Rather than imagine how stun-gun devastated we'd be if Stephen Curry ever cheated on taxes, bedded a bimbo or posted bail, let's assume he is far beyond committing such misdeeds. Of all his gifts — including his latest viral video from practice, a no-look, over-the-head, one-legged halfcourt swish with his back to the basket — the greatest might be how he has allowed a suspicious world to trust iconic athletes again. The roll call of legends who've let us down is too long to list even on the infinite Internet.
Curry will not be joining that list, I can declare with unwavering confidence.
“Steph is built for this kind of stardom,” his coach, Steve Kerr, said after practice Saturday, aka Day Two of the Klay Thompson Concussion Protocol Period. “He's so grounded, he doesn't let much affect him. He's incredibly polite and giving. He's always signing autographs and taking pictures. People can't believe how accommodating he is. He already was a star, and now he's a superstar, but he hasn't changed.”
What you see is exactly who he is. There is no phony quotient here, no agenda, no hidden ego, no alternate personality when the TV cameras are off. Steph Curry continues to be the most refreshing, genuine and, by extension, important sensation to hit sports in some time, and with the NBA Finals as his grandest stage, the world now will experience the same Days and Nights with Steph that have enraptured the Bay Area.
There's Steph at a Giants game, on the Kiss Cam smooching his wife. There's Steph on another TV commercial, spraying his armpits with deodorant or donning a wetsuit to help find a man's sunken boat or thanking a restaurant worker for serving Chicken Curry. There's Steph in his Curry One sneakers, taking on Nike and the Jordan brand with his Under Armour team. And there's Steph with his partner in postgame charm, the world-famous Riley Curry, who now is threatening the ratings of Jimmy Fallon and other late-night entertainers with her zingers (“Too loud, Daddy”) and her waves and shouts to TV viewers and deadline-harried news media after the Warriors clinched the Western Conference championship.
Is it time to find her an agent, too?
“That's a good question. We might have to hire some extra help for that,” her old man said. “It's interesting because she's my daughter, and it's not anything different from what I know of her at the house. I wanted her to enjoy the celebration we had and for it to be as normal for her as possible. Obviously, she's got a personality that is pretty electric. She loves that scene.
“I call her Spunky. I wasn't that way as a kid; I was more stoic. My wife has that electric personality, so she gets it from her. To see that spontaneity and how comfortable she is being in front of people — that's pretty special for someone that young.”
America needed Curry. We needed a TMZ-immune, scandal-free sports hero, and the NBA is fortunate that its two leading men these days — Curry and LeBron James — are living lives that don't contradict their images. It's fascinating to remember seven years ago when James, during his first duty with the Cavaliers, adopted Curry amid his NCAA tournament run and traveled to Detroit to sit behind Davidson's bench.
Now, here they are as rivals, with LeBron trying to complete his epic homecoming by winning a title for sports-bedraggled Cleveland while Curry attempts to check the final box on his prove-them-wrong bucket list — too small and frail in his early teens … had to change his shot entirely … rejected by Duke and North Carolina … doubted by NBA people — with the Warriors' first NBA championship in 40 years. It's the Finals everyone wanted, a Finals already defined by James' quote when asked how to stop Curry.
“Well, the same way you slow me down. You can't,” he said.
Why not? “He has a great motor,” James said. “I think a lot of people don't understand how great his motor is. He never stops moving. His ballhandling, his ability to shoot the ball off the dribble and off the catch. It's uncanny. I don't think there's ever been a guy in the league to shoot the ball the way he does off the dribble or off the catch, off the ball. He just creates so many matchup problems for your defense, and you just always have to be aware.”
If you're looking for any Houston-like trash talk — I recall James Harden telling his teammates of the Warriors, “They're not even that good” — it's not happening here. LeBron admires Curry, having invited him to his home a few years ago. “Steph is great for our league,” said James, “the way he approaches not only everything on the floor, but off the floor. He's got a beautiful family and everything, so, I mean, it wouldn't be bad for our league at all if they want to model it behind him. He's great.”
In turn, James is a role model for Curry to study. “LeBron has been The Star in the league for the last seven or eight years. I think he's handled himself really well when you think about the spotlight on him, the constant pressure to win,” Kerr said. “It reminds me a lot of Michael [Jordan] in terms of the suffocating pressure on a daily basis. He's obviously a champion and he has matured into that role. He knows what he's doing.”
Steph and LeBron will be ubiquitous during the Finals, dominating the commercials as much as the basketball. But Curry shut down most outside demands in early April, at Kerr's urging. “There is a time and a place for that,” Curry said. “I have to be focused on winning a championship and keeping our focus.”
Said Kerr: “Someone in his shoes has to have balance. I told him the most important thing is getting your rest. I saw in midseason, there were days we watched film where I could see the fatigue in his eyes. Then you find out that on an off day, he had woken at 5 a.m. to take a car into The City for a [commercial] shoot. For a guy like him, with the amount of pressure he has and the people who are after him all the time, he needed to be careful. He's a superstar. He and LeBron and (Kevin) Durant are the the three biggest. When you go deep in the playoffs, the spotlight grows because no one else is playing.”
No one is a bigger fan of Curry than Barack Obama, who tweeted the other day that he would outshoot J.R. Smith in the Finals — not exactly a raging news angle, Mr. President. After his White House visit last winter, Curry would love to return with his teammates, the Larry O'Brien jug in hand. “We talked about a lot of stuff: golf, basketball, Draymond [Green],” Curry said. “We talked about the malaria cause I was there for. We talked about his wife's 'Let's Move' campaign. We talked about how if there wasn't snow on the ground in D.C., we would have gone out back and played on the blacktop.
“That was a copout by him. I'm sure he has some people who can shovel that snow.”
You'd have to be a hopeless grump not to enjoy Stephmania. Seems the usual curmudgeons — Charles Barkley, ESPN analysts — are offended by his two-year-old daughter's appearances, known as the Life of Riley. “I would prefer [players] not bring their kids, reporters are trying to do their job,” said Barkley, the relentless Warrior-baiter, who tends to get grouchy this time of year because someone is going to win the championship ring he never won.
I am a reporter in those press conferences, trying to do my job. And I am delighted by Riley Curry. The operative word is perspective, Charles. “There's no motive, just me and her hanging out,” a proud daddy said. “I'm gonna have to protect her, because I don't want to overexpose her. But I'm going to enjoy that time with my daughter no matter how many cameras are around. It's our time.”
Even if Barkley doesn't like it?
“I don't really care,” he said.
And, you know, why should he? Barkley is a big guy, figuratively and literally, but no one is bigger in sports right now than Stephen Curry.
Enjoy him, Planet Earth. He's yours for two weeks.