OAKLAND – Even the most strident Stephen Curry doubters are finding it hard to ignore the spectacular performances followed by an avalanche of praise and an unequaled statement of individual greatness.
There remains, however, the one percent.
Can’t be more than that, right?
There are those who, unimpressed by the continuous evidence, continue to doubt the authenticity of Curry as the most devastating force in the NBA today.
Even the most recalcitrant doubters would have to join the believers if Steph and the Warriors take down LeBron James and the Cavaliers for the second consecutive time in the NBA Finals.
Curry and the Warriors would become the only team with two wins over LeBron and a carefully crafted “super team.” LeBron lost twice to the Spurs, but the first time was with a clearly inferior Cleveland team in 2007. James two summers ago returned to the Cavs, joining All-Star guard Kyrie Irving and essentially authorizing the trade to acquire All-Star forward Kevin Love.
Irving and Love were not factors in 2015. They are now, so there can’t be even the slightest rumor of a manufactured asterisk should the Warriors repeat.
Curry has one ring. He has two MVP trophies, the second of which was the result of a unanimous vote. He has an endless array of video-game highlights. He leads a Warriors team that this season won 73 games, the most by any team in NBA history.
And, still, there are whispers and side-eye from locker rooms around the league.
And Curry shows no desire to return fire, at least with words.
“He doesn’t have to say anything,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He does his talking through his play.
“But he definitely is motivated by things that people say about him or things that he reads or anything like that.”
When Curry won the MVP award last season, there were pockets of envy around the league that surfaced when the players voted Houston’s James Harden as their MVP. Curry threw no shade upon Harden. Steph didn't even blink.
He simply came back even better, putting up one of the top five seasons in league history and winning another MVP, nabbing every first-place vote. He made over 400 3-pointers when nobody else had ever made 300. He shot higher than 50 percent from the field, better than 45 percent from beyond the arc and better than 90 percent from the free-throw line.
Curry’ season was, in a word, a masterpiece – and any player balloting that says otherwise is nothing less than grown men committing juvenile hatred in public, which is, I believe, a felony in the court of sport.
“It’s unconventional what he’s doing,” Warriors teammate Klay Thompson said of Curry. “Its never really been seen before, a guy that can dominate the game of basketball being 6-foot-3, 190 pounds. And he plays with such poise.
“Like I said before, he’s not the greatest leaper, not the fastest guy out there, but he does off skill and will. That’s why the hate he might receive or skepticism from past player or media, it just comes with the territory because they can’t believe their eyes.”
So the envy continues. It’s Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook describing Curry as “a shooter” and giggling at prospect of him being “underrated” as a defender. It’s LeBron rationalizing that Curry might have had the best season but may or may not be the league’s most valuable player. It’s Steph going through the better part of a season amid whispers that the Warriors’ championship was the result of a fortuitous procession of good luck.
Maybe it’s because, as Kerr says, Curry looks like he’s 12. Maybe it’s because his physique does not at all appear to be carved from rock. Maybe it’s because he plays such a pretty game that complete and total respect are so slow to arrive.
Perhaps it’s because Curry, unlike so many of his contemporaries, grew up in structure and comfort, blessed with two active and involved parents, his dad, Dell, being a highly regarded NBA player. Such a life can, for many, result in a soft athlete, predisposed to wilting under pressure.
We’ve seen enough to know that’s not Steph.
His upbringing was not that dissimilar from that of Kobe Bryant, who also was the product of relative wealth, his father, Joe, being an NBA player. The difference, however, is that Kobe was quick to gain the reputation as a competitive assassin. His “raw dawg,” conveyed with a sneer, was impossible to miss.
Steph’s “raw dawg” happens to lurk beneath a velvet veneer but has just as much bite.
If Curry leads the Warriors to another championship against these Cavs, and the one-percenters still don’t see it, how can they be anything other than willfully and irrationally blind?