Father’s Day came four days early this year for Dell Curry. Nothing that happens Sunday figures to top the early-morning euphoria in Cleveland Wednesday.
Dell, the former Hornets star, and his wife Sonya glanced at their watches at about 1:30 a.m. Son Stephen had finally completed his media obligations about two hours after the Golden State Warriors clinched a 4-2 series victory over the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
The NBA set up what’s called the “picture room” in Quicken Loans Arena in case the Warriors clinched in Game 6. The professional photographers had cleared out and the families of the players were led in, where anyone could snap pictures with the Larry O’Brien Trophy the championship team receives.
Among those in the room: Hall of Famer Bill Russell. He won 11 NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, but is also iconic in the Bay Area, having played his college ball with the University of San Francisco .
When the Currys crowded around Russell for more picture-taking, it registered on Dell, still the Charlotte Hornets’ all-time scoring leader, what his son, the reigning league Most Valuable Player, had accomplished.
“You’re standing there with Bill Russell -- Bill Russell! -- and it sunk in just what he had to do to get here,” Dell said of son Stephen, the former Davidson star.
This story has been told plenty from Charlotte to San Francisco: How a scrawny, under-recruited kid led Davidson on an NCAA tournament run, how Stephen Curry became a top-10 draft pick, how he was named an All-Star starter and then the league’s MVP this season.
All that attention was validated when Curry led the Warriors to their first NBA championship in 40 years. Curry had to beat a longtime mentor in Cleveland’s LeBron James, who had his own back story of returning home to Cleveland after leaving the team that drafted him to win two championships with the Miami Heat.
The two-month run through the playoffs became a Curry family project. Dell and Sonya had always been there for their three children’s athletic events, but this was different. They were needed as a support staff of sorts.
Stephen’s wife, Ayesha, is expecting the Currys’ second child. She is due in late July, but she’s been telling family this feels different than her first pregnancy, anticipating an early delivery.
From the start of the playoffs Dell and Sonya pitched in - whether it be taking granddaughter Riley to a horseback-riding lesson or picking up takeout food for dinner - to relieve pressure from their son and daughter-in-law.
Just the other day Ayesha felt sick enough to meet with her doctor. They joked together that she could hang on at least four more days before going into labor, until after what would have been a deciding Game 7 in Oakland, Calif., Thursday night.
Dell and Sonya, who were scholarship athletes at Virginia Tech, rolled with it all hoping professionally and personally everything would work out.
“That’s what made it so hard. As past athletes, we knew we had no control over any of this,” said Dell, who retired from the NBA in 2002 after a 16-season career. “As athletes you want the most control possible. As parents in the stands, you just watch and hope.”
Dell said he’s never been more nervous watching Stephen play than in that close-out game Tuesday night. And then, with the series clinched...
“Pandemonium,” Dell recalled in a phone interview from San Francisco. “Such relief after two months of what was such dedication and sacrifice to win this. That’s true in the regular season as well, but these teams (advancing this far) have to take it to such a different level. It was an intense time for everyone.”
So that made it time to blow off steam. The Warriors had rented out Morton’s, the Steakhouse adjoining their Cleveland hotel in anticipation of clinching in Game 6. The team paid for an ice sculpture of the team’s season-long slogan, “Strength in Numbers,” and hired a disc jockey to turn one room of the restaurant into an impromptu dance club.
The food and drink flowed until about 5 a.m. Teammates hollered with joy and made future plans: Stephen and teammate Andre Iguodala, both avid golfers, talked of figuring out how to be invited to play a round at Augusta National.
At roughly 4 a.m., Dell, Stephen, Warriors coach Steve Kerr and several of Stephen’s former teammates from Davidson went out to a balcony for a sports tradition: long, satisfying drags on victory cigars.
By early evening Wednesday, the Currys were all back at Stephen and Ayesha’s home in the Bay Area. Dell was trying to get back to dozen of friends -- many of them from Charlotte -- offering congratulations. At one point he had 174 unreturned text messages on his cell phone.
Dell called me back Wednesday evening to recount the night before. Midway through the conversation Stephen yelled across the room: “Whoever that is on phone, tell them we’re the champs!”
Yes, indeed. And that’s something the whole family made happen.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell