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What’s it like when Steph Curry shows up at a pickup game? ‘Even the adults were screaming’

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It started like any other pickup basketball game at an open gym — players sweating on the court, others waiting on the sidelines and spectators casually observing. Jessica Brogan, who had attended similar practice-like sessions with her two hoops-hungry sons, said it began as a “normal open run.”

However, on this particular Saturday, there was unusual electricity in the air at the Life Time gym in Folsom, Calif., as rumors circulated in the greater Sacramento community that a global basketball star was in town and might swing by. Still, there was reason to doubt it.

“I didn’t even tell my kids about it because I hear that kind of stuff all the time and it doesn’t pan out,” Brogan said.

Others, like Berry Roseborough IV, a basketball trainer in the area who works with college and pro players, were more sure. Roseborough received a call from Marcus Kirkland, who was organizing the session, asking him to recruit his best players because of the expected attendance of this special guest.

On the morning of June 8, Roseborough called his pupils in town without revealing too much, just enough.

“You’ll probably be mad if you miss it,” Damarion Vann-Kelly said Berry told him.

Vann-Kelly had a hunch, one that grew after Kent Bazemore — a G League player who spent 10 seasons in the NBA — walked in. About 10 minutes after Bazemore arrived and with a game underway, the screams began: It’s Curry. It’s Curry.

“All the little kids are screaming,” Vann-Kelly said. “Even the adults were screaming.”

Sure enough, Stephen Curry, wearing a light gray hoodie pulled over his head, walked in.

“I look up while we’re playing and I’m like — excuse my language — but, ‘Oh s—, Steph just walked through the doors,’ ” Roseborough said. “And you could feel it. … You feel all the energy in the gym radiating. Everybody’s almost in shock.”

Brogan looked at her sons’ faces. Braxton, 13, turned red when he noticed the four-time NBA champion, and Easton, 10, grew wide-eyed and broke into an ear-to-ear smile when he realized it was Curry stretching nearby, she said.

It’s not unheard of for NBA players to join amateur pickup games as a way for them to stay tuned up, especially during the league’s offseason. Players with college and pro experience, including Bazemore, regularly attend the runs Kirkland organizes in the Sacramento area. The two met at a gym in 2022 and stayed in touch, according to Kirkland, bonding over a shared love of basketball and a desire to pass that love on to others in their community.

Bazemore encouraged Curry, who was in the area for his daughter’s youth volleyball tournament, to drop by the gym, Kirkland said. Curry, whose NBA season ended in April with the Warriors’ Play-In Tournament loss to the Sacramento Kings, will make his Olympic debut at the Paris Games next month as the United States men go for their fifth straight gold medal.

“We’ve had a lot of (NBA players) come to our runs but never anyone of the caliber of Stephen Curry,” Roseborough said. “That was like ‘Wow.’ ”

Brogan called it a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” for her family.

During a roughly two-hour session, Curry put on a masterclass. He and Bazemore teamed up, playing five-on-five against Kirkland, Vann-Kelly, Roseborough and others. Brogan and her sons watched in awe along with a growing crowd that became so large that security asked people to leave, she said.

Naturally, Curry delivered. Roseborough said he noticed Curry’s pace and how simple his game is.

“He didn’t do anything more than he needed to do in that moment,” Roseborough said. “His pickups — basically how you pick up the ball before you get into your shot — they were just so fast like you couldn’t even see them.

“Then his release. He’s getting his shot off in, had to have been, .3 seconds or less. It doesn’t matter if it’s contested. It looks the same every time. It’s coming off the same finger every time.”

Added Vann-Kelly, 17, a 6-foot-5 guard with Division I and pro aspirations and a recent graduate of Monterey Trail High: “He was making all of them. It was nothing but net. How (Curry) attacks, you can just tell why he’s at the pro level. All his moves are perfected. He has great patience, great skill overall.”

During one game, after Curry crossed up Kirkland for a step-back 3-pointer that rimmed out, Curry got the ball back off a pass and then made the game-winning 3 on his next attempt. He reflexively celebrated with his iconic “night night” gesture. A clip of the moment, shot by Brogan and posted to her Instagram, went viral.

“He’s a generational player, his IQ,” Kirkland said. “He’s just different.”


Markus Kirkland guards NBA icon Stephen Curry during a pickup game in Folsom, Calif., on June 8. (Courtesy of Markus Kirkland)

But it wasn’t only Curry’s viral shots and elite ballhandling that left the gym buzzing. He impressed in another sense, according to those who were there. They noted how Curry introduced himself to each player and shook their hands. He asked for their names and told them not to be nervous.

“Guys were trying to give him the ball so he could do all the scoring and he was telling them, like, ‘No, we play team basketball. We’re not gonna play like that,’ ” Roseborough said. “He was actually setting up other guys to score. He was giving confidence to the players and other people that were there.”

After a series of eight or nine games — largely dominated by Curry and Bazemore, Kirkland said — the two took photos with the other players and the kids Kirkland invited to watch, including Brogan’s sons.

“He just made everybody around the building feel good,” Roseborough said. “He made everybody that was in there feel comfortable. And that was crazy to me, just how his energy really affected everybody in the building that much.”

(Top photo of Steph Curry and Kent Bazemore with other players: Courtesy of Marcus Kirkland)





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