IT BEGINS WITH a miss.
The yellow digits of the Staples Center game clock blink down to 6:35 as Clippers guard Willie Green's three-pointer from the right corner sails exactly where his feet are pointed. The shot ricochets, hard, off the front of the rim to the backboard and into the waiting hands of Golden State's Draymond Green, who lands, turns and pushes the ball to guard Steph Curry. In the next seven seconds of the second quarter, Curry will reveal the art and science behind the best shot in NBA history.
Gliding toward halfcourt, Curry turns his left shoulder back to Green and catches the pass softly with his right hand, letting gravity bring the ball down to the first key: his dribble.
Curry, 26, is the eldest son of Dell Curry, who himself shot 40.2 percent from three-point range during a 16-year NBA career, mostly in Charlotte, that ended in 2002. From a very young age, Steph learned how to shoot at the knee of a master, throwing tiny tantrums when he couldn't accompany his father to Hornets practice -- not because he wanted to see his dad's famous friends but because he wanted to work on his shot. Much like that of Tiger Woods, Barry Bonds and Peyton Manning before him, Steph's drive to perfect the complex mechanics of his sport was born from a powerful, subconscious urge to mimic, and then metamorphose, his father's smooth and vertical three-pointer.
At 9, Curry was the smallest kid on his rec league team, brought off the bench only when his coach needed to shoot defenses out of the zone. "The zone buster," Curry says with pride. "It all developed from there."
What's on display at this moment, however, as he floats across the midcourt stripe, is something no one ever talks about: Curry's ballhandling skills. Those he got from his 5'3" mother, Sonya, a lovely, strong-willed woman who played point guard in high school and volleyball at Virginia Tech, where she met Dell. "If I dribbled four times, that was about my limit -- I had to shoot it or pass it," says Dell. "We knew early on Steph could shoot with good form. But he was a better ballhandler before he was a shooter, and people miss that. What he can do shooting off the dribble? Those are my 'wow' moments. That's his mother."
Curry's first dribble up court is in front of his right foot. In between his first and second dribbles, he surveys the court. A perfect diamond has formed. Teammate Steve Blake is flying up the left wing, while Clippers guard Darren Collison trails Curry by two steps down the middle. Curry doesn't care about either right now. He's reading the huge bright-blue sneakers of the lone man back on defense, 6'9" Danny Granger; he's waiting, hoping, that the forward will instinctively sag down from the top of the key to protect the rim of his home court from an easy layup or, worse, a thunderous dunk.