When Stephen and Seth Curry were young, all they wanted to do on Sunday mornings was join their father, Dell, and the rest of the Toronto Raptors for shootaround practice.
There was one person standing in their way — Melissa Nori.
Nori, the wife of Timberwolves assistant coach Micah Nori, was a teacher of the Curry brothers for the one year Micah’s tenure with the team overlapped with Dell’s.
She had designed a curriculum for Sunday mornings that allowed the American children of players and coaches in the Raptors organization to keep up with subjects such as U.S. history and geography — subjects which are not taught in Canadian schools but would be essential for them to have knowledge of when they returned to America.
Every Sunday, before Stephen and Seth could go shoot around and practice, Nori had their attention, and held the power over when they could put up shots.
“I taught Seth and Steph U.S. history when they were little. … That’s my claim to fame,” Nori said. “My own kids never really believed me.”
Stephen Curry, who won’t play at Target Center on Sunday with the Warriors, passed Ray Allen for the NBA’s all-time three-point record on Dec. 14. He has hit 3,020 for his career. That number doesn’t take into account a few more shots Curry hit — when he and his brother Seth, now with the 76ers, would shoot crumpled pieces of paper into a trash can as part of classroom competition. Nori knew she could get them to learn if she involved basketball somehow in her lesson plans. It worked, because that’s all Stephen and Seth wanted to do — keep shooting.
“They’re driven, focused guys,” Nori said. “So I knew they would turn out the way they have based on how they were when they were little.”
Filling the gaps
Nori, who is now a fitness instructor, has been a teacher in some form her entire adult life. When she and Micah moved to Canada, she noticed how different the curricula were for the children, especially for children who were coming to the Raptors from America.
“It was hard for the kids when the season was done and they leave Canada to go back to the States,” Nori said. “The curriculum is so different. It’s the metric system in Toronto. It’s French-based. Canadian history. So they’re missing a lot of the core curriculum requirements the U.S. has.”
So Nori was able to organize a session for one hour on Sunday mornings in which she would help teach subjects like history and geography to the children of players and staff, with tweaks to some of her worksheets, like spelling it “colour” instead of “color.” She called each of the children’s home school districts in America to find out what they would need to know for that year when it came to the more American-specific subjects.
The program was something the Raptors organization sold to players concerned about their kids’ education and what they might miss.
“There might’ve been some missing pieces along the way, but [the children] would just go back to their schools or wherever they were going next and have that ground layer of that school year,” Nori said. “Like if they got traded in February, guys that came in would know it’s going to be different, but we have this if they want to come on Sunday.”
The Curry brothers, who declined interview requests for this story through their teams, were a part of the program’s first year. There were never any grades or tests handed out, Nori said. She wanted to make it a pressure-free environment for the children to learn, especially since they were coming in on a weekend.
She said Steph, now 33, and Seth, now 31, were “always very polite.”
“They’d said ‘Yes, Ms. Melissa, No, Ms. Melissa.’ They were attentive. There were never any issues,” Nori said. “They did what they had to do. They were quick workers because they wanted to get in and get out. But they were fun.”
To incentivize her students to learn the material without the stick of an exam, Nori used a carrot instead — she held classroom competitions, like “Jeopardy!”-style games that pitted the kids against one another.
But one of the games involved throwing balls of paper into the garbage can. If you answered a question, such as naming a state’s capital, you had a chance to shoot the paper into the can for a point for your team. This, especially, got the competitive Curry brothers to learn. When asked if they hit a high percentage of trash-can shots, Nori said, “Uh, yes” with a laugh.
“They loved competition,” Nori said. “Anything to compete with each other.”
Time for real hoops
The sessions took place in the “war room” at what was then known as the Air Canada Centre, and Nori never gave the students any homework. She was trying to make learning fun and it was hoped the kids were able to rejoin curricula in America as seamlessly as possible.
The ultimate goal for the Curry brothers in those Sunday sessions was to do their work so they could go to the court and start shooting on an actual hoop.
“Micah always says, ‘I don’t think that they enjoyed that Sunday. I think they tolerated it,’ ” Nori said with a laugh. “I enjoyed it because you see a completely different side than you see in the family room or messing around at the games. They did everything they were asked to do.”
The sessions would never last too long, maybe an hour, and at last Nori would dismiss the kids, and Steph and Seth could go put up shots.
Even then, they would put on a show for those who were in the gym.
“You’d see people that come into the arena early, and these kids are on the court shooting around and the people would just watch in awe,” Nori said.
That part hasn’t changed in over 20 years.