A look back at "Chef" Curry's Unanimous MVP Season
An analysis of Steph Curry's influence on basketball and how it has evolved to accommodate his persona.
A folk tale is something passed-on orally, something we hear, hold to dearly as we interpret, and then, once we alter them a bit them with charged passions, we send them out into the world. These tales offer us myths; stories of struggle, triumph; characters we can lie about. And we love such people!
Very few things in a social setting offer as much satisfaction as talking about the hottest topic to an eager audience; a topic that won't exhaust itself. Steph Curry is that topic; Curry is the modern day legend who is reworking the vocabulary as we squander hyperboles on him; he is that hero who seems to always be bigger than the hype. And what has did he do (the follow-up is a chronological series of events from the 2015-16 Warriors campaign)?
*His team, the Oakland-based Golden State Warriors, started the season 24-0. An NBA record!
*The Warriors then went on to win 48 games straight at home. A streak that started in the previous season. An NBA record!
*His team is 59-6 (58-5 with him). On pace to beat the Jordan led 95-96 bulls team’s NBA record of 72 regular season wins!
*With 23 games left in the season Curry surpassed the previous record of 288 three pointers made in a season. A record he held himself!
*With 21 games left he became the first player to have 300 made three pointers in a season; and is on pace to be the first player to have over 400 made three pointers if he is uninjured and continues to score at the rate at which he has been doing for the first 66 games.
*Curry broke Kyle Korver’s record for most consecutive games with a made three pointer. It stands, as of today, at 135.
*Curry is on pace to become the second player in NBA history to have a 50-45-90 season. And he is doing this while leading the league in scoring at 30.5 points per game.
*Curry is set to shatter Wilt Chamberlain’s player efficiency rating record that’s stood since the 62-63 season. His rating, with 16 games left in the regular season, is 32.2. The second is Russell Westbrook at 27.9. To present a better picture on how important it is for Curry to be on the floor, he has a league-leading 14.3 win shares; the second is Westbrook with 11.8.
*But perhaps the most significant statistic that would assist in understanding what the fuss with Curry is about is the league office releasing the candidates for the year end awards. He is the front runner to receive the Most Valuable Player award, and be, most likely, the first unanimous MVP.
But he also features in the list of players who are considered for the Most Improved Player award. He is the reigning MVP— the Warriors are the defending champions! Curry was recognised as the best player in league last year— so singular has he been this year that the league could not help but take notice of his improvement on a year to year basis.
Even architects of the 2K Series are struggling to cope with what Curry is doing on the court. In a recently released statement, Mike Wang, gameplay director, admitted that the video game avatar of Curry does not measure-up to what we are witnessing. A mid-season bump from 93 to 98 overall rating has made Curry the second greatest NBA player of all time (to Michael Jordan), but still, the fact that he is written into a code shows in the gameplay; there is nothing inhuman about the 2K-Curry.
It’s a tale that now sits SO well.
*A skinny kid, run out of Division 1 basketball, who went on to lead the NCAA in scoring.
*A baby-faced baller raining three pointers hours after he was mocked on national TV for not being able to dunk in game-time.
*A collegiate player drafted 7th— and this despite leading the league in scoring. A player called “paper ankles.”
*An NBA rookie who was given a stiffarm by Golden State’s resident star Monta Ellis in his first preseason practice.
*A NBA starting guard who would cringe on the operating table in his 3rd season, allowing doctors to work on his ankles as he heard broadcasters read out eulogies.
*A frail sharpshooter who taught himself to handle the ball better than anyone else on the court in route to an MVP and a championship. Through-out telling himself what was once a consensus opinion— that Curry could not handle, and he was too small to play 2-guard.
It’s an amazing story!
But it falls flat on its face if you’ve never seen him play!
You have to have an idea of what it all means - the "Curry shake,” the step-back three, Mike Terico yelling “Curry’s cooking” as he nails a half court buzzer beater.
Curry is shooting the ball better than anyone has— doing so from further than anyone has— and doing it in an effortless manner.
