LeBron James and Steph Curry: From fan to friend to foe

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LeBron James and Steph Curry have won the NBA playoffs five times each. (Photo by Ezra / Getty Images)

Discussion ensued on a bus ride to Ford Field.

Stephen Curry and some of his Davidson teammates wondered at the possibility that one of their basketball idols might appear at their Sweet 16 that night.

LeBron James had already stunned Davidson players earlier that week when he revealed that he had been following their 2008 NCAA tournament run and was a fan of the other baby-faced player. James spoke enthusiastically to reporters about Curry's crowd-pleasing game, giving him a

James' desire to see Curry in person did not go down well with anyone in Davidson until he realized that the next night the Cleveland Cavaliers would also be facing the Pistons in Detroit. was then revealed that Nike had sent enough boxes of red and white “Witness” T-shirts to outfit Davidson's student section. and whispers that James' representatives called Davidson's athletics department asking for game tickets.

Just minutes before tip-off, the quick-witted Davidson players noticed that some fans behind their bench were starting to turn heads. James was accompanied by a group of friends, dressed in a brown zip-up hoodie and a Nike T-shirt.

“Steph got excited. We all got excited,” former Davidson forward Andrew Lovedale told Yahoo . “We were kids. We were in college at this little school. And here was this great NBA player. To us it was like, ‘Wow, LeBron is coming to see We Play basketball.' ,

Before his outstanding talent, unmatched marketability and thirst for championships fueled the rivalry that has defined the NBA for the past decade, James was once one of Curry's earliest high-profile advocates. He lent further credibility by attempting to see a particular talent play for Davidson twice in person and by displaying a genuine appreciation for the scoring feats he witnessed.

Curry and James exchanged phone numbers during that time, establishing a bond that has endured through four NBA Finals showdowns and their current clash in the Western Conference Semifinals. Here's a gift he received from James during his junior year at Davidson in Charlotte: an autographed No. 23 jersey with a message that read, “To S Curry, the best player in NC”.

“He signed it and I kept it,” On an episode of JJ Reddick's podcast, The Old Man and the Three. “It's still wild to think of traveling since then. Who would have ever thought?

steph kicks lebron out of his seat

For a once unwanted recruit like Curry, the recognition from James was surreal. The eldest son of former Charlotte Hornets sharpshooter Dell Curry grew up in the center of ACC country without earning a single ACC scholarship offer. Even Dell's alma mater, Virginia Tech, only wanted Curry as a walk-on.

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Just months after choosing Davidson over VCU and Winthrop, Curry stopped by campus to meet his future teammates and play some pickup basketball. Lovedale recalls noticing the desire of a newcomer and “wondering how he was going to keep up.”

It didn't take long for Curry's Davidson teammates to stop judging him by his peach-fuzzed face and slight physique. He soon began to show glimpses of the slick dribbling, skilful finishing and lethal perimeter shooting that are a staple of his game today.

“Even in that first pickup game, you could tell there was something special about him,” said former Davidson running back Steve Rossiter. “He already had such a great feel for the game.”

Curry's cult following grew with every impossibly deep 3-pointer and every scoring barrage. Fans filled arenas throughout the Southern Conference to watch Curry's exploits. Then a national audience fell in love with Curry when he put up 128 points in four NCAA tournament games to carry 10th-seeded Davidson. ,

Curry was still known as the son of Dell when the NCAA tournament began. By the end he became so popular that Dale was fired Steph's father.

The inevitable question facing Curry at the time was whether he could repeat what he was doing at the mid-major level against tall, athletic power-conference defenders. That doubt was erased after the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament when he held Gonzaga to 40 and Georgetown to 30.

Davidson and former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell sat with radio play-by-play announcer John Kilgo during the Georgetown game. After Curry made a difficult shot, Kilgo remembers Driesell saying, “That little sucker can not only play in the ACC, he can play in the NBA.”

Kilgo saw an opportunity when James Curry came to watch him try to topple third-seeded Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. He asked if James would be willing to be his halftime guest and offer his perspective on Curry.

At first, James' representatives said no. Eventually, he gave in – but only on the condition that Kilgo would not keep him for more than five minutes.

