AKRON, Ohio >> Welcome to the Rubber Capital, where car tires first rolled, the Goodyear Blimp took flight and two bouncing baby basketball prodigies were born less than four years apart in the 1980s.
LeBron James and Stephen Curry, the NBA’s two biggest stars set to square off in the upcoming finals, are from the same city.
Genuine homeboys. The prodigal son and the precision shooter. Talk about a long shot.
James re-signed as a free agent with the Cavaliers last summer, returning to his home after four years in Miami to chase an NBA title. And as fate would have it, Golden State’s Curry will come back to his Ohio birthplace to pursue his dream.
“It’s kind of ironic that he’s going back to Cleveland, where he came into the world, to try and get the world championship,” said his father, Dell Curry.
Wardell Stephen Curry was born on March 14, 1988, arriving while his daddy, traded by Utah to Cleveland before his second pro season, was playing in Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks.
Curry made his world debut with almost the same speed in which he comes off a screen, catches the ball and drops one of his 3-pointers — lightning quick. His mom, Sonya, said her delivery was only about 2 1/2 hours, roughly the length of a pro game. Within two weeks, she took her boy to his first NBA game, and from the moment he neared the hardwood, she knew she and her husband had created another ballplayer.
“He was asleep,” she said last week after the Warriors won the Western Conference title and advanced to their first finals in 40 years. “We walked in, and his eyes were wide open the whole game — the whole game — and then as soon as we left and went to the family room, he fell asleep.
“And so then we knew that he was in tune with that arena and basketball in every sense.”
The Currys didn’t spend much time in Ohio as Dell was selected by the Charlotte Hornets in the expansion draft and the family was uprooted again.
Until he left for Florida in 2010, Akron is the only place James ever knew and where the public first glimpsed his greatness as a high school star. He’s defiantly proud of his city, often referring to his humble upbringing by saying he’s “just a kid from Akron, Ohio.”
The four-time MVP said he and the league’s current MVP, who was also the top vote-getter for this year’s All-Star game, have not discussed their Akron bond.
“No, we never have,” James said. “I don’t think we’ll talk too much about it, either, coming up.”
James has been a fan of Curry’s for years, first recognizing his potential when the Warriors’ guard was at Davidson. James watched Curry play several times, once driving to Detroit to see him in the NCAA Tournament. James said he knew almost immediately that Curry was destined for stardom.
“I just thought he was special, a special kid,” James said. “I’m very good at noticing talent and I thought he was special then and he still is.”
James appreciates Curry’s game, a blend of finesse, skill and drive.
“He has a great motor,” James said. “I think a lot of people don’t understand how great his motor is. He never stops moving. His ball-handling, his ability to shoot the ball off the dribble and off the catch. It’s uncanny. I don’t think there’s ever been a guy in on league to shoot the ball the way he does off the dribble or off the catch, off the ball. He just creates so many matchup problems for your defense and you just always have to be aware.”
The Akron boys aren’t real tight. Curry was once a guest at James’ home, but he’s not that familiar with his actual hometown. Still, he and James have a unique connection.
“It’s nice to have that in common,” Curry said. “But he has more of a history with the city than I do. Maybe three or four years ago I went to his house in Akron and kind of took a lay-of-the-land kind of deal. But other than that, I’m from Akron, but Charlotte raised. So that’s kind of where it ends.”
James speaks with admiration of Curry, a player some believe is heir apparent to become the face of the league. If he wins a championship, Curry’s ascension could happen quicker.
Perhaps because Curry comes from Akron, James, who has ‘Akron’ tattooed on his right shoulder and ‘Est. 1984’ tattooed on his left, has gone out of his way to help the 27-year-old.
“I’ve had an opportunity to speak to him a few times on the floor in the past. Just talk about the process of being a great basketball player, and being a leader and doing what it takes to get to this point,” James said. “I don’t know if he used it or not, but he’s done great for himself. He has a great family. His dad comes from this pedigree. He’s got so many great people around him, so he doesn’t need nothing from me.”
AP Basketball Writer Antonio Gonzalez in Oakland, California, contributed to this report.