Stephen Curry is talking to me about my jump shot.
"You've got time," he says.
When arguably the greatest living shooter tells me something like this, I should listen. For some reason, I have nerves about running out of time during this three-point shooting competition against other sportswriters. I rush my shots from the fourth rack of balls. I brick all five attempts. My ceiling is falling. On the final rack, I need two points to tie, three to win.
"You got time," Curry says again as I get to the final rack.
I miss my first shot, then swish the second.
"Take your time," I say to myself.
I miss again. I fumble the transition on the fourth shot and clank the rim. One last chance.
"For the win," Curry says.
I release the fifth and final shot. It barely reaches the rim.
"Awww," Curry exclaims.
Really? What did he care? This was in August, so he still had the FIBA World Cup in Spain to play and approximately another decade in the NBA.
If anyone should've been disappointed, it was me. I was crushed. Sure, this was just part of an assignment, but I am competitive by nature. I knew I had a chance to win the competition and whatever the prize there was (a replica Warriors jersey that Curry signs, as it turns out), and I blew it. I crumbled down the stretch in front of Stephen Curry, whose career has been all about hitting big-time shots in the clutch. My opportunities are limited compared to his, so I wanted to make the most of this one.
This was a promotional event for Curry, with his sponsors Degree deodorant and Under Armour supplying the gear and equipment. But Curry seemed to take a genuine interest in helping us improve our hoops skills. He did not have to put effort into a practice with a bunch of rag-tag journalists. But he did and appeared to enjoy the interaction. My take is that Curry is a player grateful for every opportunity he has in the public light. He was doubted in high school, at Davidson and even in the NBA, but he has always surpassed expectations. He does not take anything for granted.
Curry looks far different from the scrawny 20-year-old that took the nation by storm during the 2008 NCAA tournament. As a professional, Curry has put on muscle so he cannot, despite being 6-3, get bodied by taller opponents. Before the writers participated in the shooting contest, Curry put us through a workout with various drills and exercises. He said it was similar to his daily regimen, but my guess was that he does everything that we did about ten more times in quantity, speed and athleticism. It was a whirlwind experience going through the paces with a member of the All-NBA second team, and it helped give me an appreciation of the work Curry puts in.
But I was really looking forward to the three-point contest against the other writers. I shot well in the warm-up drills, which included jumpers from the elbow. On the basketball court, three-pointers are my passion. All the chucking I had done in the driveway during my childhood and poor shot selections I made in rec leagues would pay off. Plus, I had experience. In May 2013, I challenged Northwestern sharpshooter Alex Marcotullio to a competition on Northwestern News Network Sports Night. Like I did in front of Curry, I blew up down the stretch. I made eight shots through the first three racks and finished with 10 points. Marcotullio put up 23 points and shut me up.
At Curry's event, each competitor is given five racks of five balls. The fifth ball on each is the moneyball, which is worth two points instead of one. Each shooter has 90 seconds to complete the round, which is 30 seconds more than the limit used during NBA All-Star Weekend. Beckley Mason of Grantland/New York Times goes first. He puts up nine points. I feel good about my chances.
I put up three points on each of my first two racks. Two-fifths of the way through my shots, I am two-thirds of the way to Mason's score. I tell myself to stay relaxed. Curry, who called himself a better offensive player than LeBron James that same day, yells positive reinforcements. That is like Barack Obama telling me I'm a good politician or Beyonce telling me I have strong vocals. Even though I end up falling short, this is a priceless experience with Curry's coaching and competing under the glare of cameras.
Unfortunately, I didn't follow Curry's advice of following the BEEF principle. I'd learned about BEEF in elementary school gym class, and the most dynamic shooter in the NBA was stressing the same fundamental approach:
Balance. Eyes. Elbows. Follow-through.
After Mason prevails among the writers, Curry shoots a round himself. He hits his first five shots. Then he misses 13 in a row (was he just trying to make us feel better about ourselves?) then scrambles to make a few shots down the stretch. Curry thanks us for our time and congratulates us on finishing his clinic, as the camera crew from Degree starts packing up.
I grab my recorder and my notes and go back into journalist mode. Kind of. I interview Curry about USA Basketball, Paul George's injury, Kevin Durant's withdrawal, Steve Kerr's hiring and the Warriors' championship prospects. At the end, I tell him I need to improve my shooting. "Keep working," he says.
After bombing my chance to shine in front of Stephen Curry, the least I can do is follow his advice.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.