Two-time basketball MVP, Beaverton family have unbreakable bond
Steph Curry walks out of the Moda Center visitor's locker room with a pink hoodie underneath his modish black sweater with white trim around the base, designer jeans wrapped around his long legs, a pair of plush ivory JBL headphones pinching his forehead just above his ears, signature "SC30" shoes on his feet, with a to-go order of Chick-fil-A in his left hand.
He's fresh off a brazen 37-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound performance that included the customary shimmies, shakes, crossovers and rain-making threes and put the Portland Trail Blazers' season to bed. The two-time MVP shakes hands with a few of the Moda Center stadium workers and makes his way over to a roped-off section in the bowels of the stadium where family and friends await — some giddy, some somber, but all smiling as the Warrior point guard saunters through.
In the center of the waiting area stands an enclosed circle of tall, striking onlookers who Curry doesn't consider casual friends, but close kin. They're the Brinks, a family from Beaverton.
Curry splits the sphere with a one-armed hug around the waist of a beaming Cameron Brink, the Southridge High School phenom, who in response extends her right arm around Curry's shoulders in embrace. At 6-foot-3, Cameron is now at eye level with the Warriors great and likely will be taller than Steph when the two line up for their annual back-to-back snapshot in 2018.
Steph exchanges soul shakes with Cy, Cameron's older brother.
Greg Brink commends his godson for rocking the rosé attire.
Steph starts to call his wife, Ayesha, and his daughter, Riley, who are back home in the Bay Area. But first, Michelle Brink reaches out her right hand and tucks in a few stray hairs on Steph's unkempt beard with a motherly touch to ensure he stays dapper before dialing up his wife.
"I need to trim it," Steph says, tugging on the wispy strands with a sheepish grin.
"Good call, you're starting to look like Snidely Whiplash," Michelle said with a laugh.
Curry is comfortable, conversational and at ease as one would expect the potential Hall of Famer would be hanging among those he considers himself closest to, outside his immediate family. The Brinks aren't blood-related to the Curry clan, but they might as well be. Michelle is best friends with Steph's mother, Sonya, who roomed with Michelle while the two were athletes (Sonya played volleyball while Michelle was a basketball standout) at Virginia Tech. Both Michelle and Greg have been a part of Steph's life since the day Wardell Stephen Curry II was born in Akron, Ohio, on March 14, 1988, when Michelle drove from Blacksburg to be with Sonya and Dell, Steph's dad, to witness the birth of her best friend's first child — the one some say is the greatest outside shooter of all-time.
"People have heard me talk about Stephen basically since he came out of the womb," said Michelle with a laugh.
Michelle and Greg are Steph's godparents, and Dell and Sonya, in return, are the godparents of Cy and Cameron. But to Steph, the Brinks aren't just a pseudo clique who come and go through the seasons of life. They've been ever-present in his world since day one, literally and figuratively, through thick and thin alike, back when he wasn't internationally known, before the hype, before the endless endorsements, big max contracts, shoe deals and overall celebrity status. Steph can go to the Brinks in any situation. To this day he'll seek out their counsel on anything from basketball, to parenting, to sneakers or wise words of wisdom from a coterie that knows how he ticks dating back to when he was a little boy shooting foam soccer balls at a 7-foot hoop inside the Brink garage.
"They're like my second family," Steph said. "They've shown so much love and support no matter where I was at in life. It didn't matter if I had a good game or a bad game or if they were there or not. I knew they were always watching and keeping tabs on me. Any time I talk to them they have nothing but words of encouragement for me. That was huge for me. They're always there."
Seeing a Warrior's heart in two little kids
Michelle is also godmother to Steph's younger sister, Sydell. Seth, the Curry's middle child, plays for the Dallas Mavericks. While Dell's sister, Jackie, is technically Seth's godmother, Michelle jokingly claims him as her own.
When Steph and Seth were younger, the brothers would visit Michelle — a recently retired marketing executive for Nike's women footwear — and Greg, a chief financial officer for Nike, every summer at their Portland home and she would set up a basketball hoop of some sort. Sometimes in the garage; sometimes, she would screw a plastic hoop against the wall of the house for them to play on.
Michelle would announce the two as if they were in the starting lineup for an NBA team, complete with the Chicago Bulls' esteemed introduction music and even a little fog machine in the corner.
"It was a whole production," Steph said. "They videoed the whole thing and then we'd go back in the house watch it on the TV like it was an actual real game. We had a lot of fun. Me and my brother were so competitive growing up, it was almost like playing in a regular season game in that environment."
It was there and then, when the Curry boys would try to eviscerate each other playing one-on-one, that Michelle saw signs of what the two have evolved into today.
