“This one hits a little different.”
-Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors, four-time NBA Champion
With minutes left to play in Game Six of the NBA Finals, on the infamous parquet floor some 3000 miles from where he plays his home games, Steph Curry held his hands to his head in both joy and disbelief. He was visibly shaken, despite shooting the basketball at his usually, unconscious level. We, not him, are the ones who should be in disbelief.
Shortly afterward came the smile, a sign of both relief and accomplishment. And an exhale, the fourth of its kind, this one different, harder earned, considerably more vindicating than the rest.
It had been a while since we could call Steph Curry and his Golden State Warriors NBA champions. Three full seasons and a few career-threatening injuries had taken their toll. His Robin, Klay Thompson, didn’t play in an NBA game for 941 days. Even Curry missed time. Two years ago, playing without them both, this team finished in last place with only 15 wins.
A once dominant franchise, without its two best players, had become an afterthought.
This year, they regrouped, adding players like Andrew Wiggins who thrived in a lineup where he didn’t have to be its best player. Other young additions like Gary Payton II, Otto Porter, Jr., Jordan Poole and Kevon Looney filled key needs. They were just what the Warriors needed to put them back on top as the NBA’s best.
But this championship is all about Steph Curry. In all my years of watching him, I’m not sure I’d ever seen him cry. Not after he was overlooked in the 2009 draft, going seventh overall behind six other players who still don’t have rings. Not after he’d led the league in scoring multiple times. Not after he’d won his previous three titles. Not after he’d won the first ever, unanimous league MVP.
A lot had been made about Steph Curry never winning a Finals MVP Award, the first going to Andre Iguodala, the other two going to Kevin Durant. But make no mistake, this team always belonged to the baby-faced assassin. And he was always their best player. That’s right. I said it.
Steph Curry has been the driving force behind the Golden State Warriors throughout their championship run. This latest version, Curry 4.0 scored 34 on the road, in a close out game, in a series most figured would go back to San Francisco. He made sure that didn’t happen and is a champion once again.
Stephen Curry has changed the game, drastically, as all greats do. We openly talk about him being the best shooter we’ve ever seen. That is no exaggeration. It’s one of the few things we sports fans can agree upon with no player even running a close second.
And since you’ll now hear countless pundits rank his place in history, allow me to be among the first. Steph Curry is unquestionably a top-twelve player of all-time.
Michael, Magic, Larry, Wilt, Kareem, Russell, Kobe, Shaq, Duncan, Hakeem, LeBron and now Curry. All these men (except for perhaps Wilt) put franchises on their backs and said follow my lead to multiple championships. In their own way, they each changed the game. Feel free to put Curry anywhere on that list you want but he damn sure belongs.
These Warriors fought long and hard to get back to prominence when most had counted them out. Curry reminded everyone he has plenty left in the tank.
I’d like to say one more thing with absolute certainty. Steph Curry is currently setting an NBA record that will never be broken. Curry has made 3672 three pointers… and counting. That’s 300 more than the retired Ray Allen. That’s 700 more than the aging James Harden. That’s 1100 more than LeBron James. That’s 1500 more than Kevin Durant.
It’s hard to imagine ever seeing another player doing what Steph Curry does any better than he does it. He’s tougher and more resilient than any of us give him credit for. No player since Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan has won four titles with the same team. No franchise since Michael’s Bulls has won four titles in eight years. That’s why Curry belongs in the most exclusive conversation of NBA legends.
NBA greats share one immeasurable attribute, the killer instinct and sheer determination to be the best player on the floor and to win at all costs. Curry has that in droves, which is why this championship, his championship felt so different. After being eliminated last season, a season without Klay, Curry warned everyone no team would want to face the Warriors. He was right. They are once again NBA champions.
Even after 13 years, he has strengthened his game, all the while shooting the ball with remarkable consistency from wherever he pleases. He’s been a joy to watch, and the best part is, he’s not yet done writing his story.