THE CURRYS AND THOMPSONS first intersected on a winter's night in 1986. The Utah Jazz were hosting the San Antonio Spurs, and not a soul in the Salt Palace could ever have foreseen that this was a battle of the Splash Fathers.
On one bench was a 6-foot-5 Utah rookie who had three letters scribbled next to his name on the San Antonio scouting report: DLH (Don't Leave Him).
Dell Curry's reputation as a rapid-fire shooter proceeded him way back then, even though he was the team's fourth guard behind Ricky Green, Bobby Hansen and a scrawny, 24-year-old John Stockton.
Curry was frothing to shoot, but damned if a certain San Antonio reserve forward was going to leave him open.
That particular Spurs backup was Mychal Thompson, the team comedian off the court, but the team's 6-foot-9 conscience on it. Thompson was frothing to shoot, too, not to mention rebound, block shots and carry out all defensive assignments. If someone set a pick to free Curry, Thompson knew he had one millisecond to get a paw in his face -- or the shot was going up. Thompson didn't want his second unit to be devoured by Curry's second unit, and so four days after Christmas 1986, exactly 12,212 fans unknowingly got a 29-year glimpse into the future.
Dell Curry, in only 17 minutes, poured in 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting. He drained a 3-pointer, of course. His release was so quick that Thompson swore Curry was able to catch and shoot without even seeing the basket. But Thompson responded by making 7 of 14 shots himself, in 22 minutes, for 15 points. He -- drumroll, please -- even made the only 3-point shot of his entire 13-year career.
The Jazz won 109-101, but that's not the point. Two months into his rookie season, Dell Curry had proven he could be a microwave off the bench, a skill that would end up keeping him in the league for 16 seasons. Mychal Thompson proved he could still play both ends of the floor, a talent that would keep him in the league a full 13 years.
They had each shown a flash that night, a glimmer. Something was in them ...
The 2014-15 Golden State Warriors.
Maybe it is your father's NBA, after all. The hottest team in the league during the regular season is led by a Curry and a Thompson. Steph Curry is Dell's oldest son, and Klay Thompson is Mychal's middle child. And the way they have banded together as the "Splash Brothers" is part-coincidence, part-conscientiousness and part-genetics.
Growing up, each of them had rare insight into what it took to make it in the league. Steph had an Uncle Muggsy (Bogues). Klay had an Uncle Kobe (Bryant). And if the spotlight doesn't seem to be rattling the Warriors' big two, it might be because they've been hearing playoff stories at bedtime since they were 4 years old.
"Say you want to be an astronaut and you get a chance to talk to Neil Armstrong -- he can tell you what to expect and what you need to do. Or if you want to go into the computer world and you can talk to a Bill Gates," Mychal says. "Not only could they talk to us, but Steph and Klay could talk to the best of the best, the greatest there ever was. A Jordan. A Kobe. A Magic Johnson. ... That's as good as it gets right there.''
Of course, any NBA dad can take his son to the arena. But it's what Steph and Klay did once they got there.
Sonya Curry gave birth to Stephen in March 1988, a few months after the Jazz had traded Dell to the Cleveland Cavaliers. She can still remember the first game she brought the baby to. Steph was all of two weeks old, but she bundled him up in a blanket, assuming he would sleep through all four quarters. But the sound of the crowd and the squeaking sneakers jarred him, and Sonya will never forget little Steph's darting eyes. The way she tells it, he wanted to see what this game of basketball was about and he didn't doze off until the final buzzer.
As soon as he could put two words together, Steph wanted to be back in the arena. He would beg Dell to take him to practice or shootarounds. When Steph was about 5, Dell was a member of the newly formed Charlotte Hornets, and he asked his coach, Allan Bristow, if his young son could come to an occasional workout.
Bristow -- a coaching disciple of the eccentric Doug Moe -- said yes.
"Doug actually let us even bring our dogs to practice once in a while,'' Bristow says. "So kids were better than three or four dogs running around.''
Young Steph calmly sat with a ball in his lap -- "The ball was almost as wide as him,'' Bristow remembers -- waiting for a lull in the practice. The minute there was a team water break, he'd be on the court hoisting up shots.
"Near the end of practice, we would only use half the court,'' Bristow says. "So Stephen would be down there on the other end shooting while we were scrimmaging half-court.''
