by Paul West
I remember when Stephen Curry first really put himself on the national sports map.
It was the first round of the 2008 March Madness tournament. 10th-seeded Davidson was tied with 7th-seeded Wisconsin with a minute to go, when the ball went out to Curry at the three-point line. I had taken the day off from work, and with brackets strewn across the living room table of my Harlem apartment, I was on my way to the kitchen when I paused to see the last minute. I’d known to see Davidson coming; I’m still convinced I was one of the first people to use the word ‘bracketology’ before it became fashionable (no, really), and I was well aware of the skinny kid from the mid-major who seemed fearless and unusually capable when it mattered most. When Curry sprung a leak and they kicked the ball out, I thought, uh oh. It went in; Curry’s been providing uh oh moments for opposing fans, players and coaches ever since.
When he was drafted, many–including yours truly–doubted his NBA future. We’d seen undersized freak shooters come out of the draft before, only to be overlooked, out-muscled or never put in a system that allowed them to shine. When he continued to show his shooting acumen in the NBA, he also began to get hurt; this seemed to substantiate the idea that while his shot was NBA-ready, his body and stature weren’t. Though the NBA–and sports in general–have begun to finally move past the NFL combine mentality that for decades conspired against players who didn’t ‘fit the mold,’ it seemed easy to imagine the NBA grind getting the best of him.
Thank goodness for the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors gave Stephen Curry a chance to succeed, and built a system around him that facilitated the combination of offense and defense in a way the D’Antoni-era Phoenix Suns never seemed to figure out. Curry has grown, literally and figuratively, into his role as the face of their franchise, but it’s worth considering that he’s more than that. It might be worth considering that we’re witnessing the flowering of an all-time great.
It’s not just about the numbers or highlights, which are increasingly impressive (along with those of fellow “Splash Brother” Klay Thompson, who’s quietly one of the best two-way threats in the league and is only now getting widespread props). It’s the big and small ways he combines attributes of all-time greats in one lithe, underwhelming frame. His purity of shot is already being described in the same breath as Reggie Miller and Ray Allen. His ball handle and ability to penetrate, especially at his stature, is Iverson-esque. Yet along with his dribble-drive, Curry has the kind of pull-up-on-a-dime midrange game that’s made Tony Parker (whose greatness also took a while to be broadly acknowledged) a perennial elite. He can shoot from a week away; he makes the nba three point line look the way Jerry McNamara used to make the NCAA line look (just as Miller did for a decade). And his crossover continues to dazzle, as he piles up ankle-breaker GIFs and videos on his way to dribble-drives, step-back threes and, yes, fabulous dishes.
Stephen Curry still hasn’t won an NBA title, and he’s only been an All-Star once. He’s still got years in front of him, during which to prove or disprove his greatness. But he’s more than just the pure-shooting marksman he was once made out to be. He’s showing signs of being the kind of player that’s talked about for generations.