How Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are destroying nets — literally

IT’S MID-APRIL, less than 24 hours before the Golden State Warriors open their postseason march toward a third straight NBA Finals appearance, and Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser is taking his post for what he calls “the easiest job in the world.” For fun in the summertime, Fraser works with kids — sons of friends, playground dreamers — on their game, and he often smirks when chasing down long rebounds after shots carom off the rim. It couldn’t be more different after practices at the Warriors’ downtown Oakland facility, where Fraser can point to a small patch of real estate below the rim. “I don’t move out of the restricted area,” he says, “when those guys are shooting.” By those guys, he means Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, both of whom, on this day, are lined up in the right corner, ready to take aim.

The Warriors have called this facility home since 1997, and it boasts three full-length courts, a basket bookending each one, plus two more affixed to a far wall. The goal nearest to the weight room is where Curry, out of habit, has long made it rain while Fraser rebounds, moving little more than a statue. This season, in part because Durant also works with Fraser, the 6-foot-9 flamethrower has joined those two on Curry’s bucket. For the record: fellow Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson launches bombs on the goal opposite Curry and Durant.

On any given day, Curry might drain about 250 shots in all, Fraser says. Of those, the two-time NBA MVP always attempts at least 100 3-pointers — and of those, he often makes a percentage anywhere from the mid-to-high 80s to, on occasion, well into the 90s. Though Durant, who won four out of five league scoring titles from 2009 to 2014, doesn’t launch as many long-range bombs as Curry, he still drains some 200 shots on an average day, and about 50 3-pointers.

With Fraser near the bucket, Durant and Curry today take turns making the net dance to and fro, one after the other, Fraser rifling the ball back to them. Curry from the right wing: Snap goes the net. Durant at the same spot: Swish. Curry moves a few feet to his left, toward the top of the key: Snap. It continues for 20 minutes, a symphony of swishes, surgical in their precision, militaristic in their efficiency.

Nearby, a swarm of media surrounds Warriors head coach Steve Kerr; soon after, Kerr will retire to a nearby chair facing the court and train his blue eyes on that very net, which is now, finally, still, with Durant and Curry having clocked out, their damage done. Its original bone-white complexion has faded into shades of brown, gray and burnt orange. Take a whiff, and you’ll pick up on a strong scent of leather and sweat, with just a hint of dirt. Of its dozen polyester cords, looping through the iron rim, many near the front and side are frayed to a handful of intact fibers, and the rear two cords — right where a dead-eye swish would connect — are on life support, barely hanging on.

“We need to change that net out,” Kerr says.

What Kerr and the Warriors might not know: Spalding, which has made nets since 2006 and has provided the NBA’s official on-court net since 2009, owns what it considers to be a “one-of-a-kind machine” at its Bowling Green, Kentucky, facility, and this machine (which they refuse to describe in detail, lest their competitors build something similar) can cycle six to eight balls, one after the other, through a net at different angles and at 20 miles per hour to test for durability. Spalding runs these tests from time to time, just to ensure its product is up to snuff, but never to the point of destruction. “We’ve run the NBA net through 10,000 cycles on our machine and it still looks perfectly fine,” says Paul Sullivan, senior vice president of Spalding. “It’s just a little bit dirty.”

Meanwhile, over in Oakland, on the goal where Durant and Curry drill endless jumpers, they have to change the net out about every few weeks, estimates Eric Housen, the Warriors’ longtime equipment manager. “This season,” Fraser adds, “it’s gotten worn down more.”

The Warriors are a uniquely constructed net-killing machine.

WHAT THE CRACK OF THE BAT is to baseball, the swish of the net is to basketball — among the game’s more signature images and inarguably its most signature sound. But a swish, in fact, is the sound of decay, the destruction of fibers, and in Oakland — home of the greatest collection of shooting talent ever assembled on one roster — that sound is louder and more frequent than usual.

So let us take a moment to pause in silence for this latest hapless net, may it soon rest in shreds. Like its brethren, it was born in a single China factory. First, the rope is machine-made — a polyester outer sleeve (slippery but durable) covering polyester strands (like fishing line) that’s surrounded by polyester filler (like pillow fluff). Once the machine has its say, a worker takes that rope and stitches together a product that Spalding sells for $ 12.99. Nets are manufactured year-round and, from China, they journey to Spalding’s facility in Jefferson, Iowa, where they ship official on-court gear to all 30 NBA teams.

League rules stipulate that nets at arenas must be changed by every seventh home game, at a minimum, and that worn nets should be replaced immediately, though some arenas do so often — at Oracle Arena, for instance, the nets are changed every game. When they reach practice facilities they tend to survive a bit longer — unless they’re hung on that goal nearest the weight room in Oakland.


SUCH IS HOW LIFE BEGINS for NBA nets. But how did life begin for the very first net?

Here’s the part of the story you already know: In December of 1891, a Canadian physical education instructor named James Naismith invented a game, the first iteration of which was played soon after at a YMCA gym in Springfield, Massachusetts, with 18 players, a soccer ball and two peach baskets. (And no, to answer the obvious question, the bottoms of those peach baskets were not cut out.)

Fast forward a half century to the late 1960s in a small town in upstate New York called Floyd, and the part of the story you don’t know. A boy in the second grade is watching basketball on the living room television. “You know,” his mom says, turning to him, “your great-grandfather helped invent that game.” The boy is stunned. There’s a hoop in his driveway. But this fact, he never knew.

His mother pulls out a first-edition book, with a worn olive green cover, entitled “I Grew Up with Basketball,” by Frank J. Basloe. Basloe grew up in Herkimer, New York, and came to know a local YMCA director named Lambert Will. And Will, it just so happens, was this boy’s great-grandfather.

The book recounts how Will received a pamphlet that Naismith circulated to nearby YMCA instructors about a new indoor game aimed at keeping students busy during New England winters. Will was intrigued, Basloe wrote, but thought it needed a few tweaks, like passing the ball rather than rolling it. Another tweak involved the peach basket, which required, after every made shot, someone to ascend a ladder and fetch the ball.

In time, a Herkimer blacksmith named George “Chunky” Volk fashioned metal rods into a hoop. “But Will still felt something was lacking,” Basloe wrote. “He thought the bare, sturdy iron hoop had no appeal. He asked for suggestions on how to dress it up. Many were offered … [but] Will himself came up with the best idea. He thought they should hang a netting of some kind around the hoop to give it the appearance of a peach basket.”

Will asked his mother, who knitted two drapes together. “She made a fine mesh netting,” Basloe wrote. “The innovation was a masterpiece.”

That boy grew up to become Vermont state senator Philip Baruth, who today calls his great-, great-grandmother “the Betsy Ross of basketball.” He argues that the innovation came at a crucial time, when the game was still in its infancy; not only did a net provide a visual cue for a made basket, the game no longer needed to be paused after every basket. “I can’t see,” Baruth says, “how the game would’ve survived without it.”