The true story of Steph Curry’s championship season ... at a Toronto middle school
In the fall 2001, expectations were low for the seventh- and eighth-grade basketball team at Queensway Christian College, a tiny K-8 in the suburbs of Toronto.
The Saints had won just three games the year before. Whenever they matched up against a bigger public school, they were “crushed by everyone,” said Casey Field, who was the team’s best returning player. That Queensway wasn’t much of a team was not a surprise. Each grade had about 20 kids. Anyone who came out for basketball made the team.
Yet one September day, James Lackey, the team’s coach and the school’s history teacher, pulled Field aside. A new eighth-grader was enrolling, and Field should make him feel welcome because there was a chance he was a basketball player.
After all, the new student was the son of NBA veteran Dell Curry, who was finishing his career with the Toronto Raptors.
The kid’s name: Stephen.
Which meant Casey Field wasn’t just about to have an ice-breaker of a story to tell for the rest of his life, he was also about to live out the dream of every middle-school player who’s ever been stuck on a terrible team: Exactly what would happen if a future two-time MVP (plus his sixth-grade, future NBA player little brother) just happened to join the squad?
“The peak of my athletic career,” Field joked Wednesday from Toronto, where Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors will play the Raptors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.
“Going to Queensway Christian College was a great time,” Curry said this week. “Still in touch with my middle school coach, James Lackey, who still supports me to this day. … Met some really cool people."
The first time Field laid eyes on Steph, he wasn’t so sure that the basketball team was about to get much better. They were in gym class, running laps around the parking lot that passed for a school yard. Curry was just this short and skinny kid.
“I assumed he played, but I didn’t know if he was any good,” Field said. “He definitely was not big, was not particularly athletic, was not particularly fast or quick, and he couldn’t jump high.”
Soon though, they went to the gym and Steph started shooting.
“He never missed,” Field said. “I said, ‘Oh, he’s pretty good.’”
He was more than that. So too was younger brother Seth, who was so talented that he became a starter on the seventh- and eighth-grade team despite being in sixth grade.
Steph, though, was the focal point. In the first exhibition game, he hit so many jumpers that the opposing coach triple-teamed him. That meant Field was able to stand alone under the basket so Steph could pass it to him. Field finished with 20 points, all on easy layups.
“I thought, ‘This is going to be a great year,’” Field said.
Field said the way Stephen Curry electrifies arenas around the NBA now is the same as when he lit up little Canadian middle-school gyms back then.
“The no-look passes, the way he steps back and pulls up for a three,” Field said. “The shooting form was different because he wasn’t as strong, but it always went in.”
Suddenly, the team that rarely won couldn’t lose. And those big public schools that used to steamroll them began getting steamrolled themselves. It was blowout after blowout, a dream of a season.
Eventually Queensway was 15-0 and in the championship game against mighty Hillcrest.
That’s when it seemed the magical season was going to end. Hillcrest was a public school with more students, including a bunch who played travel basketball. It had enough depth to slow down not just the Curry brothers, but everyone else, including Field.
With 3:30 left, Queensway trailed by eight and Lackey called timeout.
“We were sort of gearing up for defeat,” Field said. “Then Steph said, ‘Just give me the ball.’ Coach looked at him, and then us, and said, ‘OK, just pass it to Steph.’”
One 3-pointer went in. Then another. On the defensive end, Steph kept stealing the ball, running down the court and pulling up for threes rather than drive for a layup. Soon the game was tied. Then Queensway led. Field says his athletic claim to fame is that he did hit one 3-pointer during the comeback. Of course, it was “a banked-in three that I did not call,” he laughed.
By the end of the Curry onslaught, Queensway won by seven and were champions.
“It was the single-greatest individual performance I’ve ever seen,” Field said.
Unfortunately for Field and his teammates, the glorious year was just a single season. Rumors began to spread that Dell Curry was going to hit the free-agent market. The kids at school were checking the morning papers for NBA news. Then word came that the Currys were headed back to Charlotte after Dell wasn’t re-signed. And that was that.
The following year, Queensway went 5-4.
“I was so disappointed,” Field said. “Obviously, for basketball reasons, but more because he was just a super-nice guy, and we’d become pretty good friends over the course of the year.”
There have been a few Facebook messages since, but both have gone their separate ways. Curry is a megastar and three-time NBA champion. After earning an MBA from Northwestern, Field is a management consultant for Bain & Company.
“I tell clients all the time the story of being an eighth-grade superstar alongside Steph Curry,” Field said. “They love it.”
Field is a lifelong Raptors fan and has tickets to all four NBA Finals games in Toronto. While he always wishes his old teammate well, there are limits to middle-school friendships.
“The man has got multiple rings,” Field said. “It’s time for the city of Toronto to take home a championship.”
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