What's it like when Steph Curry shows up at a pickup game? “Even the adults screamed”

It began like every other impromptu basketball game in an open gymnasium – players sweating on the court, others waiting on the sidelines and spectators casually watching. Jessica Brogan, who has attended similar practices together with her two hoop-hungry sons, said it began as a “normal open run.”

But on this Saturday, there was an unusual tension within the air at Life Time Gym in Folsom, California, as rumors were circulating within the Sacramento area that a world-class basketball star was on the town and might stop by. Still, there was reason to doubt it.

“I haven't even told my kids about it because I hear things like that all the time and it doesn't work,” Brogan said.

Others, like Berry Roseborough IV, an area basketball coach who works with college and skilled players, were more confident. Roseborough received a call from Marcus Kirkland, who organized the session, asking him to recruit his best players because this special guest was expected.

On the morning of June 8, Roseborough called his students in town, without giving an excessive amount of away, simply enough.

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

Vann-Kelly had a hunch that grew stronger when Kent Bazemore – a G-League player who spent 10 seasons within the NBA – walked in. About 10 minutes after Bazemore arrived, with a game already in progress, the screams began:

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

And indeed, Stephen Curry got here in, a light-weight gray hoodie pulled over his head.

“I look up while we're playing and I'm like – excuse my language – 'Oh shit, Steph just walked through the door,'” Roseborough said. “And you could feel it. … You feel all the energy coming out of the gym. Everyone is almost in shock.”

Brogan checked out her sons' faces. Braxton, 13, blushed when he saw the four-time NBA champion, and Easton, 10, got wide-eyed and beamed when he realized Curry was doing stretches nearby, she said.

It's not unusual for NBA players to take part in amateur pickup games to remain fit, especially throughout the league's offseason. Players with college and skilled experience, including Bazemore, frequently take part in the runs Kirkland organizes within the Sacramento area. The two met at a gym in 2022 and have stayed in contact, in accordance with Kirkland. They bonded over a shared love of basketball and a desire to spread that like to others of their community.

Bazemore encouraged Curry, who was in the realm for his daughter's youth volleyball tournament, to stop by the gym, Kirkland said. Curry, whose NBA season resulted in April with the Warriors' play-in tournament loss to the Sacramento Kings, will make his Olympic debut next month on the Paris Games when the U.S. men seek their fifth consecutive gold medal.

“We've had a lot of (NBA players) on our runs, but never anyone the caliber of Stephen Curry,” Roseborough said. “It was like, 'Wow.'”

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

During a roughly two-hour session, Curry delivered a tour de force. He and Bazemore played as a team five-on-five against Kirkland, Vann-Kelly, Roseborough and others. Brogan and her sons watched in awe, together with a growing crowd that grew so large that security asked people to go away the sport, she said.

Of course, Curry delivered. Roseborough said he was struck by Curry's speed and the simplicity of his game.

“He didn't do anything more than he had to in that moment,” Roseborough said. “His pickups — basically the way you pick up the ball before you throw — were so fast you couldn't even see them.”

“Then his release. He got his shot off in, it must have been 0.3 seconds or less. It doesn't matter if he's contested. It looks the same every time. It comes off the same finger every time.”

Vann-Kelly, 17, a 6-foot-5 guard with Division I and pro aspirations and a recent graduate of Monterey Trail High School, added: “He made all the shots. He was just a goal. The way (Curry) attacks, you can tell why he's a pro. All of his moves are perfect. He has a lot of patience and overall a lot of skill.”

During one game, when Curry passed Kirkland for a step-back three-pointer that missed, Curry got the ball back after a pass and made the game-winning three-pointer on the subsequent attempt. He reflexively celebrated along with his iconic “goodnight” gesture. A clip of the moment, filmed by Brogan and posted to her Instagram, went viral.

“His IQ is a player of a generation,” Kirkland said. “He's just different.”

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

But it wasn't just Curry's viral shots and superb ball handling that had the place rocking. According to those in attendance, he impressed in other ways as well. They noticed how Curry introduced himself to every player and shook their hands. He asked their names and told them to not be nervous.

“The guys wanted to give him the ball so he could score all the points, and he told them, 'No, we're playing team basketball. We're not going to play like that,'” Roseborough said. “He actually set up other guys to score. He gave confidence to the players and other people that were there.”

After a series of eight or nine games — most of which were dominated by Curry and Bazemore, Kirkland said — the 2 took photos with the opposite players and the youngsters Kirkland had invited to observe, including Brogan's sons.

“He just made everyone in the building feel comfortable,” Roseborough said. “He made everyone who was there feel comfortable. And it was crazy to me how his energy really affected everyone in the building so much.”

image credit : www.nytimes.com