The Joy of Steph


I’m waaaaay up, I feel #Steph

By Andrew J. Pridgen

Steph Curry is becoming transcendent. A virtuoso. McConaughey behind the wheel.

To compare him to Russell in ‘62 or Bird in ‘84 or Magic in ‘87 or Jordan in ‘91 seems perfunctory. Prologue even. Curry isn’t playing basketball like any of those guys. He’s not even playing like any of those guys did in video games.

He’s starting to—wait for it—inch his way to being better than the sport. And not in the context of he just dominates for halves at a time. He does that; check. But in a way that he sometimes looks like the only player on the court (in history?) who figured it out ahead of time. It’s as if he was given film from today’s game yesterday knows exactly what to do even as he’s focused on tomorrow—which he already knows about. It’s shimmying out of a double-team here, the right drop-step there, backing up behind the line or sparking a floater in the lane. His presence goes beyond present and into clairvoyant.

It’s a little weird. Unsettling even.

So if Curry is to be compared, it’s probably more apt to say he’s Garland at Carnegie in ‘61, Satchmo returning to New Orleans in ‘65, Pryor at the Hollywood Bowl in ‘77 or Eddie Murphy in DC in ‘83. In that same way, Curry is best to be experienced live. And everyone in this generation will one day say they were there.

Merely attempting to describe what he does, how he makes you feel, is like trying to tell someone why they need endives for a certain recipe. His play is so visceral and life-like and so far away from chest-thumping, head-back screaming, dunk-with-your-junk-in-the-guy’s-face NBA we’ve grown accustomed to that for the moment, watching Curry makes one feel as if they’ve just deplaned at De Gaulle. You can’t quite say why, but things just feel better—the world a more civilized, more peaceful experiment.

Curry, Monday vs. San Antonio at home was exuberant. His coquettish smile during warmups betrayed his new-look goatee’d fierceness (Note to Curry: leave the facial hair to Bogut and Thompson—don’t hide that smile). But once the tip happened, he came out to play like it was his first CYO appearance after Christmas break.

He is Mozart. He is Shakespeare. He is Quincy Jones. He is Ron Jeremy. He does it till physically he should be unable to…and then he keeps going with a curl of the lip and a wink to the crowd. At first it’s like this guy’s pretty good. Then he’s great. Then he’s unbelievable.

Then he’s just messing with you.

He creates. He doesn’t play the game the same way it’s drawn up. Xs and Os in Curry’s world are kisses off the glass and hugs to teammates. Yes, he runs the famed triangle but floats above it all. When he drives the lane, he does it like lovers ambling toward one another in a wheat field. And when he sinks one from 35-plus, he skips and sticks his arms out like when a child impersonates an airplane. Then he takes off, ascending to the scoreboard like the rooftop chase in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and touches down with impossible accuracy like a SpaceX rocket.

His is not mere game as much as it is a tribute to his forefathers. Showing their ghosts in the rafters what was once only possible in dreams or during practice when nobody was looking. Curry’s is the deconstruction of basketball. If Bird’s inbred sense of how to find the ball mixed with Magic’s sleight of hand and you added in a dash of Jordan’s how the fuck did he do that—but from street level—you get Steph. He’s an aggregation of his predecessors and yet, the sum of him seems, well, wholly different.

Maybe it’s because Curry came to it like a mortal. He didn’t just rip off the glasses and the $200 suit one day to become Superman—complete with Superman tats. He did it taking baby steps and overcoming self-doubt and injury. He showed flashes of his NBA lineage at Davidson during the 2008 tourney when his 10th-seed Wildcats knocked out Georgetown and Wisconsin before Kansas took care of them in the Elite Eight. A hopeful if not redundant (the Warriors had an All-Star caliber point guard in Monta Ellis) seventh overall pick in 2009 for a DOA franchise, Curry’s first three seasons were marred with uncertainty and fragility, swilling the dregs of the NBA at the bottom of the Western Conference.

After finishing the 2012 season playing only 26 games, the Trade Curry rumors or Curry Should Take His Spice to Europe epithets ran the headlines.

So he went to work. The NBA’s everyman, all 6’2⅝”ths of him became a legendary presence at the Warriors’ practice facility. You know the story: He took more shots than a bachelorette party. He kept longer hours than the vending machines. Then there was the dribbling. Then came the defense. Then back to shooting.

Then all three gelled.

Curry’s pregame warmups are now stuff of legend. It’s like watching David Lee Roth practicing high kicks backstage prior to headlining the US festival. It’s not for show. It is to get that intricate and immortal engine firing.

On Monday it was Curry vs. reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard. It was supposed to be a Lethal Weapon 3-type clash of explosive and ergonomically implausible proportions, but what happened instead was as lopsided as Wall Street vs. the rest of America. Which is an apt comparison to Curry right now, but for the fact that he seems too good to fail. Plus, he takes everyone along for the ride with him.

In the early minutes, Curry scored eight straight points in an 88-second span including a 30-footer that made the net reach back for the ball and a behind-the-back reverse layup straight out of JV tryouts to put the Warriors up 14-7. And that was Curry in first gear. He went on to finish the first quarter with 15 points and three steals, becoming the first player to do so in a single quarter against San Antonio in more than a decade.

“He has ridiculous shooting range, so it distorts the whole chessboard,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “Steph obviously embraces any challenge.”

Golden State’s offense reached the 100-point mark with 6:21 remaining. By then Curry and a quartet of Warriors’ starters were sitting and watching their surrogates finish out the league’s best defensive team, since, well—ever.

“In every facet of the game, it was men against boys,” San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich joked.

Correction: The Man…against boys.