Stephen Curry and Davidson College are close to synonymous in the minds of millions of sports fans. The NBA MVP wore the Davidson name on his chest for three years, but has carried the school’s name with him wherever he’s gone since. Nobody can mention Davidson without Curry.
Davidson men’s basketball coach Bob McKillop, four wins shy of 500 for his career, has become an unofficial spokesman for Curry. Appearing on nearly every national sports platform there is, McKillop has spent countless mornings talking about his former star. Even six years past Curry’s departure for the NBA, McKillop is spending large portions of his time and energy talking up Curry, because frankly, Curry’s success and profile in the NBA can only help the Davidson basketball program.
The college too has realized just how important Curry is to the school’s image and brand. A disproportionate amount of posts on official college social media accounts are Curry related. And while some of them reference Curry’s time at Davidson and his magical run to the Elite 8 in 2008, most are simply another article about how great a player he is. During freshman orientation, Curry’s signature is shown on the big screen, not on a basketball but on the Honor Code pledge. In the minds of many, he is Davidson.
When the college was creating its new tv ad for the start of Atlantic 10 play this past year, the school narrowed their choices to three final scripts. One of which was 30 seconds of Curry and how Davidson allowed him to excel. To the relief of many, somebody realized the school shouldn’t go that far, and they eventually settled on the “We Make It Better” ad, which still communicates before saying anything else about the school that Curry was a Wildcat.
At the union late at night, the Warriors games will always be on, for nearly everybody on campus is in some small way a Warriors fan. Because we all love Steph, both who he is and all he did for the school. Our bookstore still sells number 30 Davidson jerseys, which the NCAA would assure you are in no way related to the current NBA superstar who wore that number at Davidson of course.
Yet walk into Belk Arena, home of the basketball team, and there is no mention of Curry in sight. Wander downstairs to the cafe and you might find a small framed picture on the wall along with many other athletics photos, but inside the arena, there is nothing. Look up to the rafters and number 30 is conspicuously not up there with the greats of Davidson basketball. Bob McKillop’s signature is now on the court named after the legendary coach, but signs of his famous player are nowhere to be found.
All of this can be explained. Davidson College has a policy that only players who have graduated can have their numbers retired. And Curry knew this when he declared for the NBA Draft after his junior year. Graduating from Davidson is tough, but even tougher for a professional athlete, because the school doesn’t offer summer courses, and has a policy that a student’s final eight credits must be taken at the college unless special permission is granted.
Towards the bottom of this Associated Press article about his declaring for the draft back in 2009, it says, “Curry met with the school’s president to see if other arrangements could be made to get his degree, but was told he’d have to take most of his senior-year courses on campus.” And I think that stance is fair. It’s understandable that the college wouldn’t want to just hand him a degree.
But despite this, Curry has maintained that he intends to finish his degree. During the NBA lockout in 2011, he returned to school and took three classes, finishing them up during training camp on the school’s allowance when the lockout ended in early December, shortly before exams would have been. However the end of the lockout meant he’s not quite done. Ahead of him lies one more semester, one that would include a thesis, likely on NBA and tattoos. But without another lockout, the next time Curry would be free for a full semester would be after retirement, which hopefully won’t be for another 12+ years.
When somebody hears about Davidson, the first two things that are normally associated with the school are Curry and free laundry. Well, Lula Bell laundry is now gone, so for many who aren’t familiar with the school, Curry is what is keeping Davidson on the national radar. And he carries that banner with aplomb, representing the school better than anyone else can.
At graduation this year, President Carol Quillen talked about how traditions shouldn’t just be upheld for tradition’s sake. She spoke about how wonderful the dialogue is about such issues at Davidson and cited the closing of Lula Bell as a way for the school to look forward rather than back. As one of the most vocal supporters of Curry as there is, you’d think she might see the changing tides at Davidson as a chance to tweak the rule that necessitates graduation for a number to be retired in the basketball program.
While I don’t necessarily agree with the need to relinquish tradition, I do think this is a time when Davidson can give back to the man that is giving Davidson such a terrific name right now. With the way the school is embracing his success and using that to fundraise and get the school’s brand out there, it is time the basketball program itself embraced Curry on a formal level too. If McKillop isn’t comfortable with retiring his number, a banner for his career point total or for his NBA MVP somewhere in Belk Arena would still be better than nothing.
Davidson could also use such an occasion to retire the late Mike Maloy’s number. Maloy was the first African-American basketball player at the school in 1967 and he, like Curry excelled on the court, taking the team to not one, but two Elite 8’s. He covered Sports Illustrated while at Davidson and was named an All-American three times. He, too, never graduated due to his basketball career, but was vital to the college for breaking the color barrier for the basketball program.
I’m aware that McKillop is hyper protective of Curry right now. Any and all requests to bring him to campus for one reason or another are almost guaranteed to be denied by our coach, who is justifiably looking out for his star. And perhaps he’d be worried that Curry wouldn’t have as much of an incentive to finish his classes if his number were retired. But I don’t think that is enough of a reason to justify not honoring him in some capacity.
As we all watch Curry excel in the NBA Finals, I believe it is time the college reexamines its policy on retiring numbers. For all that Curry is doing for the school’s name and the way the school is embracing that, he deserves formal acknowledgment of some kind in the basketball arena, the place where he made his mark, and a retired number could make the most sense. My hope is that by the time I graduate in two years, Curry’s 30 and Maloy’s 15 will be up in the rafters of Belk Arena along with Hobby Cobb’s 21, Fred Hetzel’s 44, Dick Snyder’s 10, John Gerdy’s 33 and Derek Rucker’s 11. It’s time we said thank you for what these players have done not just for the program, but for the school.
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