"If it's a tennis ball, if it's a Nerf ball — you could hand them a lemon and those two are going to go at it and fight to the finish," said Michelle with a laugh. "You could see something with them — the passion they had for the game, to play at the next level. It just depended on whether they would be given the opportunity. They were overlooked because of their size and quickness early on, but nobody could see what was in their heart. But I've seen it since they were able to walk, throw and catch a ball."
Michelle got in on the action as well from time-to-time, planting her lengthy 6-foot-3 frame in the middle of the paint to contest the Currys' shot attempts inside the key.
"Oh, she would talk trash and egg us on," Steph said with a laugh. "It was fun to kind of get lost in that as a kid and just enjoying playing the game."
When Michelle was a technical representative with Nike, Steph and Seth would tag along with her to various events and shoe showcases. While in the backseat of Michelle's car, the Currys would talk about where they wanted to play college basketball, what they wanted their signature shoe to look like when they reached the NBA and what their childhood dreams were.
"Michelle has always inspired my imagination whether it's about basketball or shoes," Steph said. "She'd draw all sorts of stuff for me. Some of those ideas would come to life with her special gifts."
To see those things come to fruition, particularly in Steph's case, is something Michelle forecasted for them both, but not in such a regal manner.
"I think I believed in their futures as much as they did, but it's still surreal," said Michelle. "Even though I knew they'd both be successful, I have to admit I didn't think Steph would be the two-time back-to-back MVP. I tell him this all the time: 'To whom much is given, much is expected.' He's exceeded our expectations. I kind of well up with pride every time he does something great. I couldn't be more proud."
Friends first, then family
Michelle and Sonya lived next door to each other in the same dorm the first half of their freshmen years at Virginia Tech. Sonya played volleyball for three seasons at Virginia Tech — that is, until Sonya somehow convinced her then-roommate and Michelle's roommate to switch living arrangements with Michelle. From there a close friendship blossomed over athletics, their relationships and family between the suite-mates. Sonya left Virginia Tech after her junior year when Dell was drafted by the Utah Jazz in 1986, while Michelle stayed in school and finished out her illustrious career as a Hokie, but her relationship with Michelle remained strong.
"It sounds kind of juvenile, but she's my BFF," Michelle said of her best-friend-forever. "We were pretty much inseparable at Tech. We were together constantly."
And as the years have gone on, the Brinks and the Currys are together for every monumental moment between the two families. Sonya goes to every big event in Cameron and Cy's life as well. Michelle credits Sonya for introducing the sport of rowing to Cy, in which he will compete for the University of Washington next season. Sonya watched Cameron play against Glencoe on Saturday and stayed in town to see her goddaughter do damage against Sunset. Sydell, who plays volleyball for Elon University, traveled out to the West Coast recently to celebrate Michelle's 50th birthday. Sonya and Dell have been constant positive presences in both Cy and Cameron's lives.
"The whole Curry family is there for me," Cameron said. "They always have a place to stay here and I always have a place to stay in North Carolina or Northern California. I feel really at home with them. They've been a really big part of my life forever. Just having those role models has been really important. Whenever I look back at those fun memories, it just reminds me of good times."
There's a 14-year age difference between Cameron and the Curry siblings. But that doesn't equate to a disconnection. There's a famous picture of Cameron sitting on Steph's shoulders outside of the Davidson Coliseum back when the reigning MVP was cutting his teeth at Davidson College. Every year when the Warriors come to town, the 6-foot-3 Steph and still-growing Cameron take a back-to-back picture to chart the Skyhawk phenom's growth patterns.
Steph and Cameron, specifically, share a close bond. The Currys are basically basketball royalty. Dell enjoyed an extended career as a sharp-shooting specialist in the NBA. Seth, Steph's younger brother, has become a quality starting point guard for the Dallas Mavericks. And Steph's unreal achievements since leaving Davidson College for the NBA in 2009 have set the league ablaze. It was the Currys' love of the game that first piqued Cameron's interest and drew her to basketball at an early age.
Cameron Brink's turn in the spotlight
"Our games are different of course, them being guards and me being a post, but they just worked so hard and had so joy much playing the game," Cameron said. "I've known (Steph) my whole life and to see him as a brother figure growing up to be this successful, it's amazing."
Cameron is essentially a women's basketball cheat code, a 15-year-old prodigy with superseding agility that belies her 6-foot-4 size. On a given play Cameron can block a shot with her albatross-like wingspan, grab the carom and, instead of outletting the ball to a guard, is apt at triggering transition. She is as fast as a guard and preternaturally coordinated for someone so young and towering. Watching Cameron run the floor is an amazement in itself, because of effortless strides and relative ease with which she eats up the court. Put her in a foot race against the fleetest of stars and she blazes by the field with balletic yet unnerving wheels that set her a cut above the competition.
