Three minutes before the end of the Golden State Warriors’ NBA championship game in Boston, Della Curry, fathers of other players and their families were escorted to the stands to await the celebration.
“Hey, take this with you,” Curry’s buddy said, handing him the winning cigar.
Along the way, Curry — one of four Warriors fathers who once starred in the NBA — found himself standing under a net with an unlit cigar.
“This is all I can do,” Dell Curry told himself as the game clock ticked down and soon-to-be Finals MVP son Steph Curry began to cry.
With twenty-plus seconds left in the game, the younger Curry spotted his father and walked to the edge of the court to share an emotional hug.
“That moment was huge,” Dell said.
For the Warriors, that meant Father’s Day came a few days early this year.
Curry’s televised hug reflected the joy and tears of Warriors fans as the team beat the Boston Celtics to claim their fourth title in eight years.
The win was a highlight not only for Curry, but for three other Warriors fathers who shared their NBA DNA with their sons, playing driveway basketball together and introducing them to locker room legends with names like Magic and Kobe.
When the game finally ended, NBA Hall of Famer Gary Payton Sr caught his son Gary II at a growing on-court celebration. Former Houston Rocket Mitchell Wiggins caught up with his son Andrew, a young Warriors star. And Michal Thompson, 6ft 9in, scanned the bout and spotted Steph Curry’s Spray Brothers, Clay.
“I had to get his attention, grab his shoulders, turn him around and give him a big hug like he was back in kindergarten,” said Thompson Sr., who won two NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers in the late 1980s. and early 1990s. “As a parent, you still want to hug your children, whether they are grown men or women. You still want to hug them like they’re little kids because you love them so much.”
With four NBA titles, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have long surpassed their fathers, and Andrew Wiggins, who won one, did the same. But Gary Payton II, who had struggled for years under the great shadow of his legendary father, was able to give him what he could not achieve alone: a title for father and son.
“I told him, ‘Welcome to the club,'” Michael Thompson said of Payton Sr., who won the championship in 2006 with the Miami Heat. “Now he has a special, unique club where there were only five combinations of fathers and sons who won the NBA title and now they have joined the fraternity.”
The club also includes former Warriors great Rick Barry and his son Brent, who won the title with the San Antonio Spurs.
Dell Curry has never won an NBA championship. But as he stood under the basket as the clock stopped on Thursday, he remembered his playing days with the Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors.
“To feel what it was like in those fucking six games – that atmosphere, with such intensity. I felt it for 10 or 20 seconds while I was standing there,” he said. “It just made me realize once again how hard it is to be in the NBA and how hard it is to win a title.”
Both Curry and Thompson also know how difficult it was for their sons to recover from severe injuries in the last two seasons, when the Warriors missed the NBA Finals and missed the playoffs five times in a row.
They were there for months of rehab to calm down.
“You will get better,” Dell Curry recalled, telling Steph when he broke his arm in 2019 and feared it could change his career. “Your body will recover.”
Being the son of an NBA star had its perks. As a child, Klay Thompson spent time in the locker room with Lakers legend Magic Johnson and was mentored by Kobe Bryant. Curry used to throw baskets before the Toronto Raptors’ games with NBA All-Star Vince Carter. And Gary Payton II grew up and played ball for his father’s team, the Seattle SuperSonics, picking up rebounds from Sean Kemp and handing out water bottles on the sidelines.
Gary Payton and Gary Payton II share a moment! 🥺🏆 pic.twitter.com/R24ky578v0
— NBA (@NBA) June 18, 2022
But relationships between fathers and sons can be complicated. It’s always difficult to draw the fine line between encouragement and expectation, especially when fathers are famous, when fans stop them for autographs at the grocery store, when comparisons are inevitable, when sons carry their fathers’ names.
This was especially hard on Gary Payton II, who has been public about a strained relationship with his father over the years. In an interview with the Bay Area News Group on Thursday, Payton II said that years ago his father called him a “pathetic basketball player.”
“He just kept it a secret with me. And I think the biggest lesson from all of this right now is that he was real, just straight up with me and telling me things I didn’t want to hear,” Payton II said. “But basically, it lit a fire in me. And, in fact, I am here, right now, because of these words.
All fathers, including Father Payton, have expressed over the years how they wanted their sons to forge their own path and find their own happiness. But the sons still had to face high expectations.
Clay Thompson’s father recalls sharing his high hopes for his son as he drove home from a high school game in Southern California after Clay scored over 30 points against DeMar DeRozan, now with the Chicago Bulls.
“That’s when I told him I was very proud of him and that he would be in the Hall of Fame someday,” Thompson said. “He didn’t say much. He wasn’t thinking about becoming an NBA champion and a Hall of Famer, he was just trying to get through the next workout in high school.”
For Dell Curry, finding that balance meant having a relationship with Steph that went “way beyond basketball.” According to him, he raised his two sons and daughter the same way his father raised him, spending a lot of time together off the court, including playing golf and fishing.
But in recent weeks, when the Warriors made the playoffs, it was all about basketball.
During Thursday’s game, Dell Curry sat with his other son, Seth, who plays for the Brooklyn Nets, and analyzed every game as Steph scored 34 points, including six 3-pointers. Dell’s brother-in-law, Damion Lee, also plays for the Warriors.
“Being able to see one son win a title,” he said, “and share it with another son in the stands, and then share it with both of them after the game, a father can’t ask for more.”
By the time Dell Curry was under the basket, Steph Curry was already taunting the Boston crowd by pointing to his ring finger and resting his head in his hands in a “goodnight!”
Dell watched as Steph’s shoulders began to shake and her eyes filled with tears. This is the boy who cheered him up when he was a toddler, from the stands, who was fired for being too low to achieve anything, who reassured critics at every turn.
“It’s so hard, so hard,” Dell said, “it takes so much dedication, discipline, self-sacrifice.”
He didn’t notice the game clock. He didn’t realize the game was still going on when Steph stepped out of the game to hug him.
“I’m so proud of what you’ve accomplished,” said Dell Steph. “I know how hard it is.
That evening, at a team party with other fathers, he lit a cigar.