"Not only could they talk to us, but Steph and Klay could talk to the best of the best, the greatest there ever was. A Jordan. A Kobe. A Magic Johnson. ... That's as good as it gets right there." Mychal Thompson
Now that Steph had the green light, he wanted to be at every Hornets home game. Sonya wouldn't let him go on school nights, but otherwise, he had the run of Charlotte Coliseum. "They let me go into whatever door I wanted to go into,'' Steph says.
One of the doors was the arena family room, where players' wives and kids could escape the crowd on game days. Steph would bring a tennis ball in there and shoot it into a trash can or he'd slam dunk the ball into the coat rack.
"He tried to emulate the players,'' Sonya says. "Then Stephen would come back to his AAU team and try the same passes the Hornets players did. But his teammates weren't expecting the ball. We told him, 'Son, not everyone is seeing what you're seeing.'"
During the 1995 playoffs, Michael Jordan -- fresh off of his baseball experiment -- lit up the Hornets for 48 and 32 points in two games at the Coliseum. Seven-year-old Steph was ringside.
"MJ was the man,'' he says. Three years later, in 1998, the Bulls again faced the Hornets in the playoffs. On an off day, Jordan and Dennis Rodman were cruising down a Coliseum hallway when 10-year-old Steph came careening around a corner. Michael shook his hand. Steph didn't want to ever wash it again.
Almost every NBA player Steph met asked him, "Can you shoot like your pops?'' By the late 1990s, Dell Curry was one of the NBA's best shooters. He was Sixth Man of the Year in 1993-94 and once shot 47.6 percent from 3-point land.
"I'll never forget it,'' says Julie Thompson, Mychal's wife. "I remember every time Dell shot the ball at the Great Western Forum, our PA announcer, Laurence Tanter, would just go, 'Dell Curry.' I mean, I don't even remember Dell missing a shot."
And as Julie was watching Dell hit 3s in L.A., she held a little baby in her lap whose eyes were wide open, too: Klay Thompson.
Mychal Thompson was drafted No. 1 overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1978. A native of the Bahamas and an All-American at the University of Minnesota, he was selected ahead of Michael Ray Richardson, Larry Bird and Reggie Theus among others.
His career winded from Portland (eight seasons) to San Antonio (49 games) to Los Angeles, where he helped Magic Johnson's Showtime Lakers win back-to-back titles in 1987 and '88. Mychal's former teammate Clyde Drexler remembers him as a complete player: "[He] ran the court like a guard and was the first of the very mobile big men who could defend anyone on the floor," Drexler says.
"Good midrange shooter, great post-up player. He was like an 18-point, 10-rebound guy on a nightly basis. Today he would be a perennial All-Star."
Off the court, Mychal's nicknames were "Bahama Mama'' and "The Bum.'' He was known for walking around team hotels with his shirt off, for watching soap operas and for firing off one-liners like, "When Xavier McDaniel plays against Orlando Woolridge, it's a coach's dream -- X vs. O.''
When he retired from the Lakers following the 1990-91 season, Thompson became a broadcaster. His three sons, Mychel, Klay and Trayce, were too young to remember their father's career, but they got all of the celebrity relationships that went with it. Growing up just outside of Portland, they hung out with Drexler's kids, who were about the same age, and played video games at Rasheed Wallace's house. Mychal began hosting a drive-time radio show with fellow former Blazer Kermit Washington, and Washington's kids babysat Mychal's.
Before the 2003-04 season, the Lakers hired Thompson to do radio broadcasts, and he moved his entire family down from Portland to Ladera Ranch in Orange County. Klay was 14 at the time and, like Steph Curry in Charlotte, he and his brothers had the run of the Staples Center. Before every Lakers home game, they shot on the arena floor.
One night at Staples Center, Klay and a friend watched Boston's Ray Allen warm up before a game. Klay's buddy poked him in the chest and said, "Ask him to match you shot for shot. You can shoot as good as that guy." Klay was too shy to approach Allen, but his buddy said, "I'll do it" and challenged Allen to a one-shot duel from 30 feet. Allen agreed, having no idea who the two kids were. Klay looked away, never telling Allen who his father was.
