Warriors' Stephen Curry: The man, the mouthpiece

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Steph Curry Limited Edition MVP 2016 Poster: pressdemocrat.com/mvp

OAKLAND — This is a story about an MVP and his most loyal companion — the sidekick he mangles, misshapes and occasionally heaves. This is the story of Stephen Curry’s mouthpiece.

Perhaps you’ve seen it. Well, of course you’ve seen it. Because Curry’s mouthpiece is rarely where it’s supposed to be, which is in his mouth. The Warriors point guard nudges it out in front of his lips, like a rubber bumper, when he runs upcourt after a basket. He takes it out and holds it when he’s pleading to an official. Frequently the U-shaped piece of plastic curves from the left corner of Curry’s mouth, like an appendage or a benign growth.

Bogey’s cigarette. Kojak’s lollipop. The toothpick dangling from the lip of every heavy in a black-and-white gangster movie. And Stephen Curry’s mouthpiece. They complete the portrait.

Here is everything you’d like to know about the accessory Curry likes to gnaw.

BOY MEETS GRILL

Curry’s relationship with his mouth guard began Dec. 13, 2007, during his sophomore year at Davidson College. It was born of necessity.

“I actually still have the scar,” Curry said. “I was playing Citadel at home, and I was getting into a guy defensively and he did a rip-through move over the top and ’bowed me right in my lip. I went out and had a couple stitches and got fitted for a mouthpiece that next day, and I’ve been wearing one ever since.”

MEET DR. MOUTHPIECE

With every defense gunning for him, Curry has enough to worry about without having to remember his mouthpiece. So Drew Yoder oversees the operation. That was true when Yoder joined the team as assistant athletic trainer in the summer of 2013, and it’s true since he was promoted to athletic trainer as part of a personnel shakeup in September.

The mouthpiece starts with an impression taken by Golden State’s team dentist, Todd Yerondopolous. But it’s Yoder who serves as Curry’s supplier.

Yoder has three mouthpieces on hand at any given time at Oracle Arena, and three others that travel to road games, all of them shut tight in plastic containers. For the most part, Curry decides when it’s time to retire one of them.

“Sometimes I’ll get them where it doesn’t fit anymore because I’ve chewed it up too much, so I need another one for the next game or something like that,” Curry said.

Yoder has input, though, like a gently insistent parent.

“It’s not an exact science,” the trainer said. “Generally, before a game he puts it in and sometimes he’ll say, ‘This tastes like (bleep).’ It just kind of goes bad. The ones he uses are flavored — I don’t know if you know that — and eventually that flavor kind of runs bad. Usually I let him direct it. Sometimes I’ll look and it’ll look disgusting, and I’ll say, ‘You want to switch that out?’ ”

Yoder guesses that Curry runs through a mouthpiece every 6 to 10 games, and that he uses 10 to 15 over the course of a season.

WAIT, THEY’RE FLAVORED?

Two years ago, Curry signed an endorsement deal to wear mouthpieces made by MoGo Sport. They are lemonade flavored. And this is no hollow endorsement. In fact, Curry still draws from his original supply of MoGo pieces though the company has ceased production, effectively ending the agreement.

Steph Curry Limited Edition MVP 2016 Poster: pressdemocrat.com/mvp

In the past, Curry experimented with mouthpieces that you dunk in boiling water and shape yourself, and others that were as flimsy as Invisalign “braces.”

“I at one time wore one that, if I had it in I sometimes forgot,” Curry said. “Where I could talk normally like right now and you still wouldn’t know. I wore that thin one because it was obviously more comfortable, but it didn’t give me the protection. It’s that balance.”

WHERE TO PUT YOUR MOUTHPIECE

Curry never plays a game without his mouthpiece. But he doesn’t wear one for practice unless the Warriors are scheduled to play a full quarter of pickup or 5-on-5.

“It feels strange in practice,” Curry said. “When we start playing, I look down — I keep it right here in my compression shorts. I look down and it’s not there and it kind of feels weird, but I know it’s just practice. But in a game, for sure. I’ll start the game and if I forget it or something, I’ll have somebody run back to the locker room for it.”

