THERE WERE TOO many bears roaming the woods behind the house and, with four daughters, far too many Barbies inside. Just before the school year ended in the early 1970s in Grottoes, Virginia, Wardell “Jack” Curry needed a solution, and fast. All he wanted was a way to keep his only son, Dell, occupied by something other than deadly animals or dolls during the long summer days ahead. As it turned out, though, with nothing more than an old utility pole, a fiberglass backboard and some fabricated steel brackets, Jack Curry ended up changing the sport of basketball and producing the ultimate point guard, his grandson Stephen Curry.
Jack’s hoop was never much to look at. Its finest feature, by far, was the old reliable street lamp that hovered overhead and dutifully blinked on at dusk, bathing the key in warm yellow light. But this was Jack’s plan all along: Only people who truly loved the game and understood the commitment it required would stick past dark on his country court.
The soft wings of the backboard had more give than a fence gate. The thick steel rim offered no absolution; only shots placed perfectly in the middle of the cylinder passed through. The institutional green metal breaker box just behind the hoop gave off a constant static hum that lured a shooter’s focus away from the target. And the splintery wooden utility pole wasn’t squared to a single landmark — not the white ranch-style house, not the driveway, not the Blue Ridge mountains to the south or the creek to the north. So every shot required instant, expert recalibration.
Years of toil in the sun and mud honed Dell’s fluid, deadly jumper — a shot that produced a state title, a scholarship to Virginia Tech and a 16-year NBA career, mostly in Charlotte, that ended in 2002. And when Dell and his wife, Sonya, started their own family, their first child, Wardell Stephen Curry II, got more than just his name from Grandpa Jack. Stephen inherited the hoop and the same deep abiding love for the game it evokes. During frequent childhood trips to Grottoes, a sleepy mix of horse farms and trailer parks an hour northwest of Charlottesville, Stephen and his younger brother Seth (who played at Duke) would barely wait for the car to stop rolling before darting around back to start shooting. Their grandma, Juanita, 79, whom everyone calls Duckie, knew that if she wanted a kiss hello she had to position herself between the car and the hoop. (Jack died when Stephen was 2.) This is where Curry’s love of the long ball was born, his trying to be the first one in the family to swish it from 60 feet, blind, peeking around the corner from the top kitchen step. “I always felt like the love and the lessons of that hoop got passed down to me,” Stephen says. “It’s crazy to think about how everything kinda started right there at this house with this one old hoop.”
THE LAST BASKETBALL honor the Curry family celebrated together was in September 2012, when Fort Defiance High School renamed its court in honor of Dell. Afterward at the house in Grottoes, everyone — cousins, great grandchildren, friends, neighbors and future NBA All-Stars alike — was drawn to the same spot. “That old hoop is gonna be there for a long, long time,” Stephen says. “When my kids are old enough, I will definitely be passing it on. That will be a cool moment: getting to know what my dad felt like watching me learning to shoot on that hoop and what Grandpa Jack felt like watching my dad after he put it up.”
The net on Jack’s hoop is upside down. The wood is weathered and splintered. And over the years, as the area has grown, the utility pole has become covered in thick, black, twisted vines of cable and electric wire. Which means that even if you wanted to take down Jack’s hoop, you couldn’t. First, of course, you’d have to get past Grandma Duckie. What’s more, you’d have to disconnect the entire neighborhood, in more ways than one.
It’s a fitting and enduring tribute to Jack and what he started.
His hoop was here first.
Everything else came after.