At home, Klay was more assertive. He and his brothers would play a family game called, "In the paint." The first person to score 11 baskets with at least one foot in the paint was the winner. It was a constant game of 2-on-1, the three brothers pummeling each other. Mychel, the oldest, was a slasher-type player who would go on to have a cup of coffee in the NBA, while Trayce, the youngest, weighed more than both of them and would go on to play baseball in the White Sox organization. Klay had to battle to hold his own.
"It prepared me for what I was going to see when I got older," he says.
He also remembers what his father said was the key to making the NBA: "Make jump shots, last long, baby," Mychal would tell him. "If you can shoot the ball, you will have a nice, long career." So Klay would stick that one foot in the paint and shoot his fadeaway. It became almost automatic. He could already shoot it better than Pops.
The game of favor in the Curry household was H-O-R-S-E.
"We were jump shots all day," Steph says. In the early years, Dell used to take it easy on Steph and his brother, Seth. Dell would have been the favorite to win a H-O-R-S-E contest against NBA players, let alone in his own backyard. He'd start off with simple 18-footers to keep his boys in the game. But when Steph began matching Dell shot for shot, Dell would go to left-handed free throws, left-handed bank shots, floaters and shots from out of bounds.
Steph kept working. They would play at the Coliseum. H-O-R-S-E games became marathons -- 25-footers being matched by 25-footers. When Steph was 11, Dell spent a season with Milwaukee, and then-Bucks coach George Karl would invite Steph to join the team's post-practice shooting games.
"It'd be me, Steph and Vinny Del Negro, and we'd kill everybody," Dell says. When Steph was 13, and Dell was playing for the Toronto Raptors, he finally beat his father at H-O-R-S-E. On a deep 3-pointer.
When Dell joined the Raptors in 1999 for the final three years of his career, Vince Carter would play one-on-one against Steph before practices, and about 45 minutes before every home tip-off, as the crowd filed in, the court would belong to just the Currys. Steph and Seth would start bombing 3-pointers. The fans would ohh and ahh.
The boys fed off of the applause.
"Sometimes we'd just play two-on-zero,'' Steph says. "Me and him would be playing against ghosts. Basically, we'd just try all these crazy moves and pass back and forth to each other like six times before somebody made a layup.''
At the time, the baby-faced Steph was still barely just 5 feet tall. He says he would stand next to his Uncle Muggsy, who was 5-foot-3, to gauge whether he was finally growing. He was convinced that if he could inch past Bogues, he could somehow reach the NBA. But his days as the short kid were invaluable. Because he was so diminutive and because he released his shot as low as his belly button, Steph began to learn how to shoot quickly off his dribble.
The summer prior to his junior year of high school, Dell convinced his son to raise his release. "At first, Steph couldn't make anything outside the paint,'' Seth says.
But Dell, who was retired by then, wouldn't let Steph rest until he mastered it.
By the kid's senior year of high school in Charlotte, Steph could routinely make shots from just inside half court. Dell was hoping his and Sonya's alma mater, Virginia Tech, would take Steph. But the school passed, and Steph ended up at a tier-two school, Davidson. By this time, Steph was far taller than Uncle Mugsy, close to 6-foot-3, and near the end of his sophomore season, his NBA potential began to surface.
"Stephen would come back to his AAU team and try the same passes the Hornets players did." Sonya Curry
He lit up Gonzaga for 40 points in the 2008 NCAA tournament, 30 coming in the second half. He hit step-back 3s and circus shots, and Dell, usually calm and stoic, fist-pumped in the stands. It was as if Steph were playing H-O-R-S-E in the Curry backyard, as if he were playing two-on-zero in Toronto.
He now had DLH next to his name, too. And seven years later, MVP.
Being a voice of the Lakers has its perks. Mychal was traveling with arguably the premier franchise of the NBA, and that gave him access to arguably the premier player on the planet: Kobe.
When Klay would go into a shooting slump or if his mental approach was off-kilter, Mychal would ask Bryant to talk to him and he would put Kobe and Klay in touch.
In the offseasons, Bryant and Klay both worked out at UC-Irvine. Kobe would kick everyone out of the gym when he was training there. Almost everyone. "He'd let me stay and work out," Klay says. "It was cool. I felt real privileged to be in the same gym as him."
