Stephen Curry accepts the award for Best Male Athlete at the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles on Wednesday evening. (Chris Pizzello/Invision via AP)

Best Male Athlete: More Curry-ency

So this is euphoria, Steph Curry must have thought Wednesday night, in what seemed his apex in life. He was named Best NBA Player at the ESPY Awards and then won Best Male Athlete, outclassing the ubiquitous J.J. Watt, Aaron Rodgers and that LeBron James wide-load he trumped in the Finals. He got to hear James sheepishly accept honors for Best Championship Performance — “Second place got me this?” — before he looked at Curry and other Warriors in the house and said, “You guys were unbelievable and deserved everything. You inspired me once again.”

He delivered a tribute speech to the late Lauren Hill, the college basketball player who kept competing with an inoperable brain tumor. He saw his co-Splash Brother, Klay Thompson, nominated for Best Record-Breaking Performance after his 37-point third quarter. He watched Steve Kerr, a rookie no more, nominated for Best Coach/Manager. He watched himself advance through a bracket-style Best Play category, though he wasn’t going to beat Odell Beckham Jr.’s stretch catch.

What could be cooler for a young man of 27, still awaiting his prime?
“We’re celebrating our season,” Prince Steph said inside the theater in Los Angeles. “We’re celebrating sports, that’s why we’re here.”

This came days after his wife gave birth to their second daughter, Ryan Carson, a sis for the world-famous Riley. And that addition came a month after he and his father smoked cigars near dawn outside Morton’s steakhouse in Cleveland, celebrating a championship atop an MVP season. He seems to have it all. What could be more rewarding?

“It’s been crazy,” said Curry, still humble. “Riley has been quiet when the baby is sleeping, so we’re off to a good start. I’ve changed one diaper so far.”

“Only one?” ESPN’s Hannah Storm wondered.

“Coincidence,” he said. “Got more work to do.”

He’s the greatest long-range shooter in basketball history, a skill relatable to any of us who’ve played H-O-R-S-E in a driveway. He has the highest-selling jersey in the league, in part because he’s a champ but also because he’s among the most dazzling entertainers in sports. He could endorse almost any product he wants, so long is his list of suitors. He’s investing in Silicon Valley, developing a social media app that allows athletes and other well-known people to have “personal” interactions with fans. He doesn’t have an enemy that we know of, and anyone who tries to discredit him, such as Charles Barkley, is instantly frozen out with four words — “I don’t really care” — much like Matthew Dellavedova on that crossover and
stepback.

How does it possibly get any better for this craze/phenomenon/tour de force?

Oh, it will.

With every trophy, every honor and every new fan acquired, Curry’s ultimate bill adds more zeroes. Assuming he avoids slamming his head on the hardwood and any potion that will erode his magical shooting stroke, he is veering headlong toward a payday that will rank among the biggest in sports. His ascent as a mass-appeal, all-demographics item coincides with the astronomical rise of the league’s salary cap, which, fueled by a $24 billion television deal, should soar to at least $115 million by July 2017 — which so happens to be the summer when Curry’s contract with the Warriors expires.

What are we thinking here? At least $200 million, pushing $250 million? Don’t you dare yelp, Joe Lacob. Given Curry’s mammoth impact on the rise of a once-stumblebumming franchise, which will lead to construction of a new arena in San Francisco’s rich soil, he would be worth considerably more if the NBA didn’t have a salary cap. The late owner of the L.A. Lakers, Jerry Buss, estimated Kobe Bryant to be worth $70 million annually to his operation. James probably would be worth $80 million per year. Those are the numbers, in an open market, that Curry conceivably could approach. Didn’t Anthony Davis, all of 22, just sign a five-year, $145 million extension in New Orleans? Won’t Kevin Durant far exceed that number next summer?

“We could be writing a check moving close to half a billion dollars to the players association,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “That’s not of course the ideal outcome from our standpoint. … It’s happened because the revenue we generated was much higher than we had ever modeled. But we’re also learning that when you have all that money coming into the system, team behavior isn’t necessarily predictable either.”

Yet unlike James, who is setting up his free-agency bonanza in two years like a bloodthirsty monster, Curry isn’t one who likely will try to break banks. He’ll want to be paid, though, and Lacob can’t utter a single peep, knowing he got Curry at an absurd bargain — four years, $44 million — starting in 2013. He took the money out of fear that an ankle problem would prematurely sabotage his career, yet, by signing for such relatively modest sum, Curry unwittingly allowed Lacob to sign Andre Iguodala, extend Andrew Bogut and cut long-term extensions for Thompson and Draymond Green. All four will make more money this season than Curry, who will weigh in at $11.3 million.

So yes, Steph, your world will improve dramatically with the super-max deal, even if life seems maxed out already. If there is one challenge for Kerr beyond the reinforced Spurs, it is making sure the salary structure — with the Thompson and Green deals kicking in — isn’t a back-channel distraction. Here’s guessing Curry wouldn’t allow that with his character and demeanor, though Green might want to stop demanding a Rolex from the MVP and buy one for the man who’s hitting those prayers off the screen he sets. “Steph Curry and The Screen-Setters,” Green calls the Warriors. Right now, Steph Curry is the fifth-highest-paid Warrior, and if you want to include what Lacob and Peter Guber are pulling in as owners, he’s the seventh-highest-paid guy in Oracle Arena.

Money isn’t why he plays the game. He plays it for pride, for faith, for team, for accomplishment. So when he won his Best Male Athlete hardware Wednesday, on a night that will be remembered for Caitlyn Jenner and her moving speech, he wasn’t about to break out of his body and boast.

“Oh, man, I’m shaking,” said Curry, thanking the Lord, his family, his wife and his teammates and coaches. “I never imagined myself standing here holding this award. I’m 6-3, 185 pounds soaking wet, so it’s nice to be called an athlete every so often. Thank you so much.”

Perfect. After all, there is so much more to come.

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