OAKLAND, Calif. – As Stephen Curry took snapshots with the NBA Most Valuable Player trophy on Monday, the man who tried to keep him from the Golden State Warriors shook the hand of the man who refused to let that happen.
"I didn't see him until Steph called him out [in his acceptance speech]," Curry's agent Jeff Austin said of former Warriors general manager Larry Riley, "and I was glad that he was here."
Said Riley: "It's been fun to sit back and watch this whole thing develop."
Curry was regarded as a top-10 NBA draft prospect after averaging 28.6 points per game his junior year at Davidson College during the 2008-09 season. The Los Angeles Clippers were set on drafting then-Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin with the top pick. Austin's hope was that his client would land with the New York Knicks with the eighth overall pick. Curry and his father, former NBA player Dell Curry, were on board with the plan as well.
Still, Austin knew the Warriors had strong interest a pick before the Knicks.
"The Knicks had eight and we thought in New York he'd be a great fit. We really wanted him to drop to eight," Austin said. "Once we got to seventh, we were like, 'C'mon man, don't pick him with [Golden State].' At the time, the Warriors were not in our mind as a preferred destination."
Austin said former Memphis Grizzlies assistant general manager Kenny Williamson, who died in 2012, had strong interest in Curry with the second overall pick. Austin, however, declined an invitation from Williamson for a workout.
The Grizzlies used the second overall pick to draft Connecticut's 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet, who ended up being a bust. Now Curry is playing against the Grizzlies in the second round of the playoffs with Game 2 on Tuesday.
Williamson "said he needed him down for a workout to convince the owner," Austin said. " 'Without a workout, I can't get him. But if he comes in and works out, I want to push him for our No. 2 pick.' We chose not to have him go to Memphis. The two big believers were Larry and Kenny."
The Oklahoma City Thunder had interest in working out Curry for the third pick, but also heard the rumors about Austin wanting him in New York, a source told Yahoo Sports. The source added that Austin declined the Thunder's workout invitation to Curry because Austin was confident the Thunder wanted then-Arizona State guard James Harden, who they ended up selecting.
Somehow, the rebuilding Sacramento Kings were able to convince Austin to let Curry work out. Sacramento owned the fourth pick and worked out Curry, Jonny Flynn, Tyreke Evans, Toney Douglas, Nick Calathes and Patty Mills on June 21, 2009. Austin said he doesn't remember why he let Curry work out for Sacramento.
The Kings, however, selected Evans. The now New Orleans Pelicans guard ended up winning the 2010 NBA Rookie of the Year award with Sacramento, but has never been an All-Star.
"Tyreke had size and a hell of a workout," ex-Kings assistant general manager Wayne Cooper told Yahoo Sports. "Curry was good, but Tyreke had the better workout that day. You can't predict the future, but at the time Tyreke was a better fit."
Austin had no interest in Curry going to the rebuilding Minnesota Timberwolves, who owned the fifth and sixth picks, respectively, and were interested in guards. The Warriors were worried that Minnesota would select Curry. The T'wolves, however, ended up selecting Spanish guard Ricky Rubio and Syracuse guard Flynn, whose NBA career lasted three seasons.
"I thought they would take Rubio and see Steph as a [shooting guard]," Riley said.
Next up were the rebuilding Warriors, who had made just one playoff appearance from 1995-2009. Austin told Riley that Curry didn't want to come to Golden State and wouldn't come for a workout.
Riley, however, didn't need a workout since he was already high on Curry after seeing him play against Purdue early in his junior season. Riley liked him even more during a predraft camp interview, ranked him the second-best player behind Griffin and likened him to two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash.
Riley also liked that Curry was the son of a successful and respected ex-NBA player. Riley sold then-Warriors coach Don Nelson on Curry as well. Austin and Dell Curry still tried to keep the Warriors away from Stephen Curry. But Austin told then-Knicks president Donnie Walsh that unless they could trade up, he expected Golden State to draft Curry. Austin said Walsh didn't believe him because the Warriors already had guard Monta Ellis.
"I said, 'Larry, I like you a lot and respect you a lot, but don't take Steph. This is not the right place for him,' " Austin said. "We wanted him in New York."
Said Riley: "Dell was the same way. He was almost cold."
Austin told Curry before the draft that if he dropped to the seventh pick, he should expect to go to Golden State. He was right, and Curry was selected by one of the NBA's worst teams. Meanwhile, the Knicks lost out on an eventual two-time All-Star who scored 54 points in Madison Square Garden on Feb. 27, 2013, and was the leading vote-getter for the All-Star Game there this year. The Knicks drafted Arizona forward-center Jordan Hill, a journeyman now with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Curry "wasn't disappointed," Austin said. "He was the seventh pick in the NBA draft. That's a great day for anybody."
The day after the draft, Curry, his father and Austin were on their way to Oakland for an introductory news conference with the Warriors. They were worried, however, about rumors that Stephen Curry could be dealt to the Phoenix Suns. Upon arrival, Riley quickly ended that talk.
"When we landed, Dell, Steph and myself were in the San Francisco airport and we get a call from Phoenix saying, 'Don't go to the press conference because we have a trade. We made a trade with Golden State and they're trying to back out of it,' " Austin said.
Said Riley: "I never gave them the word we're going to make a trade. The only way I made that trade is if Steph's gone and I'm looking at a guy named [Jordan] Hill."
Curry averaged 17.5 points as a rookie and made the 2010 NBA All-Rookie team. Midway through that season, Riley had a message for Austin.
"I said, 'I'm going to build the team around him,' " Riley said. "And we proceeded to do that."
The Warriors did not make the playoffs during the first three seasons of Curry's career. Golden State eventually made Curry the face of the franchise by trading Ellis during the 2012-13 season. On April 24, 2012, Riley was moved to director of scouting for the Warriors while Bob Myers was promoted to GM.
Now, nearly six years after drafting Curry, Riley's projection of the Warriors being a power led by the sharp-shooting guard has become true. Curry led the Warriors to an NBA-best 67 victories this season while averaging 23.8 points. Moreover, Curry was named the NBA's MVP on Monday, becoming just the second player in franchise history to win the award. Wilt Chamberlain was the first in 1960.
Curry is happy to be with the Warriors now and made a point to acknowledge Riley during his long MVP news conference.
"He's the reason I'm here," Curry said. "He drafted me. He saw potential in me coming out of college, along with Don Nelson, making those decisions. You're a big reason why I'm here, taking a chance on a little scrawny kid from a mid-major school. So just wanted to say thank you for believing in me.
"Crazy how far we've come in six years. But thank you, man. I can't thank you enough for that decision."
Riley made a point to seek Curry out to offer a congratulatory handshake afterward.
"I had him as the second-best player in that draft," Riley said. "But now I'm wrong. He was the best player."