Klay would sometimes travel as a high school kid on Laker road trips -- he was in Detroit when the Pistons defeated L.A. in the 2004 Finals. Mychal and Klay's brothers wanted to go immediately back to the team hotel, but Klay insisted they stay and watch the Pistons receive their championship trophy, as if he wanted to prepare himself for that, too. Later in the same evening, Klay sat at the dinner table with Kobe, Shaquille O'Neal, Rick Fox and Karl Malone.
"Just like he was one of the guys at, like, 14 years old," Trayce says. "I think it was a little foreshadowing for him.''
Mychal called colleges on Klay's behalf, and it didn't go well. He dialed UCLA and USC, but the Bruins had Jrue Holliday and Darren Collison, while the Trojans had DeMar DeRozan and Taj Gibson. UCLA's Ben Howland and USC's Tim Floyd told Mychal that Klay wasn't as talented as those guys, the same way Steph was rejected by Virginia Tech. So when Klay ended up at Washington State -- the only Pac 12 school that offered him a scholarship -- he used his NBA childhood to his advantage, the same way Steph had.
The confident Klay blossomed and eventually made the under-19 USA team, for which his roommate was Seth Curry, Steph's younger brother.
"Klay called me so excited,'' Julie Thompson says. "He said, 'Mom, does Dad know Dell Curry?' I told him, 'Oh yes. ... They go waaaaay back.'"
Dell and Mychal had long been friends, of course. They had been crossing paths for years -- Mychal broadcasting for the Lakers and Dell later broadcasting for the Bobcats/Hornets. Now their bond was personal. When Steph and Klay each ended up with the Warriors, they connected as fathers.
"I think, with Steph and Klay, experiencing the NBA life early, it paid off for them with confidence," Dell says. "Seeing that big stage early. They got used to it. It doesn't affect them. It doesn't bother them being on a big stage, a big arena."
Only Dell and Mychal know what each other is going through as the Warriors make their playoff run now. Both fathers broadcast games for other franchises, which means both have had to awkwardly announce games their sons have played in. Mychal calls Klay, "That Thompson kid'' during broadcasts or "That Thompson Boy'' or just plain "Klay.'' And on the air, he's also curiously hard on him.
In the 2013-14 season opener, Klay went off for 38 points against the Lakers on 15-of-19 shooting, and Mychal's radio partner, John Ireland said, over the airwaves, "Mychal, you have to be exceptionally proud of your son tonight -- 38 points against the Lakers.''
"Yeah, but how many rebounds does he have?'' Mychal said.
Ireland was incredulous. "At first, I was almost offended by it," Ireland says. "But then I realized Mychal tends to focus on how Klay can get better. I think a little bit of it is an act, but he does this on the air! I'll say, 'Mychal, Klay is 7-for-8 from the field so far in this game.' He'll say, 'Yeah, but he's also got five turnovers. Didn't see you mention that.'"
Dell, on the other hand, has stayed mostly neutral when the Warriors have faced the Hornets. He calls him "Steph'' on the air, but, otherwise, his son is just another player in the game, albeit a dominant one. When the Warriors are playing anyone besides the Lakers and Hornets, Mychal and Dell are free to be the Splash Fathers.
"They got used to it. It doesn't affect them. It doesn't bother them being on a big stage, a big arena."
When Klay scored 37 points in a single quarter this season against Sacramento, Mychal was in the back of the Lakers' team plane, entranced while watching it on his iPhone. "It was one of the coolest moments of my career, watching him watch Klay," Ireland says. "Mychal's never speechless. You could say, 'Mychal, give me 30 seconds on gravel,' and he could go for like two minutes and be brilliant. But he didn't know what to say when Klay was making all those shots."
Meanwhile, when Steph broke his own NBA record for most 3-pointers made in a season, Dell told Sonya, "He's a baaaaad man.'' Dell simply can't stay stoic any more. When Steph hit his clutch, six-hands-in-his-face 3-pointer to send Game 3 between the Warriors and Pelicans into overtime, Dell oohed and ahhed, just like the fans used to do for 13-year-old Steph in Toronto.
He could admit it -- Steph has become a better shooter than Pops.
Now, days away from Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Steph and Klay will lean on their childhoods again. Steph says he can still see Jordan in that hallway in '98, chest out, full of swagger.
Klay says he can still picture the Lakers championship rings in his father's drawer and the sight of Detroit players clutching their trophy in 2004.
Both Splash Brothers are DLT: Don't Leave Them.
And both Splash Fathers are WPY: We Prepared You.