As Curry suggested, he tucks his little friend into the leg of his compression shorts when he’s on the bench. Those NBA players who wear mouthpieces handle this business in different ways. According to a New York Times story that ran in February, the Clippers’ Cole Aldrich hooks his mouth guard around one of his ears. The Trail Blazers’ Mason Plumlee tucks his into a sock. Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo sometimes lifts his collar and spits his under his jersey.

“I used to do something very unsanitary that I didn’t even think about until somebody pointed it out,” Curry said. “I won’t even explain what that was. Just put it was ‘unsanitary.’ I found a different way to do it.”

PARTNERS IN CRIME

Curry’s mouthpiece is the perfect accomplice. It protects him when he needs protection, and when it’s time to make an emphatic point — well, nothing says “I’ve been wronged” like a well-thrown mouthpiece.

“I got (a technical) two years ago in the Clippers series, in the playoffs,” Curry said. “I got fouled and they didn’t call it. I threw it at their bench, basically. And I got one last year (against San Antonio). I thought I blocked Tony Parker’s shot. I didn’t, apparently. So I threw it at the scorer’s table. That one was like accidental. Because I was trying to say something so I took it out real quick, and I air-punched it, and I just threw it.”

IN THE MINORITY, BUT NOT ALONE

Curry is not the NBA’s only high-profile mouthpiece abuser. The Clippers’ Blake Griffin is a compulsive chewer, and Cavaliers superstar LeBron James might be as fidgety as Curry with his. In 2011, a Huffington Post columnist wrote an open letter to James, asking him to keep his mouthpiece where the arena lights don’t shine.

But considering the thresher of flying hands and elbows on the basketball court, it’s surprising more NBA players don’t wear mouth guards. Curry guesses that 30 percent of his peers around the league are thus protected.

The Warriors have a fitted mouthpiece for every player on the team, in case someone should get a tooth knocked loose — “It’s a good way to stabilize the tooth,” Yoder said — but the only ones who regularly wear one are Curry, reserve guard Leandro Barbosa and backup big man Marreese Speights.

Curry doesn’t nag his teammates, but he does advocate. He knows that some researchers believe mouthpieces not only keep your teeth in your gums, but may help prevent concussions and even relieve muscle tension.

“If they ask, I’ll tell ’em why I do it,” Curry noted. “It’s kind of like my go-to before the season: ‘Hey, fellas, before we take the court, you better have your mouthpiece on.’ ”

HE DIDN’T MEAN TO DO THAT

Even if he wanted to leave his mouthpiece alone, Curry would have a hard time doing it. His fiddling is unconscious.

“It’s a habit,” he said. “… Sometimes I don’t realize I haven’t put it back in while we’ve started playing. I’ve dropped it once or twice doing that.”

Curry said that his mouthpiece manipulation at the free-throw line is more intentional; he can breathe better when the thing is crooked in the corner of his mouth. His ritual at the stripe — feet squared, arms jiggled loose, mouthpiece perched, one dribble, silky-smooth release — has become so iconic that it’s captured in 2K Sports’ NBA 2K16 video game.

By now, the rest of us hardly notice the mouthpiece any more than Curry does. Neither teammates nor opponents comment on it. Or rather, they usually don’t.

“Only if I make a shot,” Curry said. “Like in live action if I make a shot with it hanging out, they get kind of pissed off: ‘Oh, you think you’re so good you can play with that thing hanging out your mouth.’ That’s the only time I hear the talk. It’s fun, because I don’t even realize I’m doing it.”

STEPH CURRY IS NOT PERFECT

Clearly, Curry’s mouthpiece abuse is sort of a nervous tic. Asked if he has any others, on or off the court, the guy with the boyish smile and the squeaky-clean public image admits a dark secret.

“I bite my nails,” Curry said. “My mom, at first when I was growing up, used to threaten to like put hot sauce or something crazy on. Like there’s some kind of liquid you can put on there that tastes terrible. I’ve been threatened with that. And my wife does it now. But it’s never gotten to that point.”

IT’S HERE TO STAY

It’s curious, maybe even a little off-putting, to see that mouthpiece tossed about like a thin plastic hacky sack. But when you are the reigning league MVP and an NBA champion, and you set some sort of 3-point shooting record virtually every time you step on the court, nobody is going to ask you to change your mannerisms. “Whatever helps him make shots and helps us win games,” Yoder said.

In other words, if you have any complaints about Steph Curry’s mouthpiece, you should keep them in your mouth, where they belong.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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