Stephen Curry left his New York hotel room 11 years ago and headed to Madison Square Garden for the NBA draft with an uncertain feeling.
"I just officially got butterflies," Curry said at the time. "I'm out of my element now."
In 2009, Curry -- a 6-foot-3 guard from Davidson College in North Carolina -- was the draft's biggest conundrum. A sharpshooting combo guard from a small school that not many people had ever heard of, in a league not ready for the revolution he would lead in the decade to come. Hours later, he'd watch as six names, including four guards, went ahead of his.
In hindsight, Curry's wait shouldn't have been so long.
Three titles, two league MVPs and a Hall of Fame-caliber run later, it begs the question: How would the NBA landscape have changed if Curry, not Oklahoma big man Blake Griffin, had been the No. 1 overall pick in that draft?
A year earlier, Curry decided to return to Davidson with that goal in mind. As a sophomore, he had averaged 25.9 points, shooting 48.3 percent from the field, and helped the Wildcats reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. He returned for his junior season, wanting to show he could be a lead guard.
A year later, Curry improved, bumping his scoring average to 28 points per game. Still, he wasn't able to play his way into being a top-3 pick, and Griffin remained the top choice.
That summer night in New York, Curry was reminded how far he had fallen. He put his head in hands when Griffin was picked No. 1 by the Los Angeles Clippers, as expected. Curry took a deep breath when the Grizzlies selected 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet No. 2. He softly clapped when the Thunder selected James Harden -- who was seated a table over.
The Kings took Tyreke Evans at No. 4, and the Timberwolves famously took Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn -- both point guards -- at No. 5 and No. 6, respectively. Curry finally put his hands in prayer when the Warriors picked him No. 7.
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But had hindsight prevailed, Curry would be a Clipper, rising from college basketball's unknown to the NBA's black sheep.
On the court, Los Angeles' "other team" was a disaster. Its best player, Zach Randolph, was months away from being traded to the Grizzlies. Former Warriors point guard Baron Davis had failed to match his Golden State magic in his hometown.
Worse yet, team owner Donald Sterling had been sued multiple times for housing discrimination. Four years after Curry was drafted, tapes of Sterling making racist comments surfaced, forcing his dismissal from the league.
Toxic employer aside, assuming Curry's early career ankle problems persisted, questions would've remained about his long-term viability. As Curry reconciled his future, Hornets guard Chris Paul was plotting a path out of New Orleans in 2011, preferring a trade to the Orlando Magic, New York Knicks or the Los Angeles Lakers.
Six months after Paul's trade demand, NBA commissioner David Stern -- acting as an owner of the Hornets -- vetoed a deal that would've sent the guard to the Lakers, opting for a trade with the Clippers in exchange for Eric Gordon, center Chris Kaman, forward Al-Farouq Aminu and a first-round draft pick.
Had Curry been a Clipper at the time, he presumably would be in the deal, providing him an opportunity to revitalize his career along the banks of the Mississippi River. A year later, assuming the Hornets still would have finished with the league's second-worst record, they would've selected Kentucky big man Anthony Davis, pairing a future MVP with an All-NBA power forward.
Or, if Stern let the Hornets trade Paul to the Lakers, could it have birthed an inter-city rivalry between Curry and the mighty Lakers? With Kobe Bryant, and perhaps Dwight Howard, probably not.
The Clippers drafting Curry would've meant no Warriors-LeBron James rivalry. In 2009, James still was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, a year away from his departure to South Beach. Without Curry, Golden State isn't a league-shifting team, meaning no NBA titles, no 73-win season, no light-years and probably no Kevin Durant in free agency. James' biggest rival wouldn't exist, meaning he'd have a better chance of chasing Michael Jordan's six NBA titles.
The "what ifs" extend to the draft table. If Curry goes No. 1, does Griffin go No. 2 to Memphis? If so, Grit and Grind doesn't happen with Randolph back in LA. Or, is Griffin picked No. 2 by his hometown Thunder?
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Curry and Griffin's place in the 2009 draft was an indictment on the league's thinking at the time. Over decades, from George Mikan to Wilt, to Kareem to Shaq and Hakeem, you built teams around big men, complimenting them with shooters. To his credit, Griffin was a pillar for the Clippers, helping lead them to the NBA playoffs six times alongside Paul. But Curry represented the league's future, a walking, shooting revolution who changed the way offense is played forever.
But at that moment in New York, it wasn't seen, and Curry punished the league for the rest of his career as a result of the oversight.