrie Irving and John Wall, all seem to defer to Paul as the gold standard at the position. But that doesn’t mean either side will back down from a challenge. That’s the way the ultra-competitive Paul would want it anyway.
“Obviously, when we’re competing against each other that history kind of gets pushed aside because we’re competing and trying to win,” Curry said.
“But this weekend will allow us to sit back and think about five years ago where we were, or where I was, he was already [an All-Star], but where I was to now is a dream come true.”
And Paul certainly played a part in making it happen.