Last night, there were two people born in Akron, Ohio who garnered all the attention. The loyal son, the one who returned from exile, came in second. The other son, the one raised down south, prospered. Steph Curry returned to the Ohio arena responsible for his team’s greatest triumph. Refusing to feast on memories of what happened last June, Curry began a new Quicken Loans chapter that had the same brutal ending for the locals: more suffering heaped on the state where Curry was born. He (and teammates) dismantled, demoralized and dared the Cleveland Cavaliers to stop the brilliance of the Warriors ground game. Everything the Cavaliers did failed miserably. Everything the Warriors and Curry did flourished beautifully. It was not a fair fight between these two. One had a butter knife. The other had a machete. And that is what made it so epic.
Every NBA decade, by virtue of the athletes that walk through its doors at various ages of mental and physical maturity, have had the hyper-talented fall short, stopped in their tracks because of one iconic player that dominates everyone else. Michael Jordan kept rings from Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and John Stockton. Kobe Bryant kept rings from Allen Iverson, Reggie Miller, Dwight Howard- and he denied that precious second title to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
The way the script was written, LeBron James was supposed to get to 3 NBA titles, at the very least. Four seemed like a realistic possibility. He is the most iconic player of his generation. He has played the most minutes. Scored the most points. Been the center of the NBA universe. But, LeBron James now has company. And Steph Curry is closing the LeBron James window. LeBron James title haul may just stop at 2.
Last week, when the Lakers came to Oracle in Kobe Bryant’s last visit, a lot was made of the “make history” edict Bryant heaped upon Draymond Green and Steph Curry, and scribbled on game shoes handed over to Green. But what was even more profound for the Warriors intelligentsia to hear was when Bryant, one of the league’s most insightful athletes, said of the Warriors:
“It’s their time. It’s their time to step up and play and see how many championships they can win. Now it’s important for them to carry it forward.” (Kobe Bryant)
It is. The Warriors time. All great teams have seized upon their moment. The Lakers and Celtics did it in the ’80’s. The Pistons followed up. Then the Bulls. The Rockets took advantage of a league without MJ. Then the Bulls came back strong. The Spurs won in Duncan’s second year. Then Kobe-Shaq obliterated the league with their dominance.
Ever since LeBron James entered the league, he was seen as leaving this game as the greatest player ever. But he had to win titles to supplement that narrative.
LeBron James lost the first two NBA titles he played in. He won the next two. He lost two more. Jordan and Kobe set a high bar for perimeter players at 6 and 5 titles respectively.
A decade of LeBron James winning and losing has tainted the NBA landscape. But now Curry is here. He is in his prime. He is better at what he does than every other single person playing basketball, here or in Europe or in Asia or in South America. As Kobe mentioned, Curry’s time is now. LeBron’s time was a few years ago when he didn’t take advantage of the titles he had in his grasp.
You can’t get time back.
If Curry wins a title in June, he will have the same number of titles as LeBron James. He will be on track to do what Jordan, Kobe and John Havlicek did as perimeter players, the only three in NBA history to three-peat. That would set up a different kind of LeBron James ending, one no one ever would have expected. LeBron James chasing Steph Curry for the rest of his career.
photo via llannaba