Inside the high school that was “monumental” in Stephen Curry’s life

Seth and Steph on Stage ASW 2019
Seth and Steph Curry on stage before the Three-Point Challenge during All-Star Saturday Night. (Christopher Cadeau/MEDILL)

By Christopher Cadeau
Medill Reports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. –In order to fully understand the bond between Stephen Curry and Charlotte that’s been on display this week you had to be in Memphis the night of April 9, 2016, to see a connection forged through faith, family and basketball at the Charlotte Christian School.

The Golden State Warriors had defeated the Memphis Grizzlies for their 71st victory of the season, putting them within one of the NBA record set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. They were about to fly to San Antonio to face the Spurs the next night. After 45 minutes of postgame interviews, Curry strolled toward the tunnel in FedEx Forum and pointed out a visiting friend in the crowd of remaining stragglers in the arena.

“Take your time,” a Warriors team official told Curry. “Just know the plane is waiting for you to leave.”

The rest of the Warriors — and their pursuit of a place in the record book — were paused while Curry spoke to Taylor Wagener, his high school teammate who is now an
an assistant coach at Charlotte Christian. Their conversation stretched out to 15 or 20 minutes.

“I looked at him and I was like, ‘Dude are you … is the team waiting on you to fly to San Antonio?’” Wagener said. “And he’s like, ‘Yeah, but it’s all good, I just wanted to say hey.’ I was like, ‘Bro, go. You gotta go break the NBA record.’”

“All he wanted to do was talk about me.”

Curry’s selfless interest in his childhood friend over a departure for one of the most significant games in NBA history is a reflection of Stephen’s foundational Christian values instilled by his parents.

His father Dell Curry’s three-point marksmanship for the original Hornets franchise had turned the family into the equivalent of royalty in Charlotte. Yet Dell and his wife Sonya would insist to their son Stephen, “Your name doesn’t make you better than any person. You are a believer who is here to give back to others and do the best of what your talents and abilities can do,” according to Wagener.

The Curry family values were cemented through tutelage from Shonn Brown, principal and head basketball coach at Charlotte Christian, according to Dell Curry.

“It’s a preparatory school for life in general,” Dell Curry said. “Coach Brown and his staff do a tremendous job of teaching your kids, giving them love and keeping the Word in their life, while educating as well.”

Brown has amassed over 400 wins in 19 years at the helm of Charlotte Christian. And his program’s vision lines up with what Dell and Sonya’s faith and educational expectations were when enrolling their three children, Stephen, his sister Sydel and brother Seth (who currently plays for the Portland Trail Blazers).

“What we do and what we think is important in terms of character, integrity, and honoring Christ is in everything that we do.” Brown said. “Winning graciously, losing graciously and recognizing that this is about cause over self. Those are big-time important pillars of our program.”

Coach Brown and Young Steph
Charlotte Christian basketball coach Shonn Brown proudly stands next to a photo of his former player Stephen Curry. (Courtesy Shonn Brown official Twitter / @coachshonnbrown)

Amid the noisy chaos of All-Star Weekend’s media day, the mention of Brown and the time Stephen Curry imitated him in a school skit brought a smile to Curry’s face.

“I know just how much Charlotte Christian meant to me in terms of kind of sending me on my way and giving me a solid foundation,” Curry said. “I’m just proud to be able to represent them the way I know how. What Coach Brown has been able to do for me in my life has been monumental for sure.”

Since 1990, Charlotte Christian’s varsity athletics has brought home 34 state championships, with 25 of those coming since 2000. The school houses about 1,000 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

Currently, six of its alumni are actively playing professional sports (Stephen and Seth Curry in the NBA and Akil Mitchel in a French basketball league, Luke Bard in baseball, Clint Irwin in MLS and Matthias Farley in the NFL).

One thing the basketball program does not do is lure recruits with fancy facilities. If Charlotte Christian basketball was judged on its gymnasium alone, it would probably be on the lesser extravagant end of private schools across the country.

The gym entrance is tucked in the corner of the school’s cafeteria, and the inside seems to pay homage to a 1970s YMCA. If it wasn’t for the ‘Lamb/Johnson Gymnasium’ placard centered above the double doors, one would think they were exiting the building when actually they’re entering an NBA incubator.

Once inside, the smell of fresh wax hits the nose hard.

State championship banners line the cinder block walls on the south end, and Stephen’s high school jersey, No. 20, is retired next to his picture on the north end. (It’s said the No. 30 that both Dell and Stephen wore in the NBA didn’t fit the scrawny young Stephen).

The gym’s bleachers don’t climb to rafters, and the team’s locker room is just big enough to back an SUV into with barely enough left for the 15 lockers that line the walls.

“We’re satisfied,” Brown said. “People always ask me, ‘What does your program need?’ All I need every day, all day, through all seasons, is just a half court with a free hoop. So we can do development.”

Charlotte Christian gym with Steph's HS jersey
Charlotte Christian’s basketball team practices in the school gym, with Steph Curry’s retired jersey mounted to the wall. (Christopher Cadeau/MEDILL)

Maybe the other half of the court isn’t necessary because what the Curry brothers seem to remember most about Brown’s leadership is unrelated to basketball.

“Coach taught me the game, and he taught me life lessons off the court,” Seth Curry said. “That was his biggest thing. It was more about stuff off the court than on.”

Despite all the program’s wins and achievements, Brown is most proud of the life-long relationships he builds with his players.

“They all come back, which is really special to me, because that’s the test,” Brown said. “How did you treat them as players, no matter how much or how little they played, and how did you grow them as men of faith?”

It’s easy to see Charlotte Christian is permeating with pride over the Curry family.

“That one name has now given this city something of the crown of the Queen City, in a sense,” Wagener said. “They put us on the map.”

To Wagener and Brown, the Currys exemplify what families of faith should strive for.

To Seth, Charlotte Christian is “who I am.”

To Stephen, the school “is always a place that I want to be a part of my story.”

Photo at top: Seth and Steph Curry on stage before the Three-Point Challenge during All-Star Saturday Night. (Christopher Cadeau/MEDILL)