Just five minutes into the interview, Kilgo felt a touch on his shoulder. Someone who worked for James said that his time was up. Realizing that James is enjoying talking about Curry, Kilgo takes a gamble and ignores his deadline. James described Curry as one of the best shooters ever and predicted that Curry would have a long career in the NBA.

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“I bet it was 20 minutes to halftime that day, and we missed all our commercial breaks,” Kilgo told Yahoo Sports with a laugh. “If the second half doesn't start, he doesn't go.”

Curry seemed worthy of James' praise that day, holding off Wisconsin's rampaging defense for 33 points in their 73–56 rout. Twice he knocked James out of his seat, the first time on a deep left wing 3-pointer in the middle of a game-turning Davidson surge and the second time on a startlingly athletic reverse layup.

When asked about playing in front of James after the game, Curry admitted, “It's great to give him something to cheer him up and keep him entertained.”

DETROIT - MARCH 28: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers is interviewed at halftime of the game between the Davidson Wildcats and Wisconsin Badgers during the Midwest Regional Semifinals of the 2008 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at Ford Field on March 28, 2008 in Detroit.  , Michigan (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

LeBron James is interviewed at half time of the game between the Davidson Wildcats and the Wisconsin Badgers during the Midwest Regional Semifinals of the 2008 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at Ford Field on March 28, 2008 in Detroit, Michigan (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty) ) Images)

From fan to friend and foe

If James' presence at his games was exciting to Curry's teammates, it was their subsequent personal connection that stunned the rest of Davidson. Lovedale recalls the Wildcats crowding around Curry's phone whenever he got a new text message from James.

“Whenever we heard he got a text from LeBron, it was the best thing that ever happened,” Lovedale said.

The growing bond between Curry and James was evident the second time the NBA star showed up to a Davidson game. James attempted to attend the Wildcats' matinee matchup with NC State on December 6, 2008, even though the Cavaliers were facing the Bobcats that same night.

With just over a minute to go and Davidson leading by one point, Curry buried the dagger of a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from closer to the mid-court logo than the top of the key. Curry then back-pedaled downcourt, smiled and pointed at James, who stood in his seat with his arms in the air.

Curry finished with 44 points in Davidson's 72–67 victory. James spent the game yelling at the officials for cheering for Curry and even trying to get Davidson a more favorable whistle.

Davidson lost in their conference tournament that season and settled for an NIT bid, but that didn't stop Curry from cementing himself as a surefire lottery pick. Curry spent more time at point guard rather than rushing off the screen as a catch-and-shoot specialist. This enabled him to showcase the passing and playmaking skills that NBA teams needed to see in order to perfect his lethal perimeter shot.

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When the Warriors visited Cleveland in November of Curry's rookie year, he was at James' house the day before the game. Curry The next week they went bowling, watched a Family Guy episode, and “talked about everything but the next day's game.”

The relationship between Curry and James began to seem more complicated when Curry went from seeing James to trying to separate him. Golden State overcame the injury-hit Cavaliers in the 2015 NBA Finals. Six months later, on the eve of the Warriors' first game in Cleveland since winning the title, Curry made a comment that reportedly upset James and other Cavaliers players.

“Obviously, walking in the locker room, it's going to be a good memory,” Curry told reporters.

Cleveland got revenge the following season, rallying from a 3–1 deficit in the NBA Finals to secure James' signature achievement and overcome their most bitter loss to the Warriors. At the championship parade, James wore an “Ultimate Warrior” T-shirt. A few months later, they organized a Halloween party.

“The dessert table was phenomenal!!!,” James wrote on Instagram.

Yet despite those occasional blows, James and Curry have mostly displayed mutual admiration for each other. At Draymond Green's wedding last summer, James and Curry posed for a photo with the groomsmen, with all three men holding up four fingers to signify how many championships each of them had won. As recently as Thursday night, At the scorer's table while waiting to check back in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

As they watch Curry and James face off in a playoff series for the fifth time in the past decade, some of Curry's former Davidson teammates can't help but laugh at how much has changed. The baby-faced mid-major guard without a power-conference scholarship now shares equal billing with the NBA's biggest superstars.

Rossiter said, “It's good to look back now that they've become rivals and they're two of the best players in the game.” I think it only adds to the story that LeBron was there when Steph was emerging on the national scene.