The first time Steph ever saw Cameron live on the court was in an AAU game three or four years ago, and he was awed by how quickly both her skill level and passion had progressed.
"She was everywhere," Steph said. "She was tough and tenacious. She had high energy and you could tell she loved to play the game. You see the kids who were just out there. And then the kids who were actually trying to get better and play the right way and learn. She was in that latter category. Ever since then she's just been getting better and better."
In the post, she's a natural. Her height gives her a natural distinct advantage over nearly any player locally or on the national stage. But it's the grace she displays on the perimeter, the touch around the rim, the penchant for making plays outside of the paint that make many believe Cameron will be playing basketball for a handsome living someday after a star-studded career at a Division One powerhouse of her choice.
"There are no limits to what she can accomplish on and off the court," Steph said. "Her work ethic is probably her best attribute. Any coach at the collegiate level is gonna love that, let alone her skill level and talent. Hopefully, she'll have a great high school career, go to a top-notch college program and do her thing."
Before the season began, Cameron made espnW's Watch List for the Class of 2020. And this past season she more than lived up to the hype. She was Southridge's offensive fulcrum, a post too tall, too quick, too fast and too skilled around the rim for any opposing big to check in the paint. Cameron's offensive game was matched only by her defensive prowess, where she roamed the lane swatting shots and snatching defensive boards high above the playing hardwood.
Cameron's ascension helped Southridge capture its first Class 6A state championship since 2010.
Steph has certainly taken notice of his young friend's skill and potential, even if it's still wild to watch Cameron grow from a toddler he used to play with on family vacations in Hawaii into a girl who could one day be the face of women's college basketball. Steph keeps tabs on Cameron's improvement through game footage that Michelle passes along or in-person updates from Dell and Sonya, when they're in town and get to take in Cameron's Skyhawk contests.
"It's kind of crazy to think that little Cameron is getting recruited like crazy and is gonna be in good shape for her high school and hopefully be somebody to watch for a long time to come," Steph said with a smile. "From everything I'm hearing — not just about her height, but her skill and her love for the game — it's unmatched."
'Believe in yourself' — advice goes both ways
In the past couple of the seasons, when Golden State is in Portland taking on the Blazers and if his schedule allowed, Steph would surprise Cameron's teams with an appearance where he would share some motivational advice. He'll take Cameron to the side and work with the marvel, especially on her free throw technique, Michelle said, where Steph is an exquisite 90 percent free throw shooter.
"He's really helped her slow down and decrease her shooting pocket," explained Michelle. "She used to bring the ball straight from her ankles and almost try to shoot it like a jump shot. But, he explained how she needed to shorten her pocket because she was so tall and too much could go wrong between her feet and her release."
"She's got solid form and solid touch," Steph said of Cameron. "She loves being in the gym and being in practice already, but she knows she can always ask me any questions she's got. I'll never be overbearing, but I'm available."
Simple things like where to focus her eyes on the rim, being confident in herself and her ability to shoot the ball are all things Steph has helped Cameron with when it comes to the floor. And really, it's the least Steph could do, considering that, before a big NCAA tournament game during his Davidson days, an 8-year-old Cameron made Steph bend down to her level and whispered: "If you believe in yourself, you can be someone."
"He gives me really positive, constructive coaching," Cameron said. "It doesn't feel like I'm shooting with Stephen Curry, it feels like I'm shooting with my brother. It's just fun, goofing around."
Remember two years ago, when Steph Curry made a deep three to plunge the first of many memorable daggers into the Blazers' hearts? When Steph pointed into the crowd, pounded his chest and yelled "I'm back!" — a declaration that filled the library quiet Moda Center?
Steph was pointing directly at the Brink clan, who were sitting in seats near the floor, surrounded by bewildered red-and-black clad Blazer faithful wondering who the heck Golden State's star assassin was celebrating with in the midst of soon-to-be season-ending agony. It's an image that's haunted Portland fans for years now and one that the Brinks hope will continue as the years unfold.
On Monday, as the Warriors swept the Blazers and advanced to the Western Conference semifinals, Greg and Michelle were three rows from the court facing the Warrior bench, hooting and hollering for Steph as he helped put Portland away early with a three-point shooting barrage befitting of Golden State's greatness.
"I felt like a proud mom experiencing the joy for one of my kids," said Michelle with a smile. "It was so exciting, we were almost coming out of our skin. We're just excited for his future and to be able to call him one our own."