‘Fun fact’ about Steph Curry’s Hebrew tattoo makes a splash on Twitter

Earlier this month, Golden State Warriors superstar Steph Curry set a new NBA record for most made 3-point baskets when he drained number 2,974 in a game against the New York Knicks. On Dec. 28, he hit number 3,000 in front of his home crowd at San Francisco’s Chase Center. That night, he also tied his own record of 157 consecutive games with at least one made 3.

As social media users and the news media celebrated and analyzed the future Hall of Famer’s 3-point prowess, one local Warriors fan had something else on his mind.

On Dec. 27, Graduate Theological Union assistant professor Sam Shonkoff shared a very Jewish “fun fact” about Curry on Twitter that attracted quite a bit of attention. In his tweet, he pointed out that the Hebrew word tattooed on Curry’s left wrist, קרי (kuf-resh-yud), is both a transliteration of the player’s last name as well as a well-known Talmudic euphemism for “accidental emission” or “ejaculation while sleeping.”

The tweet has received over 300,000 impressions, or views, and dozens of responses ranging from 😂  to 😳 .

Sam Shonkoff
Sam Shonkoff

“It clearly struck a chord, more than my work on Jewish mysticism,” Shonkoff told J. in an interview. “I’m in a very specific niche where I’m an avid Warriors fan and love Steph Curry, and I’m a scholar of Jewish studies at the same time. That’s probably why I noticed this thing before most other people did.”

Shonkoff, 37, explained that in rabbinic literature, the term “ba’al keri” (which literally means “master of an accident”) refers to someone who experienced what is commonly known as a wet dream and is therefore considered to be in a state of ritual impurity. “It’s this huge source of anxiety in rabbinic tradition,” he said. “This is connected to issues of niddah — menstrual impurities — and who you can come into contact with, where you can go.”

He noted that the stakes were especially high for the high priest when the Temple was standing in Jerusalem. For example, in Pirkei Avot 5:5, the fact that “no emission occurred to the high priest on the Day of Atonement” is considered to be a kind of miracle because the priest was able to enter the Holy of Holies and perform his duties on behalf of the Jewish people.

Shonkoff, who specializes in German Jewish thought and Hasidic mysticism, said he made the connection between Curry’s transliterated name and “keri” a few years ago but that he only recently embraced Twitter as a place to share such stray thoughts. His favorite response to his tweet came from Kno, a rapper and producer from the group CunninLynguists. “He can shoot in his sleep so this checks out,” Kno tweeted. Others riffed on “Splash Brothers,” the nickname given to Curry and teammate Klay Thompson, another prolific 3-point shooter before he was sidelined by injuries. (Thompson, who is expected to return to the court later this season, owns one of the few 3-point records not held by Curry: the most 3-pointers made in one game, 14.)

Twitter being Twitter, not everyone appreciated the tweet. “Yo, I really didn’t need to know that,” moaned one Curry fan. A native Hebrew speaker protested that the modern Hebrew term for “wet dream” is slightly different, קרי-לילה, “kri-lilah.” “Knowing modern Hebrew isn’t the same as knowing Talmud,” Shonkoff shot back.

It is unclear if Curry or people close to him have seen the tweet or if they are aware of the tattoo’s euphemistic meaning. (Other members of his family have the same tattoo, including brother and fellow NBA player Seth Curry.) “I almost feel a little guilty if I’m embarrassing him, but the world knows now,” said Shonkoff, who grew up in Berkeley rooting for the Warriors and now lives in El Cerrito. He is not too worried, though, because “it’s widely recognized that Steph Curry is just a wonderful human being” and “a real mensch.”

The קרי tattoo is not the only Hebrew ink that Curry has on his body. On his inner right wrist, there is a line from the New Testament that translates to “love never fails.”

What is it about Hebrew script that Curry, a devout Christian, finds so compelling? “He is very religious, which is part of why I think he’s drawn to Hebrew,” Shonkoff said. “It goes to show that there’s the sense that Hebrew is a holy language even for Christians.”

Pointing out humorous double meanings of Hebrew transliterations is an old parlor game. Former Secretary of State and presidential candidate John Kerry was the butt of jokes in Israel because his last name is transliterated the same way as Curry’s. And in October, when Facebook rebranded itself, people gleefully pointed out that Meta means “dead” in Hebrew.

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.