Stephen Curry had the year of his life this last NBA season. Shortly before the start of the 2012-13 season, Curry's wife gave birth to the couple's first child. On the court, Curry was a force to be reckoned with. His 272 three pointers set a single-season NBA record. Those three pointers helped lift Curry's team, the Golden State Warriors, into only its second playoff appearance in 19 years. There, Curry came even more alive, helping the Warriors beat the Denver Nuggets and make it into the second round of the playoffs.
With all Curry had to celebrate during the NBA season, it is imaginable how he could have approached the NBA off-season as a letdown. Yet, with all the accolades preceding his off-season, one may be surprised to learn that Curry's greatest feat took place this summer. This summer, Curry was one of 200 current and former NBA players, WNBA players, and coaches who traveled to 39 countries and territories to help grow the game of basketball by giving back to communities in need.
Curry's journey took him to the east African country of Tanzania. In a country whose 2012 nominal per capita GDP was $599, Curry was not met with the luxury, opulence or fandom that often graces NBA stars. Rather, he was met face-to-face with refugees struggling to survive because of a completely preventable disease. The scene Curry walked into was one marred by malaria, where hope for survival in the face of a preventable disease was nearly lost until he arrived.
It was at Davidson College that Curry first learned of the disease that strikes 62,000 Tanzanians annually. His college roommate, Bryant Barr, introduced him to the cause when he launched the Buzzkill Foundation, aimed at stopping the spread of Malaria at Kakuma, a refugee camp on the border of Kenya and South Sudan. To support the foundation, Curry and other Davidson basketball players participated in a 3-on-3 basketball tournament to raise money to donate to the Buzzkill Foundation's initiatives.
In 2009, Curry was selected in the first round of the NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors. Later that summer, he inked a four-year, $12.7 million contract. Even with all of the money in the world in front of him and the opportunity to become an NBA star in his future, Curry couldn't erase from his mind the lives ending because of a preventable disease. Thus, when the NBA approached him to champion the cause of ending malaria, Curry's answer was simple: He said yes. "We all have a platform. With the amount of exposure we get, it's a huge platform to capitalize upon for things bigger than basketball," Curry noted.
In recent years, Curry has taken great strides to expand that platform and to bring an end to a disease that pillages refugee communities across Africa. Last season, for every three pointer he scored, Curry donated three mosquito nets at $10 a piece to Nothing But Nets, an organization aimed at funding the fight against malaria and launched in response to a column Rick Reilly wrote about the ease of preventing malaria deaths.
This summer, Curry, along with Reilly and Nothing But Nets and NBA representatives, traveled to Tanzania. There, Curry saw how the fruits of his efforts on the court accomplish more than making fans cheer. In the midst of a refugee camp filled with tired souls who escaped armed conflict and unrest in their homeland, Curry realized that his success on a basketball court nearly 10,000 miles away could save lives.
Walking across the refugee camp in Tanzania filled with 66,000 displaced Congolese refugees, Curry and the group distributed 34,000 mosquito nets. As he walked through the camp, he laid his eyes on sites unimaginable and mostly preventable. "It was a very humbling and eye-opening experience. To see how many kids were running around with no shoes on and in dirty clothes, and to think that they have so many other problems, but have to deal with malaria was hard. Malaria shouldn't be one of their problems, because it is 100-percent preventable. When we left there, I hoped that malaria is one of the things that they won't have to worry about in the near future, because parents can provide better for their children with these nets," Curry explained.
In the refugee camps, Curry learned firsthand the extent to which malaria has ravished the lives of individuals who have bore significant pain in escaping the violence of the Congo. "The six families that I talked to, all but one of the 20 kids in them had been affected by malaria," he said. The high occurrence of malaria in the camp was largely the result of a lack of access to mosquito nets. "Seeing how appreciative they were that we were there to distribute nets that hadn't been in that camp for six to seven years was a really cool experience," Curry said.
While the camp's occupants were the happiest recipients of Curry's generosity, they were not the only parties grateful for his involvement with the cause. Nothing But Nets' director, Chris Helfrich, was quick to note how Curry's and the NBA's support has benefited the organization's mission. "The goal of our campaign is to get as many people involved and caring about the fight against malaria. In order to reach as many people as possible, we need to have partners and champions who can deliver our message to hundreds of thousands or millions of people. With Stephen, not only does he have a big audience, but more importantly, he is a great guy. Stephen's fans are passionate about the things Stephen does. For us, he becomes a great way to reach a million basketball fans or more to get them involved in the work we do."
As he prepares for the upcoming NBA season, Curry plans on building upon the Warriors' recent success and continue shooting three pointers. He explained his favorite shot simply, by stating, "I like to shoot three's." After all, why wouldn't he like to shoot three pointers? It's that shot that propelled his team into the NBA postseason for the first time seven years and only the second time in the last two decades. It's the shot that earned him a single-season record.
For Curry, though, his three-point shot means more than accolades. "To have each three mean something bigger than the game is huge," Curry remarked.
As the 2013-14 NBA season approaches, the depth of what shooting a three means to Curry has deepened. After his experience in Tanzania, each three is associated with a face. Like the face of that little girl in the last house Curry stepped into during his visit. That little girl who never left his side for the rest of the day. That little girl whose mom told Curry how her sweet child had been affected by malaria just a year ago--before the nets were brought into the village because of those three pointers he shot. That little girl, who although life around her seemed dim, lit up when Curry arrived and for one day, had fun like a child should. "Hopefully she'll remember that for a long time as a sense of hope, so she can get through those tough times," a reminiscent Curry wished.
This year, each three pointer hit by Curry sends a message. It sends a message that the game of basketball is bigger than the lives on the court or the fans in the stands. Each three pointer represents a life that was made easier because of access to a simple $10 net that was inaccessible for over six years. Each three pointer means a night of easier sleep for a mom and dad, for they no longer fear that their child will be bit by deadly mosquitoes. Each three represents not only a score in an NBA game, but a life saved.
Basketball is bigger than life. Basketball has the power to save lives.