A few years ago, when Stephen Curry was merely a good player with bad ankles, a charity called Nothing But Nets struck a deal with the promising Warriors point guard.
Curry agreed to send three malaria-preventing mosquito nets to Africa for every 3-pointer he made.
It worked out beyond their wildest dreams — a swish come true.
“This is like the Kardashians giving you three nets every time they take a selfie,” said sports writer Rick Reilly, who co-founded the campaign. “This guy takes un-selfies.”
By the time Curry was done demolishing his own single-season record, the greatest shooter in the galaxy had 402 3-pointers — and 1,206 more families in Africa had insecticide-treated bed nets.
Stephen Curry has fun with refugee children at Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Tanzania, where he helped distribute 38,000 bed nets in August 2013. (Stuart Ramson/Nothing But Nets) ( Stuart Ramson )
Curry donated big last season, too, when he set the NBA record at 286. And two years before that when he set the benchmark at 272.
At $30 for every 3-pointer he makes, Curry has directly added $36,630 to the Nothing But Nets coffers.
“But the amount of money he’s inspired is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Easy,” said Chris Helfrich, the director of Nothing But Nets. “It’s hard to trace all the funds back to Steph, but it’s easily well into the six figures.”
The donations are just part of the Curry equation. Nothing But Nets also managed to pounce early on a youngster who would grow up to be the ideal ambassador, a superstar with both a killer crossover dribble and universal crossover appeal.
Curry has even taken the anti-malaria cause directly to President Barack Obama.
“He’s allowed us to reach an audience we could only dream of reaching,” said Kathy Calvin, president and chief executive officer of the United Nations Foundation.
“First of all, there’s the number of fans — not only Warriors fans but also just sports fans who appreciate who he is as an athlete.
“And then I think he’s touched the hearts of so many people just by being a genuine believer in the campaign … He demonstrates what a real change-agent can do.”
A recent ESPN.com story documented how Nike blew the chance to sign Curry to an early endorsement deal and whiffed on the impending global superstar.
This story is the opposite of that.
A representative from Nothing But Nets secured Curry in the spring of 2012, back when the Warriors were lousy (23-43) and when Curry’s chronically sprained ankles limited him to 26 games.
The Warriors were in Washington for a game in March, and Helfrich finished off his recruiting pitch in the hallway of the Verizon Center.
Right away this was different: Curry thanked Helfrich instead of the other way around.
“So, that was a first for me — someone saying thank you for the opportunity to help others,” Helfrich said.
Golden State Warriors player Stephen Curry visits a health facility in the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Tanzania during a Nothing But Nets trip to distribute anti-malaria bed nets on July 30, 2013. (Nothing But Nets) ( Stuart Ramson )
It helped that Curry knew the issues. Bryant Barr, a college teammate at Davidson, was among the early supporters of Nothing But Nets after Reilly introduced the program to Sports Illustrated readers in a memorable 2006 column.
Barr organized fundraisers while at Davidson, and Curry was happy to help. It was the 3-for-3 challenge — a donation for every shot from beyond the arc — that proved the turning point. Curry launched the campaign during the 2012-13 season and promptly hit 272 3-pointers.
Curry followed all that shooting with an assist: He flew to Tanzania to personally hang nets at refugee camp where there were 62,000 cases of malaria amid a population of 68,000.
Here’s what Curry did: Hung nets, consoled grieving mothers, visited health clinics, met with princes and kings, endured brutally long road trips over unpaved roads and stayed in an $8-a-night hotel.
Here’s what he did not do: complain.
“There was no reason to complain,” Curry said this week. “You look around and see what was going on and where we were. That was their life 24/7. We were just there a week.
“It wasn’t exactly NBA travel. There were long rides over clay dust, and we were just trying to find whatever food we could along the way to keep us going.
As he spoke, Curry stole a few glances at the court, where teammate Draymond Green was goofing around with baseball stars Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, who were visiting practice. Curry wanted to join them. But not yet.
Stephen Curry is part of a Nothing But Nets observation trip to Tanzania, on July 31, 2013.
“Going to Tanzania, and seeing things first-hand was very heartbreaking, but at the same time encouraging,” he said. “It was inspiring to know that we were doing great things to send nets to raise money for those families.”
Reilly, who was also on that trip, recalled one particularly brutal day where they wrapped up work at 7 p.m. “Let’s go the hell home,” he told Curry.
“And Steph said, ‘What about the albino performance?'”
Curry knew of a special home for albino children, who suffered all sorts of challenges — including deafness and blindness. Worse, their lives were at risk: A witch doctor in 2009 had told villagers that chopping off albino limbs and grinding their bones into a “magic dust” was good luck.
On this night, dozens of children were ready to unveil songs and dances they’d been rehearsing for months. They’d never had a visitor like Curry.
Reilly concedes he could not muster the strength to go that night. But Curry not only went, but held the children close and kissed them.
“I was there with Steph — it was one of the most difficult few hours of my life,” Helfrich said. “Stephen handled it like a champ — was so gracious, respectful, and attentive.”
On another occasion, Helfrich also failed to keep pace with the indefatigable NBA star. Because he prides himself as a runner, he forced himself to wake up early and go to the hotel gym.
“I get in there at 6:30 a.m. after six hours sleep, and there’s Steph already working out — hard,” he said. “I suffered for four fast miles, and all the while Stephen was working out 10 times harder than me right next to me.”
When Reilly started Nothing But Nets, his goal was to send $100,000 worth of nets. He said the campaign just passed $60 million. Malaria, while still dangerous, is no longer the No. 1 killer of children in refugee camps.
“It’s been the best thing I’ve ever done by a hundred miles. And I just love sports for this reason alone,” Reilly said. “Most of this has been built on the back of sports and athletes like Steph Curry.
“Well … there’s no one like Steph Curry. He’s been so great, and he hasn’t stopped. Who knew the guy was going to make 400 threes a year?”