He creates space even when he's 35 feet from the basket— allowing his team to be the league’s most efficient offence.
His step-back shots when guarded by taller players have become instant hits on youtube. And his quick release, the pressure with which he cocks his wrist and pushes through is being studied by Sports Science.
But who he is— the player he is— that is perhaps most visible in his pregame warmups. For two hours, it seems Curry runs through the plays he is about to perform— it appears like the first act in a play that people fail to watch, and so, never get the complete picture. The half-court shots— the the circus shots— the toss-ups— once you see him do it in practice it becomes obvious Curry’s already written the lines— he's just reading it out loud before a crowd.
Curry’s like a forged katana; he’s tested— and when he has to dice through…the game— it all appears so easy. It is this rehearsal that allows Curry’s to play the tune— to appear to do unbelievable things impromptu that in fact are nothing but exercised motions.
Malebranche said “Concentration is the natural piety of the soul.” That is, to be able to be one with a task, to aspire to be as honest in an endeavour as one is when reciting a prayer or begging forgiveness. Heidegger would quote Malebranche over and over— telling his students in Nazi Germany to find God in a silence shared with a book, a silence in which festered some knowledge waiting to be understood.
There is a piety in watching Curry— there is a relatability that Jordan lacked. Basketball fans were in awe of Jordan— he beat you into admitting his place atop the totem pole. With Curry, he permits comparison— he allows us to think, maybe we could shoot a shot he shot. And this facilitates the exaggeration— the making of the Curry myth. The fact that, for an instant, he is only as good as the ordinary grants us license to ordain him the high priest of basketball.
Heidegger said “the Sciences only have answers, the arts, only questions.” Statistically Curry, is having one of the greatest seasons a player has ever had, and certainly the greatest since Jordan’s retirement with the Bulls. The numbers, staggering, urge us into a “wowwwww.”
But the artistic aspect of Curry’s game proffers just as much. The crossovers, the juke— left and a right— the continuous dribbling— when Curry does make-a-go for the basket it immediately rests as a reference point. There is a historicity about his game— Jerry West, Larry Bird, Nate “Tiny” Archibald, they all appear from within. Metaphors abound— he appears as a revised edition of the best of basketball.
But most often— he appears average; like the guy you could catch shooting shots by himself at the neighbourhood gym. His art appears complete because he brings to us, on a modern canvas, caught in tension, the overachievement of potential. Curry is readily relatable because he is today what he was never meant to be. He is a best case scenario—and there is a divinity about that.
Curry is a masterpiece; the knot the binds basketball in a full-circle as far as guard play is concerned. Guard play started with Dave Bing and Jerry West; thin white men who could shoot the opposing team out of the gym. This was the 60’s. Through the 70’s and the 80’s basketball saw a change in colour; the backcourt was dominated by athletically gifted black men. Players who physically imposed on smaller, weaker guards.
In the 90’s we saw this form of basketball reach its zenith in Michael Jordan. Perhaps the most physically gifted athlete to play basketball; a player who was sure enough of what his body was capable of doing that he allowed his mind to psyche opposing guards out of the game. We’ve seen guards go all ways since— Ray Allen shot his way into the record books as the all time leader in three point field goals made, Vince Carter was the dunk king till age caught up and Kobe Bryant entertained as a metrosexual Jordan.
With Curry, we go back to Jerry West, the player immortalised in the NBA logo. With Curry, we at once, revisit the best that was, and witness the product of the agencies of human improvement— we see an update. Even his ethnicity, Caucasian and African American, allows us to wonder— offers him to all— and creates a celebratory song.
Curry is like Chagall’s nostalgic cry to the past in I and the Village— Chagall’s joyous embrace of moments lived through and those un-lived that he imagined and suffered through; Curry is an image so complex that he virtually controls the history of the NBA and its hopes. A logo, like West, who permits interpretation; who allows the world audience to once more be captivated by something more-than-ordinary, something missing since Jordan retired in 1998. Curry is today popular culture; like Michael before him. It’s cool for The President to run his name off along the campaign trails, eschewing a subliminal feeling of well-being.