When he wasn’t beating Stephen Colbert in a sock-shooting contest, wearing a red blazer on Kimmel, dealing with Barack Obama’s golfing smack talk, taking over the ESPYs, owning the Kids’ Choice Awards, shooing agents away from now-three-year-old Riley, celebrating brother Seth’s first NBA contract, visiting Asia, realizing the Chinese also adore Riley, eating chicken curry with campers in Pebble Beach, checking in with the U.S. Olympic team, shooting commercials, joining wife Ayesha on a food show, dancing on stage at a Christian rap concert, returning to Charlotte with the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and, of course, welcoming his newest daughter into the world, America’s Busiest Athlete actually found time to be … an athlete.
Stephen Curry, really and truly, worked on his game in The Summer of Steph.
“It was probably as crazy as it could be. But nothing trumps the importance of working on your game and getting better,” he said Monday. “I’ve added a couple of things to my game. I’m still going to have the same style and be doing the same things, but I’m trying to be more explosive in what I do, create more space on the dribble, be stronger, hold the lines more when attacking the basket. And I’m going to be smarter.
“It’s not about me being a different player. I want to be better.”
And do not worry that America’s Busiest Athlete now has a swelled head and an unmanageable ego. This is Steph Curry, remember, and he and his family wouldn’t allow fame or acclaim or 1,000 late-night shows to change him. As he spoke at an elaborate media gathering at the Warriors’ practice facility — with his 15 minutes at the podium televised live on ESPN and NBA TV and who knows where else? — he clearly was humbled by three months of attention and love from the masses.
“All that stuff is fun, but at the end of the day, I’m still the same person,” Curry said. “I still do the same stuff in my spare time that keeps me grounded and normal. I’m just trying to be as normal as possible. Obviously, I get recognized a lot more — the world’s kind of gotten smaller. But for the most part, the way we live and do our family routine, we’ve found time to get away from the game and the noise, and that’s helpful when going back on the court after what you’ve been able to accomplish.”
Nor should anyone be concerned that he’s satisfied after hushing those who’ve doubted him since his teens, having morphed from Dell Curry’s scrawny son into the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in one of the most dominant championship seasons on record. “I want to become a better leader,” he said. “It’s about staying hungry, staying motivated, finding more fuel. It’s about not staying comfortable. It’s great to win one championship, but this shouldn’t hopefully end our story. We have such a great group of guys, and we know we have a lot of potential, so we feel like we’re the team to beat. I want us to reach our full potential.
“We have one championship. We want more.”
All of which is good to know.
Because Steph Curry has no idea what’s about to invade his bubble, no way of understanding the force of the coming storm. From the nanosecond he cradled the trophy in Cleveland, then smoked cigars with his father and Steve Kerr as the sun rose outside the team hotel, you could hear snickering throughout the league. The Warriors were lucky, people said. They didn’t have to play the Spurs and Clippers. Their every playoff opponent had injury issues. Even in the Finals, when Cleveland didn’t have Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love, LeBron James scared them for a while. Hell, Matthew Dellavedova, who had to sweat in July before signing a $1.2 million deal for only one season, outplayed Curry one night.
Did Steph notice how his NBA peers didn’t vote him MVP at their awards show, that Houston’s James Harden won those honors? Did he hear the whispers that a real MVP wouldn’t have shot so erratically in the Finals and allowed Andre Iguodala to win the series MVP hardware?
And did he happen to catch some of the fiery comments made by James, Irving and Kevin Durant as training camps opened Monday? LeBron, who now has lost four times in the Finals, said he has “no time to waste” and said “it gets worse and worse” with every June defeat. While the Currys were cooking with Rachael Ray, James was putting himself through torturous workouts to improve his game. This from the man who averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists against the Warriors, the biggest postseason stat line in league history.
“In September, I got a little bit crazy with my workout regimen. I was doing three-a-days, five days a week,” James said. “So I believe I’ve improved. Did I get enough rest? No, I don’t think so. But I definitely improved and I feel good about where I’m at right now.”
He compares his current mood to that in 2010, when he and the Miami Heat returned after collapsing in the Finals and losing to Dallas. “When we came back, we were angry,” James said. “We were very, very, very, very angry. And everybody that we went against knew it when we came back.”
Hear that, Steph?
Said Irving: “From me, there’s going to be a lot more rage, a lot more emotion. There won’t be too much smiling or anything like that from our team. That’s the mentality we have to have. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
As for Durant, who preceded Curry as MVP and is back from an injury-shortened season in Oklahoma City, he said it was agonizing to watch the Warriors’ success. “I hated seeing those guys win,” he said.
If the Warriors shocked the basketball universe last season with their furious start, then seized the advantages of health and happenstance, they know the circumstances will be different now. Bring it on, says Curry.
“We’re going to get everybody’s best shot every single night, so we have to be at our best every time we step foot on the floor,” he said. “We’ve established a system of how we’re going to play, and the personnel we have is pretty much the same as last year. There is not going to be much change. But we can’t just say we’re going to be the same team and show up and win 67 games and win a championship. It’s not going to be easy.
“We have a mentality, and now it’s just about building on it. I don’t question anything about our abilities and potential. It’s just about going out and executing. So no matter whether we’re picked to defend or not, that same confidence we had last season — that we could be the NBA champs — we’ll have it again.”
They aren’t being picked to repeat. Vegas has Cleveland winning it all and San Antonio winning the Western Conference with newcomer LaMarcus Aldridge added to the dynasty core.
Nor is Curry being picked to repeat as MVP. Those not forecasting LeBron, whose team has no serious competition in the East, are looking at emerging monster Anthony Davis.
But Curry reminds us that Kerr’s offense still was in an embryonic form last season. Hard as it is to fathom, a work of art could progress into a masterpiece. “[Kerr] always was telling us that the second and third year is when you really take off,” he said. “So if we did what we did last year and we’re still learning about the system and how we’re going to play it, I like our chances going into this year, too.”
The real games start four weeks from tonight. Curry will realize that night, with Davis in the Oracle house and old friend Alvin Gentry on the New Orleans bench, that no one cares about last season anymore. Draymond Green is warning the doubters: Don’t bet against Curry.
“Definitely see another level for him,” he said. “I still think he’s just scratching the surface on how good he can be and how good he’s going to be.”
But before the world moves on from The Summer of Steph, Green had a question: What happened to the gifts that Curry promised his teammates after winning the MVP? “ I’m not into throwing anyone under the bus,” he said, “but maybe y’all can ask Steph that.”
Hey, the man has been busy.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.Barack ObamaDraymond GreenESPYsGolden State WarriorsJimmy KimmelStephen ColbertStephen Curry