And the Oscar goes to … no, sorry, not heading there. Someone must impose a limit on Steph Curry idolatry, especially when he doesn’t know how to dance. We’ll keep urging him to bust moves, of course, if only to piss off any remaining old-timers and Doc Rivers silly boys who dare to demean his continuing bombardment of the world’s senses.
But if Curry insists on ejecting our eyeballs, fracturing our jawbones and making us shriek until mid-June — and hopefully for many seasons beyond, until those damned ankles sabotage what has become a don’t-miss-a-moment spectacle — then he’d better learn some steps worthy of our dap. Everyone is watching, after all, and I do mean everyone.
“I’m not a great dancer, so I probably lost my mind a little bit,” he said late Saturday night in Oklahoma City, where he let loose with a shimmy while the rest of us were pulling ourselves off the floor.
Upon taking in Curry’s latest mind blitz, a 38.4-foot buzzer-beater that rescued the Warriors from a night of large deficits and internal turmoil, it occurred to me that this was his defining moment. Remember, he didn’t shoot so fantastically during the NBA Finals — his head still groggy, I’m convinced, from a vicious fall in Houston in the previous series. He has provided too many thrills to count before and since last summer, but we’d been waiting for one suspended flash that symbolized everything he has meant to this franchise, this league and this country during his 16-month grip on the collective sporting consciousness.
There it was, crushing the souls of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder and reminding, us, again, that there are no boundaries on what Curry and his team might accomplish in their encore season. If he could overcome a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter, whopping disadvantages on the boards and in the paint and the petulant locker-room outburst of Draymond Green at halftime, is there anything he cannot conquer? With his fetching mix of humility and unbridled confidence, Curry isn’t about to say no.
“I’ve always tried to push the envelope and keep getting better,” he said, “but a lot has to go right to get to this point.”
As yet, we’ve seen no evidence to think life won’t continue to go right. It’s highly uncommon in sports for peers to fawn over an opponent, not wanting to relinquish any leverage in the ongoing psych game. Curry’s record-breaking epic broke down all walls. LeBron James sounds ready to give up, tweeting, “He’s ridiculous man! Never before seen someone like him in the history of ball!” Scottie Pippen, who was saying not long ago that the Warriors couldn’t beat his 1990s Bulls teams, called the shot “a free throw” for Curry and extended “props.” DeMar DeRozan, whose Toronto Raptors could reach the Finals, tweeted, “He can’t be human.” It’s not even March, and he has the competition so blown away that you wonder how they’ll lace up their sneakers.
“We’ve never seen anything like this in the history of the game,” said ESPN’s Mark Jackson, Curry’s former coach, who only weeks ago was accusing Curry of being bad for the game because too many kids will want to start shooting — gasp! — long-range jumpers.
The popular narrative after the overtime win, which raises the best 58-game start in league history to 53-5, is to say the Warriors can’t possibly lose five more games and avoid topping the 72-10 mark owned by those 1995-96 Bulls of Michael Jordan (and Steve Kerr). Seventeen of their remaining 24 games are at home, including eight of the next nine, and while they have six left against the Thunder, Spurs and Clippers, need I remind anyone that the Warriors already have staggered all three with devastating daggers? They’ll lose some games, with five back-to-backs remaining, but will they lose five more?
The when-to-rest conundrum will begin soon enough, with Kerr sure to sit Curry for longer stretches and make him unavailable some nights. No one should quibble, either, if you watched Westbrook’s planted shoe twist Curry’s once-fragile ankle into a pretzel. “Any time it’s my ankle, I feel that same sensation I had back in the day,” he said, acknowledging concern. “It was a little nerve-racking. I had to get it retaped. It was painful, but it’ll be all right.”
By now, he surely has had a heart-to-heart chat with his friend, Green. Impressive as Curry was in playing through his ankle issues, his best deed in Oklahoma was saving his teammate from himself. This was not the first time Green has unleashed a tirade on his coaches — he was yelling at Luke Walton in the preseason — and the problem this time is about demanding the rock, the poison that kills teams. While Kerr was away from the team and tending to his health, Green fancied himself as a three-point shooter and was getting three or four tries a game, making more than 40 percent. Once Kerr returned, the trey attempts were cut in half, and the shooting percentage slumped. Hence, his anger.
“I am not a robot,” he shouted, according to ESPN’s Lisa Salters. “I know I can play, you have me messed up right now. If you don’t want me to shoot, I won’t shoot the rest of the game.” His anger escalated to the point “he was daring people, threatening people, ‘Come sit me down,’” Salters reported. Do not make the fanboy mistake of criticizing Salters, who proved that ESPN, despite its $13 billion rights deal with the NBA, won’t shy from reporting sensitive stories that teams won’t like.
Rather, focus on why the Warriors, with their nonstop praise of Green for his passion and emotion, have created and enabled a monster. Kerr said the outburst was “very unusual” for Green, but I doubt it. “What goes on in here, stays in here,” Green told reporters afterward. “Clearly, I’ve never been a guy who cares about shots.”
Clearly, on Saturday night, he was.
But as Kerr knows from his Chicago years, there could be worse distractions. At least Green isn’t Dennis Rodman, who had to be pulled out of clubs at all hours and showed up late for practice, if he showed up at all. He was so infuriating that Jordan once threatened to ruin his life if he kept screwing up. Green was great when he had to be down the stretch, as Curry pointed out repeatedly, as a good MVP does.
There now is talk that Curry, despite incessant jabs at his defensive flaws by ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy, will be the league’s first unanimous MVP. Some idiot will vote for someone else, just to say he did, but one by one, from Rivers and James Harden and Charles Barkley in the autumn to Oscar Robertson and all the old farts this winter, the dissenters have been quieted. Another surfaced Sunday in the form of Phil Jackson, who was rejected by Kerr for the New York coaching job and now is tweeting, “Never seen anything like SCurry? Remind you of Chris Jackson/Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who had a short but brilliant run in NBA?” Jackson’s failed team, the Knicks, are here next month. Expect a 40-point response.
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf? Seriously?
The king and his troupe have returned home, where the love will pour down like never before. Hanging in the Oracle Arena air Tuesday night will be an utterance, from Kerr, that sums up what we’re witnessing.
“We’re seeing something,” he said, “that we’ve never seen before.”
This from a man who played beside Michael Jordan.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.