The Evolution of Steph Curry

A couple of years ago, a Hayward, California school teacher, via a blog, asked Steph Curry not to come visit his high school as part of the NBA Cares community outreach program. Curry had just won the MVP and the backhanded slap was shocking, if not curious. The school was in a rough part of town, a place absent of dreamers out of necessity and the teacher didn’t think Curry, who grew up in privilege, could offer anything to his impoverished students that they could take away and use as inspiration. It was a ridiculous dressing down. Poverty doesn’t corner the market on hard working, overcoming adversity and persistence. Growing up privileged teaches values (and morals) too. Not to mention impoverished kids need achievers in their orbit, particularly those who have different experiences, like wealth, to show them what is possible. It was a very shallow perspective and on cue the teacher was slammed on social media and by the Warriors as being clueless and ineffective in his profession; he was depriving students of a valuable and memorable interaction.

2015 Steph Curry who had his invite yanked was just entering the limelight after several years of being a great shooter but an injured player. Everything was coming together as far as his talent reaching it’s highest potential on the court and that season Curry won his first title. But Steph was still considered an anomaly; there still were skeptics. A great shooter? Yes. A great player? It was one of the sports most intense debates.

Then the dream season came around. Steph had a brilliant eight months until that game 7. The Steph Curry questions were retired in the glow of his second MVP.  There is little ambivalence about his superstardom, nor whether he should be invited to speak to poor kids who need mentors and role models.

Comfortable in his NBA persona, older and more mature, Curry has the freedom now he didn’t have back then when the teacher dissed him. Curry can stand up to bullies, racists and the clueless in a way he didn’t before when he was trying to build his career. It is a change. This is a new Steph Curry.

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In less than six months, Steph Curry will be 30 years old. He has played 574 NBA games which ranks seventh in his draft class. He is second in points scored and Win Shares, only trailing James Harden in his draft class. He is first in three point percentage and the only one in his draft class to make 90% of his free throws. Five of his eight seasons he has made more than 50% of his two-point shots. In all eight seasons, he has made more than 40% of his three point shots. Two seasons ago, he was a member of the hallowed 50-40-90 club (50% from the field, 40% from three, 90% from the line). Seven out of eight seasons, his offensive rating has sailed past 110+. HIs last four years, his defensive rating has been 105 or lower. Six out of eight seasons, his PER has been over 20.0. Steph Curry is who we thought he was going to be. Sort of.

NBADraft.net said this about Steph in 2009:

He’s not a natural point guard that a NBA team can rely on to run a team. Can overshoot and rushes shots from time to time. Will have to adjust to not being a volume shooter which could have an effect on his effectiveness. Not a great finisher around the basket due to his size and physical attributes. Makes some silly mistakes at the PG position.

Even an eternal three point loving optimist couldn’t have imagined Steph Curry as the superstar he has developed into, nor the season he had two years ago, one of the greatest in NBA history. 30.1 points. 125 Offensive Rating. 31.5 PER. 66.9% True Shooting Percentage. Regardless of how it ended, that season was a hallmark for Curry, and it alone erased all those traumatic ankle injuries that had Curry wondering if he would ever be able to fulfill his promise.

The NBA has an underbelly of savagery whereas good men fail. What happens to a player in his career is predicated on luck, injury, work ethic and persistence. They all are the same on draft night, young and eager kids with dreams. But some dreams don’t always mature (Dwight Howard, Michael Beasley). Some players linger in the injury matrix. A notable few are worse than you thought. Many are better than you thought. Some are lucky. All of them change just for the fact they age in the sport.

Hearing Steph Curry lob criticism at Sports Illustrated for not including Colin Kapernick on their cover, one in which Curry was front and center, was a reminder that Curry is no longer that cheeky kid from Davidson who liked to take crazy threes. He is almost 30. He has had more injury ups and downs than a superstar like James Harden who was drafted four slots ahead of Curry. But Curry has been in the Finals three straight years and Harden has not. Curry was a record breaker with a glorious season and won back to back MVP’s and Harden has not. Curry is the reason Kevin Durant was possible.

A long time ago, when he was watching the NBA like kids do, there was a point guard Steph Curry wanted to be like, a magician with the ball and the dribble who moved in and out the lane. He wasn’t particularly fast but he got where he needed to go and he was a brilliant shooter but his shooting was not the greatest thing about Steve Nash. It was his handles and those crazy dribbles and making teammates better. That is who Steph Curry wanted to be when he was drafted in 2009.

It comes full circle now that he is a megastar with a $200 million contract. There is a kid in middle school looking at what Steph Curry is doing  and wants to be just like him, wants his handles and bombs and  floater at the rim- the scouts were wrong about that- but does that kid practicing perimeter heaves in his driveway want Steph Curry’s politics?
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Perplexed, Curry didn’t hesitate to question a venerable magazine such as Sports Illustrated. To Curry, it was an obvious, even blinding omission that made their recent cover reductive. How could you not put Colin Kapernick on the cover when the kneeling during the anthem movement was his mission? Sports Illustrated tried to justify it and their response was a weak defense; it hardly matters now and it isn’t the point. The point is Curry calling them out a week after telling Donald Trump he wasn’t going to shake his hand and smile in his face so Trump could tweet about how he was making America Great Again. Trump slammed Curry in one of his mindless Twitter posts which elevated Curry, not as a provocateur, but as someone who has a moral and ethical compass and principles.

Last year, Curry took Under Armour to task after their CEO, Kevin Plank, called Trump an asset and Steph said yeah, “If you remove the ‘et’ from asset”. Curry was so aggrieved about the ‘asset’ remark,  he talked to several people at Under Armour because he needed clarity about the company he was representing. Simply, what did they stand for? Steph Curry knows what he stands for. He now feels the freedom to say it.

Steph Curry has changed in all ways men change. He’s thoughtful but more willing to speak truth. He doesn’t have to prove anything about his game or himself. He’s self aware. He’s not that kid who the Warriors needed to make room for and so they traded Monta Ellis. He’s more than the two time MVP that some love, some are annoyed by. He can’t be defined by that shot Kyrie Irving made in his face. He’s more than those bombs he throws up, more than the dribbles and the pick and roll and twenty points in a quarter. His game entertains and so it misrepresents the depth of Steph in a way other stars never get misrepresented.  He still looks young and it’s a trick, an illusion; you think he has not grown up in the NBA. He has. Grown up.

Steph Curry is starting his ninth season. He’s 29 year old Steph Curry, most likely to win his third NBA title eight months from now. You think you know him but he’s not the same person he used to be when he made a teacher diss him in print. He is not the kid many of us wish lived next door.  A lot has happened since he was picked seventh in 2009, a lot of adoration and imitation, some heartbreaking outcomes and plenty of ecstasy.  His principles have been put to the test in a public put up or shut up way. He has not shut up.

Steph Curry is different now.

 

photo via llananba