There is no pregame ritual quite like the one executed by Stephen Curry, the two-time MVP guard whose shooting display has become must-see. When the doors open at Oracle Arena, hundreds of fans make a mad rush to the lower seats near the north basket to catch a glimpse of Curry in action before he takes the court roughly an hour later at tipoff.
This is a common scene not only at Oracle but wherever the Warriors play. Yet only at Oracle are the fans blessed with a closing treat -- Curry heaving 40-foot 3-pointers from off the court and out of view.
In what is now famously known as the Tunnel Shot, Curry retreats beyond the mouth of the tunnel used by the Warriors when they enter the game and takes three or four shots from the tunnel. Often, he’ll make at least one, and rarely does Curry go more than two games without splashing.
What began as a playful ending to his pregame warmup is now a part of the Curry lore -- and a popular one, too. In addition to being enjoyed by the fans, the Tunnel Shot has been shown on countless TV and Internet highlights and written up in newspapers worldwide.
There is a co-star to this show. He is Curtis Jones, a 67-year-old grandfather who works security at Oracle. Jones has the responsibility of throwing passes to Curry for the Tunnel Shot, which he does underhanded from about 15 feet away and with amazing aim and a fierce determination to get each pass right where Curry likes it.
Therefore, Jones has become an unlikely side player in the Warriors’ dynasty as well as a staple at the oldest arena in the NBA, which will be permanently vacated once the Warriors’ season ends.
Shaun Powell spoke with Jones about Curry, the shot, the arena and what may become the end to an unexpected dream.
Shaun Powell: Why has the Tunnel Shot become so popular?
Curtis Jones: It’s because of the person doing the shooting and the difficulty of the shot. A lot of people have seen Steph take unbelievable shots during games, I mean crazy shots. But this shot might be the most amazing. He’s not on the court. He’s at a weird angle. He can’t get a lucky bounce off the rim. And most people can’t even see him release the shot. Plus, I imagine he might be a little tired from the warmup. But he takes it seriously and so I take it seriously. That’s my nature anyway when I’m doing my job. It’s also fun and a lot of people enjoy it. I get a kick out of it, too.
SP: How did this get started?
CJ: One day Steph was shooting around and my security post is right at the tunnel entrance and so he always passes me on the way to the court and the way off the court. So I kind of inquired about his shot. All of a sudden, and I didn’t know he was going to do this, he threw the ball to me and asked for it back. So I threw it back and he took the shot form the tunnel. It kind of like became a ritual as he would go out and warm up. After he would leave the court, he would tap me on my shoulder and it got to a point where it was understood what I was supposed to do from that point on.
SP: Just like that?
CJ: Yeah. It was a way of us connecting and if you know Steph, he connects with people naturally and very easily; that’s why so many fans like him. Anyway, Steph said he got the idea for the shot from Monta Ellis, his former teammate, but from what I understand Monta, took the shot after practice and I don’t go to practices. I don’t recall Monta taking it before a game. Maybe he did and I didn’t notice.
SP: What’s the best Steph has ever done with the shot?
CJ: He made five in a row.
SP: How did you get the job?
CJ: I started here in 1994 after I got a tip from a friend of mine that the arena was hiring. I just came down, filled out an application and got a call later on to come to orientation. I’ve been working in the building for 25 years and working on the floor for 21 years.
SP: Did you play basketball?
CJ: Not anywhere near this level. I’m from Monroe, Louisiana. We had a basketball rim in our back yard. We ended up breaking it and replacing it with a basket tied to a tree.
SP: But you seem so natural with the ball in your hands and especially making those passes to Steph.
CJ: I always liked to pass when I did play as a kid. I developed strong hands and I could always get the ball to the right spot. I also learned how to get a good grip on the ball because when we played, we played either in the street or on the grass, and sometimes the ball would take a funny bounce. You had to grab it to keep your dribble. Who knew that this would help me many years later? It’s a blessing. You just never know.
SP: I noticed that when you came here today, you grabbed a ball from the rack and placed it underneath the courtside seats. Why?
CJ: Well, I just don’t want to throw any old ball to Steph. It has to be the right ball, not too old, not too new and slick. Something that would give him great rotation. So I look for the perfect ball as soon as I walk in the door and well before Steph comes out. Once I find it, I put it away so it’ll be fresh for him, nobody else’s hands on it. I put it under the seat and then put some chairs around in so nobody will notice it.
SP: What if he misses the shot? Do you use another ball from the rack?
CJ: No, we’ll have someone get that same ball and then give it back to me. Nobody throws the ball to Steph but me. I don’t think Steph wants it any other way.
SP: How would you describe the atmosphere from the crowds?
CJ: Funny thing is, we didn’t have any crowds the first couple of months, the crowds were very sparse, then all of a sudden people started to come and get into position. It became a big deal. It’s come to the point where everyone understands to get here as soon as they can and stay in their place.
SP: Does it get out of hand?
CJ: Not really. The fans are really under control and so there’s no real pushing and shoving and people getting into disagreements. They just want to see the shot, and there’s no bad seat in the house.
SP: So many people are bending over the railing to get a piece of Steph. How does he handle that?
CJ: Well, he can’t really stop and do something for everyone. It bothers me to see a child disappointed and hurt. Curry means that much to them. Even a high five, a kid will remember that for the rest of his life. And he does as much as he can. But every now and then we’ll get a kid who’s challenged in a way, maybe in a wheelchair, or someone from Make A Wish. And someone will let me know, so when Steph comes off the court, I’ll make sure that kid gets some time with him. He talks to them as if everything is OK. He doesn’t waver. It’s a natural reaction. He walks over and greets him like I’m speaking to you right now. I respect him for that. He has a gift for that.
SP: Have you and Steph had any meaningful conversation?
CJ: You know, not really. We’ve exchanged a few words every now and then and he’s always very happy to see me. The only time I see him is when he’s coming on the court or coming off the court and there’s no time to talk. Besides, I have to keep my concentration at my post, because there’s always people around and I have to constantly check their credentials and make sure nobody gets on the court that doesn’t belong.
SP: What would you two talk about?
CJ: It would be a normal conversation because I’m a down to earth person and he’s a down to earth person. We’d probably talk about his kids, how’s his family.
SP: You realize you’re a celebrity, right?
CJ: (Laughs) I guess I am, although I really don’t carry myself that way. It was amazing to see myself on TV for the first time. And my family, they’re more excited than I am. I have a nephew in Delaware who saw me and he told all his friends and they got excited. I’m kind of humble, actually.
SP: Oracle Arena is closing the doors as soon as the season’s over. The Warriors are moving to Chase Center in San Francisco and depending on the configuration of the floor, the Tunnel Shot might become extinct or impossible. Anyway, are you moving there as well?
CJ: We haven’t really had that discussion about that. I’d like to go but I don’t know. I’d go. I’m retired. I don’t want to sit down in my life. I want to be active. If I’m not part of it any longer, I guess I’ll stay here and work whatever events they’ll have here. That would be bittersweet. After you do something for so long you get accustomed to it and enjoy it. In life you look for positive things to enjoy so you’ll have great memories as you grow older. And I’m getting older.
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here .
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