As the lower bowl of Chesapeake Employers Insurance Arena on the UMBC campus filled to capacity early Thursday afternoon, the excitement in the stands was palpable. The crowd, made up mostly of elementary and middle school-aged boys and girls, waited for NBA superstar Stephen Curry to hit the basketball court as if they were waiting for the clock to strike midnight on Christmas Eve.
When the four-time NBA champion, nine-time All-Star and two-time league MVP stepped on the hardwood for his Stephen Curry Baltimore Showcase Live event, the screeches grew momentarily deafening.
Curry and Under Armour, the Baltimore-based athletic shoe and apparel company, are celebrating 10 years of partnership.
For most of the young people in attendance, their only interactions with the man considered to be among the greatest shooters ever to play have come via social media highlights, video games or NBA games on television.
But Curry brought a personal message that resonated with many about being passionate about what you do and preparing yourself to improve every day.
“We’re going to have some fun right now,” he told the crowd. “A lot of people have seen videos or highlights of my workouts, but I wanted to open up by spending a little bit of time showing you how I get ready in the summer and during the season to sharpen up my skill set as we get ready to chase another championship. I’m going to have some fun because I’m going to get some work in, which means I’m about to get a little bit better right now.”
For the next 30 minutes, he put on a dizzying and dazzling display of ball handling and shooting. And the kids aren’t the only ones whose bottom jaws hung low in frozen amazement.
Sitting courtside with the giddy look of a child with a pocketful of money that’s destined for the ice cream man on a hot summer day was University of Maryland head football coach Mike Locksley, who played football and basketball at Towson University.
Beside him was Kevin Plank, founder, executive chairman and brand chief at Under Armour. After a stunning array of jumpers launched from way behind the 3-point line, the two looked at one another in awe.
“I am proud that Under Armour, together with Stephen Curry and the Curry brand, were able to give this gift to the Baltimore community,” Plank said. “To have an icon like Stephen come to Baltimore for the first time in five years is a huge moment for the UA brand and for the Baltimore community alike. He is changing the game for good on and off the court. It’s a testament to the kind of person that he is that he wanted to come here and interact with this community that has such a strong passion for basketball. The energy and passion displayed by the fans was electric.”
Throughout the day, which included a 3-point shootout, a dunk contest and a 5-on-5 game among some of the area’s top prep players, including Bishop O’Connell and former Mount St. Joe’s star Bryson Tucker, Curry was no mere bystander whose name was attached to the event.
He was engaged with all of the young people there, not just the adoring kids in the stands but also the high school players, along with the members of UMBC’s men’s and women’s basketball teams who participated in the event. The interaction was genuine. Curry’s smile, energy and passion are infectious.
“It’s a blessing and an honor to be in the presence of one of the greatest players to ever step on a basketball court. Watching him work out, I was impressed that every rep was a game-speed rep. He wasn’t doing anything halfway and was so locked in, going hard and practicing his full array of shots that he would take in a game.”— Marcus Banks, UMBC junior point guard
“It’s a blessing and an honor to be in the presence of one of the greatest players to ever step on a basketball court,” said Marcus Banks, a UMBC junior point guard from Hampton, Virginia. “Watching him work out, I was impressed that every rep was a game-speed rep. He wasn’t doing anything halfway and was so locked in, going hard and practicing his full array of shots that he would take in a game.”
Raucous screams of “Curry! Curry! Curry!” were ubiquitous. When the kids behind the media section realized they might not get his autograph because he’s bouncing all over the court, they adopted another tactic of trying to get near him by yelling at the contestants in the dunk contest – “Jump over me! Jump over me! Jump over me!”
Josie Dantzler’s son Darnell Jr., a star 6-foot junior point guard with a 4.0 GPA who led Edmondson to the Maryland 1A state championship last season, was among the local prep players who got a chance to share the court with the global superstar. But, if you took away his status and celebrity and didn’t know who he was, Curry was simply one of the fellas as he laughed, hugged, fist-bumped and danced the afternoon away.
“He’s a Steph Curry fan and it’s cool to be here and see some of the other former NBA players he liked to watch like Brandon Jennings and Gilbert Arenas,” Josie said. “It’s an excellent opportunity for him to see, be around and learn from these remarkably talented players years before he steps on a college court.”
“I truly appreciated this experience,” Darnell Jr. said. “To see me and my homeboys out there interacting with Steph Curry is beyond inspiring. And he’s a genuine person with no sense of entitlement. It just goes to show that you can’t ever be too famous or wrapped up in celebrity to show appreciation, positivity and to give back to the community.”
As the event wrapped up, prior to a stampede of preteens breaching security on the court’s perimeter and making a mad but unsuccessful dash toward the NBA star, Curry closed by offering words of support and encouragement.
“I feel your energy; I feel your support,” he said. “In the same way that I am inspiring you, you are inspiring the next generation that is coming behind you. How you carry yourself and how you approach the game of basketball means something. And the benefits are not just reaped by you personally, but by all of the younger kids behind you that look up to you.
“I take this responsibility seriously, so embrace the opportunity you have to not only impact yourself but by being an inspiration to others.”