Speaking to the adoring crowd, his people in his cathedral, he mentioned the lonely banner in the rafters and how it was about to have company. “So without further adieu …” said Stephen Curry, who looked to the north end of Oracle Arena with Joe Lacob, Peter Guber, Bob Myers, Steve Kerr, Luke Walton and his Warriors teammates and waited for the grandest moment of their basketball lives.
“Come on! Come on!” pleaded Lacob, the venture capitalist who can amass Silicon Valley wealth after a poor childhood, get an arena built in San Francisco and construct a championship team in short order but couldn’t get the big cord pulled when he wanted Tuesday night. But then, after 40 years, 26 losing seasons, a Latrell Sprewell chokehold, one too many Ike Diogus, the trade of Robert Parish and Kevin McHale for Joe Barry Carroll and Rickey Brown and too many lame-ass Chrises (Cohan, Washburn, Gatling) to offset the good one (Mullin), what were a few more seconds, huh?
Finally, the drape dropped, and the unfathomable visual appeared, silhouetted in light beside the 1974-75 banner:
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Minutes later, speaking loudly with the basketball now after flashing his new ring and latest sneaker to a national audience, Curry reminded all the league’s doubting Thomases — and Barkleys, Hardens, Lawsons and Docs — that he has no immediate intention of relinquishing either his NBA title or Most Valuable Player award. Only eight minutes into the season opener, he already had 20 points with his typical blizzard of explosive ballet, with four three-point bombs coming off the usual picks from Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut and the rest. He had 24 at the first-quarter buzzer and, after the Warriors momentarily lost their purpose and the lead to the injury-weakened New Orleans Pelicans, returned after a bench breather to make everything better in a 111-95 victory. Some wise guy in the Twittersphere superimposed Curry’s face over a famous picture of Wilt Chamberlain, holding up the “100” sign after his historic 1962 performance.
Alas, Steph ended with merely 40. Guess it’s time to bench him.
“After the adrenaline rush of the ring ceremony, we were off and running,” said Curry, whose scoring performance was the second-highest of any reigning MVP on Opening Night. “I wouldn’t say it was easy. But coach Kerr and Luke Walton, they kind of warned us what we would feel like and said to try to turn the page quickly once the lights came on. The shots went in. It didn’t look bad.”
Looked amazing, in fact. “We obviously have high expectations for him again,” said Walton, who won his first game as interim head coach. “As he goes, we go. It’s incredible how much he’s in the gym working when he’s at the level he’s at.”
That would be the very definition of an MVP, his presence dearly needed on an evening when the Warriors spent emotion during a dramatic ring ceremony, didn’t have the ailing Kerr on their bench, knew that talks between the front office and Harrison Barnes had broken off without a contract extension, lost a bleeding Bogut after he was nailed above the right eye two weeks after breaking his nose and did too much yapping at the officials, with Green foolishly picking up a technical foul in his apparent belief that an $82 million extension earns him all the calls now. At times in the first half, the Champs were undisciplined and unfocused and should have blown out the Pels early as Anthony Davis, Curry’s so-called MVP heir, had a wicked, 4-of-20 shooting performance. While the crowd supported Walton with a heartfelt “LUUUUUUUUUUKE” chant, there was no doubt that Kerr is missed. Very much so.
Still bothered by headaches and other discomfort after two back surgeries, the second procedure required after the first one caused spinal fluid leakage, he was in the building to collect his sixth ring, having won five as a player in Chicago and San Antonio. NBA commissioner Adam Silver singled him out — “We can’t wait to see you back on the court,” he said — and it was a bit bizarre during the ceremony to see him standing alongside Walton, the 35-year-old assistant who would coach Kerr’s team, and Alvin Gentry, the former Warriors assistant who would coach the other team. When it was time to clear the court of props, media and dancing girls and start the game, Kerr walked into the tunnel to the locker room, where he and Myers watched the game. Before the game, he tried to joke about his new in-game vantage point.
“Very weird,” he said. “I don’t really know what to expect. I was a general manager once. I know that watching a game on TV in the locker room, you end up yelling and throwing stuff at the TV. Maybe Bob and I will commiserate together if things aren’t going well.”
But this is no laughing matter. “It’s no fun. I want to be out there,” Kerr said. “Fortunately, the prospects for the long term are great. I know I’m on the right path, the right track. I’m very confident I will be back this season. I can’t wait. It’s killing me not to be out there tonight. I’m really disappointed not to be coaching. I’ve got to be patient, but it’s probably not my greatest virtue right now.”
I am not a doctor, but I do know that Kerr is being told to rest and relax until his headaches finally disappear. So why is he talking about making the road trip to Houston and New Orleans starting Thursday? Even on luxury charters, isn’t it mentally and physically taxing when traveling from city to city, game to game, hotel to hotel? And what will he do during the games, keep throwing stuff at the TV in opposing arenas?
Really? You’re making the road trip?
“I’m thinking about it,” Kerr said. “I figured out that sitting at home does me no good. The symptoms are there whether I’m at the gym or at home. So I’d rather be at the gym. But I’ve got to find the right balance. The whole point is making sure I’m ready when I come back. I don’t want to come back for a few weeks and then take another leave. That would be the wrong approach. I’ve got to make sure I’m fully healthy. I don’t know what it means. I’ve got to find the right balance, so I’ll probably go on the trip.”
Road trip … the right balance … a nonsequitur, wouldn’t you say? In one breath, Kerr said he realizes coming back to coach is not a good idea. “I know I’m not healthy enough to do this,” he said. “It’s a demanding job. It wouldn’t be fair to the team. It wouldn’t be smart for me.” So the answer is a road trip?
The good news is, Kerr is feeling better and able to exercise, do elliptical work and yoga. “The bad news is, I’m not feeling well enough to coach yet. So it’s hard to know when that will be. There’s no timetable. It’s not a sprainked ankle, two-to-four-weeks-type thing. It’s frustrating,” he said.
Will he be back by Jan. 1? How about the Christmas Day rematch against LeBron James at Oracle? “I would hope before then,” he said. “I would hope tomorrow, but tomorrow’s not happening. I fully believe I will be back before too long. How’s that? It’s the best I can give you.”
Walton will be tested on the road trip more than he was Tuesday, which is probably why Kerr wants to be there. “This is Steve’s team, this is what he put together, and we won a championship and did it Steve’s way,” Walton said. “But he told me, ‘Just be yourself. The players will see through you if you’re trying to be someone else.’ In the big picture, I’m trying to do what Steve would want done but also doing it the way I would approach things.”
He pulled his team through a glorious but difficult day and night. The Barnes drama will wait until the offseason, when he’s likely to command an $89 million extension with the league’s expanding salary cap. Harrison Barnes has potential to be an excellent player, but let me ask a potent question.
If he’s worth $89 million, what is Stephen Curry worth after hoisting a banner, winning an MVP trophy and more or less building a new arena across the bay?
Five hundred million.
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.