I've loved the game of basketball since I was five years old, hooping rain, sleet or snow on a rusted rim in my parents' driveway. Although I never played at an elite level, I became an average recreational player. Basically, I’m Kobe Bryant in Dear Basketball without the multiple NBA championships, the game-winning buzzer beaters, and the jersey retirement. In a way, that is what’s made my basketball journey so special.
Now at age 42, I'm fighting an uphill battle. I'm trying to stave off Father Time so I can keep playing the game that I love at a somewhat respectable level. (And by respectable, I mean not completely embarrass myself.) But with each passing year, I can feel myself getting slower and the nagging aches and pains getting worse.
I know I'll have to hang up my Kobe A.D.'s at some point, but I'm not ready for it to be anytime soon.
I recently enrolled in Steph Curry's Masterclass on "Shooting, Ball-Handling, and Scoring" to find out if there's a way for me to gain an edge. After all, Curry's not the fastest or most athletic guy but he can dribble circles around anybody and get his shot off whenever he wants, even against much taller defenders. So what’s his secret sauce?
Of course, I know I’m never going to be Steph Curry. Curry is an all-NBA player and I’m just a guy trying to hit a few jumpers in my local pick up games. Still, I thought that I could put some of Curry’s principles to use.
My verdict after watching the course: while it’s certainly exciting to listen to Curry - one of the best shooters and ball handlers to ever play the game - describe his approach to basketball, there are really no earth shattering revelations. You will not necessarily learn anything that you won’t be able to find out from watching YouTube instructional videos.
Here are some of my personal observations from watching the course.
· Steph Curry comes across as very approachable and humble. Curry talks about some of the challenges that he faced as a younger player, like having to re-build his shot from the ground up in high school and not getting recruited by any major colleges. I felt like I could identify with him. I, too, was not recruited by any major colleges (or any organized team, for that matter). As much as I want to hate Steph Curry for being a part of the Evil Empire (aka the Golden State Warriors), he comes across as just so darn likable.
· From the outset, Curry emphasizes a relentless focus on perfecting your mechanics. During games, Steph is always under control, even under extreme duress. His mechanics don't break down. As Curry states at the very beginning of the course:
"There's one thing that all great shooters have in common. And that's complete control over their mechanics. That's not something you're born with. You have to practice it ... You have to get in the gym and put a ball in your hands and work on your mechanics every single day. If you commit to that, you can be as great as you wanna be."
It’s a pretty obvious point, but it’s always something to keep in mind when you’re jacking up shots in the gym. You need to pay attention to what you’re trying to accomplish.
· Curry practices what he preaches. For example, he describes how there are three basic dribbling moves that can be used in varying combinations to beat defenders: crossover, between the legs, and behind the back crossover. It made me realize that simplicity and sticking to the basics is really the key, even at the professional level. Watch any Warriors game and you’ll see Curry repeating these dribble moves over and over again. It's like what Denzel Washington's character says in Remember the Titans: "I run 6 plays, split veer. It's like novacaine. Just give it time. Always works."
· It was insightful to watch Curry breaking down film from his own NBA games, including little things he feels he could have done better. In one play, Curry acknowledged that he could have hit Kevin Durant for a wide open dunk instead of pulling up for a 30 footer. "I go for the dagger. I don't think there's any second guessing that I was going to shoot that ... That's one in that situation I'm gonna take (pause for dramatic effect) ten times out of ten." And he manages to convince you that it was the exact right decision.
In terms of my own game, there were a couple of tidbits that I found especially helpful. For example, as a 5'9"ish guy, my main objective is not getting my jump shot volleyball-spiked back in my face. Steph explains that to get a quicker release on your jump shot, it’s important to remain “shot ready”. Staying in an athletic stance with knees bent and pounding your final dribble to get the ball quickly into your shot pocket are important components of being shot ready. One of my biggest issues is that I tend to play standing straight up, so I have to gather and bend my knees before shooting. (When you're over forty like me, it gets harder to do simple things like bend your knees.) As a result, I'm losing critical time and momentum on my shot.
The most fascinating part of this course for me by far is the concept of overloading. One of the ways that Curry has become such a proficient ball handler is that he practices his basic dribble combinations with two balls or a basketball while tossing a tennis ball so that dribbling a single basketball becomes much easier to do. The basic idea is that if you make things harder for yourself, the normal stuff becomes a lot easier.
I wish the course had gone into more depth on overloading because I think it represents an untapped strategy on how to improve. I’ll bet that overloading could be extended not just to dribbling, but to all areas of basketball. For instance, it’d be cool to devise funky ways to apply overloading to shooting drills.
Do I recommend this course? It depends.
Despite its vanilla quality, there are two things that this course brought to me in abundance, just by virtue of being taught by the great Steph Curry: hope and motivation. I often watch a social media guru on YouTube named Gary Vaynerchuk. He makes obvious points like “Don’t live your life with any regrets” but he does it with such passion and conviction that you can’t help but be inspired. That’s the kind of feeling that I had when watching this course.
If I'm being honest with myself, I know that here's only so much someone of my age and height can accomplish on the basketball court. But as I've discovered throughout my basketball life, I don't really care about honesty. Because it's those moments of self-belief, when anything seems possible, that make the journey so fun.
Hope and motivation. In the end, that's all I need.