Ordinary in size but celestial in talent
It is actually perfect for Stephen Curry’s legacy tale that it took four championships until he won the NBA Finals MVP award. It challenges you, once again, to contemplate his greatness differently. He is his own genre of alpha, not a checklist legend following some Hall of Fame manual.
Over the past eight years, as Curry vaulted from a promising player with tender ankles to the essential superstar of the Golden State dynasty, he changed the sport with more than just his unparalleled shooting. His entire game and persona call for us to amend the way we talk about stardom in the NBA. Curry’s ongoing dominance offers a new — and fuller — example of what it means to be “The Man” on a team.
Curry didn’t prove himself by finally claiming the trophy named after 11-times champion Bill Russell. It was confirmation of what we should already know: he’s a top-tier immortal in NBA history. And considering how good he looks at 34, he is far from done. But now that he has submitted a signature Finals performance to the record books, perhaps there can be uninterrupted appreciation of his diverse impact on the game.
Curry is a singular talent. The NBA has never seen anyone at his size have such a dominant, championship influence. He is listed at 6ft 2in now, which is funny because he was reported to be an inch taller for more than a decade. He must be shrinking in his old age. He is the shortest player to be the driver of a dynasty. If he is in your top ten to 15 players ever, he is bound to be the shortest player on that list. Basketball will always be a sport in which the most skilled tall person has the best chance to control the game. Curry manages to be both ordinary in size and celestial in talent.
“You’ve never seen a guy his size dominate the league like this and just to put the weight of everything on his shoulders throughout a Finals series,” Golden State forward Andre Iguodala told reporters on Thursday night. “We all saw what he was doing to them boys. Normally you get a guy that’s a centre, like an Hakeem [Olajuwon]. Or Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, those guys are 6-7 and taller, and they can get to their spots and shoot over guys.
“But a guy his height who is vertically challenged, they would say, just . . . you saw it, we all saw it. It was just incredible.”
For all his creativity and experimentation on the court, Curry still plays with plenty of self-awareness. The 30-footers are spectacular. His joy and showmanship make him a must-see entertainer. But he does not get enough credit for his situational awareness, his complete arsenal as a scorer, his aptitude as a floor general and his dedication to moving without the ball to help others get open.
Coach Steve Kerr compares Curry to Tim Duncan because they are both humble, selfless leaders. Iguodala, 38, is an 18-year NBA veteran who began his career playing with Allen Iverson in Philadelphia. He often worries about the diminishing reverence for greatness because of overexposure. As a longtime team-mate of Curry’s, Iguodala warns that, for as much as Curry seemingly has left in the tank, he cannot play for ever.
“We’re getting away from appreciating,” Iguodala said. “I call them gods — that very unique talent, generational talent. Because we are so close to them, we don’t appreciate them as much. When he’s gone, we’re really going to miss him and forget how much of an impact, not just on the Warriors or the NBA, but on the entire globe. You know, like he made the world move.”
Before Curry disassembled a superb Boston Celtics defence, many had used his lack of Finals MVP hardware to minimise him. How can a two-times regular-season MVP let other team-mates outshine him on the big stage? NBA discourse can be such a Hater’s Ball, full of too many rigid generalisations and forced comparisons between past greats and present, still-evolving stars. The arguments disrupt the enjoyment. It makes every player aspiring to be an all-timer seem like a human storage bin for accolades. It is awkward in a team sport, this constant individual legacy talk.
Iguodala was the Finals MVP in 2015. Kevin Durant won in 2017 and 2018. Curry played well in those three Finals, but he didn’t end up being the story. He just revelled in the success of his team-mates thriving in a system that Kerr built to leverage the pressure that Curry puts on defence.
“It all starts with Steph,” Draymond Green said at the beginning of the Finals. “When KD was here, our offence still started with Steph, and that’s the way it’s going to be.”
To be so accomplished, Curry is not obsessed with peeking at his résumé and pondering his place in basketball history. He does not need to prove he’s The Man. He lives that title every day. Carrying a franchise is not always about proving your individual greatness. In 2016, that responsibility led Curry to join the recruiting efforts for Durant, a tall and skilled player whose addition meant Curry would have to adjust. In 2019, when Durant left for Brooklyn, that responsibility required Curry to lead a younger roster. After two difficult seasons, the Warriors have not just won a fourth championship; they have a young core that could help to lengthen the careers of Curry, Green and Klay Thompson.
Curry is the epitome of a franchise player. Whether he is the focal point, the complementary star or the decoy, he is prepared to attack winning from all angles.
Early Friday morning in Boston, Curry rubbed his eyes as he sat in the interview room. He wore a black championship shirt, a white championship hat and goggles still specked with champagne bubbles. He listened to the first question. It was about winning the Finals MVP. He slammed his hands on the table.
“Forget that question!” he exclaimed. “Why you start with that question?”
He was annoyed. He was playful.
“We’ve got four championships,” he said.
You just know he’ll be thinking about No 5 soon.
• Jerry Brewer is a sports columnist at The Washington Post. He joined the Post in 2015 after more than eight years as a columnist with The Seattle Times