You do understand what we’re witnessing here, right? It’s a MOMENT, deserving of all caps and exclamation points and emojis, a twinkling in time when one’s appreciation of sports crystalizes through the scandals and greed. Not only is Stephen Curry reshaping the prism in which basketball is watched and the way singular and team greatness are measured, he’s presenting the very photo album we want from our cherished athletes, that of a grounded 27-year-old everydude with a beautiful family and nothing in his life that gives us the slightest pause.
He is a 21st-century miracle — transformative yet uncomplicated, obsessed yet joyful, gifted yet relatable, all-conquering yet slight of body, the fifth-highest-paid player on his team yet not the least bit miffed about it, the NBA’s best player and burning to be even better with neurological advances and drills that have made him quicker and smarter while extending his three-point shooting range to, oh, Napa, where his game should be toasted with the finest vintage.
And how fortunate are we that the miracle is playing here, in a cozy old arena in the Bay, creating dancing images that appeal to little kids and grandmas and every demographic in between?
“I’m as tall as he is,” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver, explaining part of Curry’s appeal. “He’s slighter, but he’s incredibly skilled, and it says a lot about where this league has gone. You don’t need to be physically overpowering to dominate. But mentally, he’s just like those guys.”
The all-time greats, he means.
I was fortunate to cover the Michael Jordan dynasty years, beginning to end, in Chicago. I assumed I’d never be remotely close to a similar extravaganza of on-court dominance, dazzling nightly entertainment and pop-culture sideshows. The Curry Flurry is starting to inch toward that rarefied air where the entire world is checking in, and while he’ll need more NBA championships to warrant any sort of long-form comparison to Jordan, they are being mentioned in the same context.
“Like Michael Jordan was a whole other thing, this guy is his own thing. It’s beautiful for basketball,” said Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett, the future Hall of Famer, among the Warriors’ victims amid a flawless start in the season’s opening weeks.
It now should be apparent that Curry, somehow, is better than last season, when he pulled off the rare double of a league title and Most Valuable Player award. He no longer is guardable, limited only by himself when his shots don’t go in or, as seen last May, when he recklessly tumbles onto the hardwood and hurts his head. He already has four 20-point quarters this month — for perspective, Russell Westbrook led the league with four all last season — and Curry is a threat every game to go for 50 or 60 or more. Remember when we wondered if the health-related absence of Steve Kerr, the coach who raised Curry’s performance level to an MVP zone, might lead to a regresssion?
“I feel like I’m a better player this season,” Curry said.
So, that settles that. Kerr’s interim, Luke Walton, is left to produce even more grandiose tributes. “I think he’s setting the new standard of being the greatest shooter this league’s ever seen,” he said. “What he does is incredible — the range, off the dribble. The bigger the moment, it seems the more often they go in.”
Said the Timberwolves’ Shabazz Muhammad: “When you get up on him, he just shoots the ball from farther out. It looked like he was shooting it from dang near halfcourt.” That’s because he is, routinely sinking shots from 30 feet and beyond, some synched exquisitely at the buzzer. No athlete in sports is more compelling and electric. No athlete is more popular, based on his soaring merchandise sales. No athlete is getting more attention on ESPN, shocking given the network’s regional biases. And the most refreshing aspect of Curry? When the questions are about him, he shifts the answers to the Warriors.
“Any time you can do something that hasn’t been done in franchise history, it’s huge,” said Curry, speaking of the team’s best-ever start. “It doesn’t mean we’ve won the championship or anything like that, but it’s definitely a good start to the season. We just want to keep it going.”
The buzz numbers right now are 16-0 and 70. Because the Western Conference looks weaker than expected — Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis already are hurt, the Grizzlies may fire their coach, the Clippers are in typical chaos, the Rockets don’t focus and even the Spurs are figuring things out — the league’s best start ever looks attainable for the Warriors. No. 16 would come a week from Tuesday at Oracle Arena, against the Lakers, a fine way to tell Kobe Bryant that it’s time to retire. If the Warriors pull that off, they’ll trigger talk of a 70-win or even a 72-win season, accomplished only by the Jordan Bulls.
“We can obviously talk about it and stuff,” Curry said, “but we’ll talk about how hard of a task that is and how great that Bulls team was.”
Until opponents show they can slow Curry, much less stop him, anything looks possible. “I’m always confident. I’m not really surprised when I do something crazy,” he said himself. “The way I practice is the way I play out there — and trying to let that show.”
When he practices, he’s firing balls from halfcourt, fullcourt, the deli down the street in downtown Oakland if they’d let him. “I always believe 3 is better than 2,” Curry said. “If I can knock ‘em down, I’m sure that will help our team kind of open up games and it’s kind of deflating for a defense.”
Deflating. Demoralizing. Defeating.
That’s just what he does at the office. When Curry goes home, he’s a father and husband. It’s a picture that sports is desperate to see, given the relentless trail of trouble that has shaken our faith in athletes. He also lets the outside world peek inside, a rarity amid the paranoia of public life. His world-famous daughter, Riley, made her modeling debut for Freshly Picked; a video, including mom Ayesha, shows her running around in moccasins for the children’s shoe brand.
But the best glimpse of Stephen Curry, homebody, came when he tweeted this the other night: “So, my Wife bought me a new toilet for our house. You know, one of those automatic ones. And i’m Hype!!! Yep That’s it, Goodnight! #blessed.”
Yes, we are blessed.
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.