‘How much sugar is there in a glass of water?” a teacher asked her 6-year-old student.
After a pause, then a consultation that looked like a lifeline from a TV game show, the boy answered: “Zero.”
“Correct!” raved the teacher, joined in her round of applause by a familiar figure spending his off day speaking at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Oakland.
A bored and clock-watching megastar, Stephen Curry was not. In fact, he was shouting right along with the kids, bobbing his head to the rhythm as one half of the assembly yelled “Drink!” and the other screamed “Water!” It was an event on behalf of a water company he represents, but his message was grounded in a healthy initiative — to consume water, not sugar-based drinks — and it was far from Peyton Manning dropping “Budweiser” into his post-Super Bowl comments because he owns beer distributorships. As one of the planet’s most celebrated human beings, Curry could endorse any product, but he happened to choose one that might help children lead better and longer lives. Deal with it, Red Bull.
“It’s a treat to be here today,” he told his young audience.
Better, he meant it.
Everything about life excites Curry, even appearances that many athletes of his stature would approach half-heartedly or avoid. Now, it’s up to the world around him to not take this miracle for granted. If his exploits on a basketball court are superhuman, what he’s doing off the court is no less extraordinary. And in an industry where scandal and controversy are endless grist — sure, Maria Sharapova never checked the e-mail about newly banned substances; yep, Bryce Harper is right about baseball being “tired;” no, the 49ers aren’t doing nearly enough in free agency — Curry is a godsend who somehow meets every demand and checks every box of what we want in our elite sports people.
You never want to say never after all the criminal activity, all the performance-enhancing drugs, all the greed and arrogance, the many good guys who’ve gone bad. But after surveying Curry up close for a while now, I’m at n-e-v-e on the subject of whether he’d ever let down the public trust. Which is why I’m stunned — gobsmacked, actually — when anybody takes a circuitous route to criticize him or accept him as routine. Do they also find fault with holiday gifts and ice cream sundaes? And I’m not referring only to the geezer brigade of bitter players who’d love to knock Curry on his ass, not realizing he’d still have slipped away and drilled his lasers even under the old-school rules allowing hand-checking and physicality. I’m talking about the inevitable whiners who tire of a topic simply because they hear so much about it, which certainly should apply to Donald Trump and this Megyn Kelly cyborg but not to Steph Curry, not in a country where so much else is wrong and he is just right.
Appreciate this. Embrace a moment. Savor the human video game.
For he is a unique happening in our time, or any time.
In his most recent game, which resulted in the Warriors’ 57th win this season, Curry had a quiet evening by his standards … except for an interlude that now qualifies as one of sport’s must-see spectacles, the final seconds of any quarter when he has the ball. He wasn’t even near the midcourt stripe as time was expiring before intermission, but it didn’t stop him from breaking down Utah’s Trey Burke with a deft crossover, heaving a shot from 55 feet as Draymond Green knowingly raised his arms and, after the ball banked off the glass and into the hoop, directly racing through the tunnel — the very space where he shoots 55-footers as part of a pre-game routine that also is a 21st-century entertainment necessity. His coach, like the rest of us, could only marvel at the absurdity: What once would be a prime entry for a year-in-review highlight film is now a potential nightly moment in Steph’s World.
“It was a great exit. That was fantastic. It was like when Bo Jackson ran out of the stadium,” Steve Kerr said. “I’m glad he came back for the second half. When he shoots it, you know it has a chance. It’s incredible. I’ve never seen anybody that accurate from midcourt. It always looks good, even the ones that miss. He gives it a chance every time.”
Thirteen times, Curry has taken shots from 39 feet or farther this season. Five times, they’ve gone in. “That’s not a surprise anymore,” Green said. “As soon as he shot it, I knew it was going in. To say, ‘I know it’s going in’ is crazy, but you kind of get a feeling.” All of which underscores a running narrative: This might be the greatest individual season in basketball history, assuming the Warriors repeat as NBA champions and Curry continues to post better all-around efficiency numbers than Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and anyone else who has played the game. The movement is growing among voters to make Curry the league’s first unanimous Most Valuable Player, and as further proof, consider Kerr’s comments earlier this week. While bemoaning 44 turnovers in 36 hours and citing Curry for some blame when trying to “create the spectacular,” he also noted that Curry was “bailing out” the cause with electric shotmaking.
“We have guys who want to put on a show, and they should. That’s a big part of what makes it fun,” Kerr said. “What I’m trying to convince them of is, the simple leads to the spectacular.
“Steph’s going to make some crazy plays. The positive side is so dramatic that you have to live with some of that.”
Even when chiding Curry, he ends up praising him.
Let that be a lesson to the procession of oldtimers, those who rip Curry as another jumpshooter allowed to roam free in the modern era. To his credit, he hasn’t fired back much, saying only that it was “a little annoying” and “unwarranted.” If only Oscar Robertson and the critics spent time at Warriors games and practices, observed Curry’s work habits and infectious joy and understood his dedication to improve after a season in which he merely won a championship and MVP trophy. But it’s a better headline to doubt him.
“I’m telling you right now. They’re not gonna win the championship this year,” Warriors antagonist Charles Barkley told Stephen Colbert, who proceeded to bet Barkley a round of golf that Curry and his mates will win again.
I propose that Barkley, with his uglier-than-sin swing, play a round against Curry if the Warriors repeat. We all need a good laugh. Curry actually stole the show at practice when the world’s premier female golfer, Lydia Ko, stopped by the facility. They participated in a friendly putting competition, 94 feet across the hardwood, and damned if Curry didn’t almost nail the target. I know many athletes who would use the opportunity to brag about their golfing prowess and challenge Ko to a match. Not Curry.
“I don’t want that beatdown,” he said.
Rather, he was thrilled to meet her. “She’s so grounded,” Curry said. “I know she’s a big fan of basketball and what we’re doing here, but that’s the No. 1 golfer in the world. So just kind of seeing her attitude and temperament around this setting is pretty refreshing. I watch golf religiously, so now having met her, I’ll follow her career even closer. That excellence is very inspiring.”
But not as inspiring as the kids he visited the previous afternoon. To finish his water-related day, he agreed to let the kids drench him. What he didn’t know was that 10 cups would be dumped on him.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” shrieked the biggest athlete on Earth, grinning and laughing, loving life the way it should be lived.
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.