OAKLAND -- When Stephen Curry strolled into the cozy gym in North Oakland early Monday evening, eyes widened, jaws dropped and fingers pointed. This is not an uncommon reaction to the entrance of American sports royalty, except Curry conveyed no such thing.
“He doesn’t live here. He could have gone through the (Caldecott) tunnel,” George Henderson said, gesturing toward the suburbs where Curry resides. “But he came here. He picked us. And he has consistently blessed us. This is not the first or second time. He’s come by, on a whim, and spent one-on-one time with just our after-school kids.”
There were two specific reasons for this particular visit. In the gym, Curry floated through drills with neighborhood boys and girls, as well as high school players from his SC30 Select Camp. On the other side of the center, he presented a gift that ultimately may prove considerably more valuable to folks of all ages.
Curry was the ceremonial ribbon-cutter for the Stephen and Ayesha Curry Family Foundation Education Lab, a room within the rec center that features laptops, printers and headsets. Oakland city council member Dan Kalb also attended the unveiling.
“To be able to go in and become smarter, become confident and more intelligent as human beings, is important,” Curry said. “We really want you to enjoy that space.”
The lab is not nearly on the incredible scale of the LeBron James’ I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, but it’s still indicative of Curry’s continual commitment to lend a hand to folks in need.
“The educational lab was a natural progression,” Henderson said. “It’s supporting everything that we’re taking as our new focus for Oakland Parks and Recreation youth development. This is what Park and Recs is good at. We can do some sports, we can do some arts and we can support their educational structure.”
Henderson has been on site at Bushrod for a couple years now. His quick smile, framed by a well-trimmed salt-and-pepper beard, along with an easy manner and firm handshake surely serve him well in his capacity. At one point during our nine-minute conversation, the aroma of marijuana smoke wafted it, causing him to pause for a moment, step outside and gently redirect the tokers.
As much as Henderson appreciates the athletic upgrades, including the inspiration slogans lining the walls of the gym, it is clear the lab warms his heart.
“All my kids of color -- whatever color -- are going to have the kind of access that can help them get that much further ahead,” he said. “Now that’s real talk.”
The lab, created in conjunction with partners Under Armour and Chase, comes less than 10 months after the Curry Foundation surprised local kids with a gorgeously refurbished gym, basketball court and other elements of center.
Bushrod, more than 100 years old, may be the closest thing to a landmark athletic center in Oakland. Often cited as the scene of some of baseball Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson’s grandest childhood achievements, Bushrod also helped launched the major-league careers of Frank Robinson, Curt Flood, Billy Martin, Vada Pinson and many others.
It’s hallowed ground that has a chance to stay not only relevant but also serve a higher purpose, thanks to the Currys and their partners, well as the commitment of people like George Henderson.
“I love the energy the entire family provides, as an example to others,” Henderson said. “It’s just . . . hope.”