Admire, if you dare, the inflated post-deflation numbers of Tom Brady. Salute, as you should, the Grand Slam flirtations of Jordan Spieth and Serena Williams. Even think out of the box, or the barn, and consider American Pharoah as the sporting figure for whom we’ll remember 2015. Or congratulate the small-market Kansas City Royals for finally making the mad dash home that didn’t happen against the Giants last autumn, when the runner stayed on third base.
All that said, there is only one sportsman/woman/person/equine of the year.
“We are going to put three guys on him tonight,” said the Memphis coach, David Joerger, who wasn’t kidding Monday evening.
And Wardell Stephen Curry II still managed 30 points in a breezy 28 minutes in a 119-69 crushing of the Grizzlies, giving him a collective 148 for his first four games of a season in which he was supposed to be exposed, marginalized, Obama-ized, overfatigued after the Summer of Steph — you know, flicked away and bullied out of his MVP award and Larry O’Brien Trophy by James Harden, Anthony Davis, LeBron James and the so-called real warriors of the NBA.
Taking it all in, Draymond Green looked at Curry during one euphoric moment and said, “Man, you’re acting like this is your league.”
That’s because this IS his league, still.
And his world, too, as I’d expect Sports Illustrated to realize upon announcing its Sportsman of the Year next month, giving the Bay Area two such awards in 12 months after Madison Bumgarner’s tollsome World Series masterpiece.
“It’s about us, not about sending a message,” Curry said afterward. “We know we’re capable of being better than we were last year. We have so much potential in here, so much talent, we don’t want to waste it.
“It was a fun night.”
Yes, he is having fun. He’s dancing with fans at courtside. He’s doing a shimmy while sitting on the hardwood after a three-pointer. He’s hurling himself into Green and Festus Ezeli for chest bumps. He’s throwing a crazy-ass reverse layup very high off the glass, with a kiss, over Courtney Lee. He’s dropping a bounce pass between Jeff Green’s legs. And look who’s coming to town Wednesday night?
The hated Clippers, the team whose coach suggested Curry and the Warriors benefited from “luck” last season. I think Doc Rivers is catching You Know Who at a bad time.
“I’ve always had confidence. You just get better as a player and try to take it to another level. So that’s what I’m trying to do this year,” Curry said. “I’m blessed to be healthy. I’m feeling pretty energetic, pretty strong out there on the floor, playing free, just having fun, so usually good things happen when all that comes together.”
His bandmates are running out of words. “I think Steph always has it going, to be honest,” said interim head coach Luke Walton, whose stress level in taking over for Steve Kerr has been reduced by Curry’s flurries. “I’m serious. I believe if he wanted to come out and score massive amounts of points, he could do it every single night. I see him shoot every day, and I’ve come to realize that he never really has an off day.”
Said Klay Thompson: “He’s the best player in the league, and he’s the MVP for a reason. He’s kind of always in the zone.”
We now realize Curry has no intention of relinquishing what he earned and what belongs to him. Because somehow — thus far, anyway — he looks prepared to be even better this season than he was during his breakthrough last season. He has the laser-glazed focus and carefully tuned refinement of a consumed man who has systematically recorded all the latest slights and is determined to quiet them again. He has been shutting up detractors since he was a teen, when they said back in Charlotte that he was too slight and mechanics-challenged to make it big like his father. So, Steph went out and became better than Dell — and, before he’s done in 10 years or so, quite possibly any small guard in basketball history. It’s time to start thinking in the most magnificent terms and understand that Curry, in addition to revolutionizing the sport, wants to play at a level higher than Steve Nash, Isiah Thomas, Allen Iverson, Chris Paul and — this may shock you — Jerry West among the greatest 6-foot-3-and-under players ever. All he needed to prove was that last season wasn’t an aberration or a miracle but a beginning.
Already, he has done so.
It’s not that he had a 24-point first quarter after the ring ceremony on Opening Night. Or a 28-point third quarter en route to a 53-point storm in New Orleans on Saturday night. Or a 21-point third quarter Monday. Or that his 148 points are the highest in a season’s first four games since Michael Jordan in 1991. Or that he was named the league’s Western Conference Player of the Week.
“Do you get a plaque for that?” he kidded.
No, what distinguishes Curry is that he looks very comfortable within his new, outsized place in global life. We weren’t sure how he’d respond after seemingly doing every TV show, every commercial, every appearance and every opportunity offered over the summer. Little did we know he was working hard on the side, every day, in particular on cognitive drills with neurological technology designed to help him make quicker, smarter decisions. Remember when he said he wanted to be a smarter player? We’re well into the 21st century, and here in techie heaven, you think Curry isn’t going to use the best advances available?
But beyond that, it’s always going to be a motivational game for him. When the New Orleans coach and former Warriors assistant, Alvin Gentry, had the gall to herald his new star, Davis, at Curry’s expense — “We got the best player in the NBA, not named LeBron James,” he said — well, you think Curry was gnawing on that insult as he went for 53 in 36 minutes? His teammates let it be known that Gentry’s comment didn’t sit well with him. Nor did the senseless jabs by Harden and Ty Lawson, both of whom started the season poorly in Houston and were victimized by Curry on Friday night. It’s as if we’re watching Stephen Curry’s Revenge Tour.
At some point, everyone will stop jabbing and realize that he could win back-to-back MVPs. The crowd couldn’t stop chanting “MVP! MVP!” as the Warriors won their fourth straight without a loss.
As a humanitarian, of course, Curry could be a Sportsman of the Year candidate every year. His work on the malaria crisis is what first piqued President Barack Obama’s attention and he continues to donate to his Nothing But Nets campaign with every three-pointers he makes. In complex times when athletes can’t avoid trouble, Curry is a godsend to the sports industry, a showman but also a handsome family man with a cute kid adored by all and another cute kid soon to do her own thing. He fears his Lord, points to the heavens after every shot and relates to the masses as the jumpshooter in the driveway.
The other day, after his 53-point spree, he showed up at a shopping mall with his wife and kids, like you or me or anyone else, except he wore a zebra mask. If the idea was to avoid attention, it didn’t work, but Curry’s ego is such that he still doesn’t grasp his magnitude among the masses. He’s just the Everyguy. Before tipoff Monday, he tweeted of his favorite NFL team, which was playing at the same time: “And go @Panthers. 2 wins tonight?”
Carolina won and remained unbeaten.
Then the Warriors won and remained unbeaten.
Tell me: Will he ever lose again?
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.