OAKLAND (CBS/AP) – About the only support Stephen Curry used to receive on the road when he first entered the NBA in 2009 came away from the court before or after games.
Back then, Curry did small speaking engagements—which he still does on occasion—for fellow alumni of Davidson College. He’d sign a couple autographs, take a few photos and thank those who showed up.
Those days of relative anonymity are long gone.
After leading the Golden State Warriors (25-14) to the second round of the playoffs last year and a strong start this season, Curry has quickly become one of the NBA’s most popular players. He’s likely headed for his first All-Star appearance—probably even as a starter—and growing into one the sport’s most marketable names.
Fans wear his jersey, the sixth-most sold in the league this season, in every arena he visits. Crowds often form in the lower level just to watch his pregame workout. He’s cheered during introductions, and he generates “oohs” and “aahs” for his shot-making skills against opponents.
Afterward, fans line the tunnel to the visiting locker room to snag an autograph or photo—and, if they’re lucky, get close enough to high-five their favorite player.
“A lot of people rally around him,” Warriors power forward David Lee said. “It’s not like he has Dwight Howard’s body. He’s a guy that people can relate to.”
Curry’s rise from NCAA tournament darling to NBA stardom reached a major milestone last week.
Curry, perhaps the biggest All-Star snub a year ago, surpassed Clippers point guard Chris Paul by 26,000 votes to move into the second starting guard spot on the Western Conference team, according to fan balloting released by the league. Injured Lakers star Kobe Bryant still tops the list.
Fan voting ends Jan. 20, and the starters for the game in New Orleans will be announced Jan. 23. The Warriors haven’t had an All-Star starter since Latrell Sprewell in 1995.
“It’s humbling,” said Curry, the highest-scoring player not selected to last year’s game. “Obviously we’ll see how it plays out, but you’ve got to thank the fans and everybody that takes the time out to go vote. I’m not the one sitting behind a computer typing my name over and over again. They are the ones supporting me and it’s a very surreal situation.”
What makes Curry so compelling might be the simplest of basketball skills: shooting.
In a game long dominated by big men and played by some of the world’s greatest athletes, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Curry controls games without ever physically overpowering defenders. His shooting stroke can seem unstoppable at times, and when he gets going, nobody has found a way to slow him down.
“One of the best shooters this NBA will see,” four-time NBA MVP LeBron James said after the Warriors beat the Heat in Miami on Jan. 2. “If you can find a better shooter than him right now, especially with the way he handles the ball—and the light that he has, it’s more than green, it’s fluorescent—you just hope that he misses.”
Last season, Curry made 272 3-pointers—three more than Ray Allen’s record of 269 set with Seattle in 2005-06. He worked to improve his all-around game this offseason—his first in two years not spent rehabbing his right ankle from surgery—and the results have showed on the court.
Curry is averaging career highs of 23 points, 9.3 assists and 4.6 rebounds entering Wednesday night’s home game against the Denver Nuggets, whom the Warriors beat in the first round of the playoffs last season.
“There was never a question in my mind whether he could play at this level. I think the question in a lot of people’s minds was his health,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said.
While his 39 percent shooting from 3-point range is below his 44 percent average to begin the season, nobody seems concerned about Curry’s stroke.
Curry led the Warriors to 10 straight wins—the franchise’s best since 1975-76 — before losing at Brooklyn last week to finish a 6-1 road trip that announced Golden State as serious contenders in the West.
Still only 25 years old, Curry said he has tried to keep his routine the same along with his circle of friends and family as he popularity rises. And Curry’s quick to credit those around him for the increased attention.
“It’s definitely a blessing to have fans and people that notice what we’re trying to do here at the Warriors organization, changing the culture and winning consistently and being in that conversation where you have guys that can get that kind of attention,” Curry said. “I know it’s not just me that did it, that was able to turn things around. Credit coach Jackson, credit every single one of my teammates, because if we don’t win as a group, nobody’s going to get any love. And that’s what it’s all about.”
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