Stephen Curry drives past Mario Chalmers. (Credit)
Everyone has an affinity for the games they watched as a child. For the most part, I happened to grow up in a pretty crappy era of basketball. My formative years, the ones where I actually began to learn the game instead of just watching it, featured far too many Spurs titles, one out of Detroit that still doesn’t make sense, and such a ridiculous officiating atrocity in Miami that I was just called for a personal foul on Dwyane Wade for writing this column.
There was one exception, though. It’s been 12 years, yet my buddy Macklin (another TSP basketball writer) and I generally can’t go longer than 20 minutes without our conversation devolving into a breakdown of the 2001 playoffs, and not because it was the last year Milwaukee will ever be allowed in the Conference Finals. It was because of the individual greatness of one player. I call this "Iverson’s Law."
As you probably guessed, it’s named after Allen Iverson, who spent six weeks that spring making the nine-year-old me shout “holy s***!” Just as a point of reference:
He scored 35 or more points 12 times.
He scored 40 or more points 8 times.
He scored 45 or more points 5 times.
He scored 50 or more points twice. In the same series.
Yes, I’m sure Michael Jordan has done this at some point, and yes, we have modern guys like Kevin Durant and LeBron James, but there was something surreal about watching Iverson do it. Maybe it was because his teammates are all either currently working at Dairy Queen or teaching PE in their hometowns. Maybe it was because he was below six feet. Maybe it was because when Iverson got hot you never, ever left the room.
Point is, after seeing such a superhuman performance in the first real spring that I spent following basketball, I was naturally disappointed to find that things like that don’t happen every year. In fact, I’m almost surprised the Spurs and Pistons didn’t ruin basketball entirely for me. Gimme a break, it’s hard to appreciate that style when you don’t yet have facial hair. By the time LeBron broke my heart in 2010, I’d come to terms with the fact that I’d never see anything like Iverson ever again.
And that’s where Stephen Curry comes in. He’s spent the past month morphing into a character from NBA Jam who literally catches fire after making a few consecutive shots. He has somehow gone from someone who could only negotiate an $11 million per year contract (note: that’s less than Nic Batum) to the league’s most fun player to watch.
When Stephen Curry gets hot (and in the playoffs, that meant the third quarter) we see things that defy every shred of logic and knowledge that we have. The game devolves from a five-on-five chess match to a playground game where Curry tells the other team “I’m going to score every time, try and stop me.” It’s like he’s playing on an entirely different plane than everyone else; it’s basketball in its purest form.
So let’s put him to the Iverson test. At 6’3’’ he’s a bit taller than AI, but he’s so skinny that it almost makes up for it. His teammates aren’t quite as bad, but he’s playing for an organization that has been so historically terrible that their fans openly booed their owners during the jersey retirement of their greatest player (Chris Mullin). Maybe circumstances are different, and Iverson might have the edge, but the final category is one that they share.
When Stephen Curry gets hot, you never, ever, EVER leave the room. Under no circumstance. If you have, feel free to turn in your basketball fan card. And sure, LeBron has given us doses of that, but he’s such a physical freak that it’s hard to be too impressed. And yes, other guys may have been better overall in the playoffs, but nobody has dazzled like Curry has. Curry almost feels like a shooting star. We don’t know where it came from, we don’t know how long it will last, but when it’s there it’s impossible not to enjoy.
It’s also what makes us just a bit too cautious when we watch him. Iverson’s flame burned for over a decade, but never quite as bright as it did in 2001 because he treated his body like a cheap hooker and his team was so poorly managed that Billy King is now running the Nets (because really, the surest sign of doing a bad job in the NBA is getting hired again. Cut to Vinny Del Negro nodding solemnly).
Curry is smarter. He plays for a team better suited to his abilities and an organization that seems primed to at least consistently make the second round of the playoffs. His game is much easier on the body because of his shooting and because his teammates can carry the load on his off nights.
But his ankles just never seem totally right, and I think that’s why they lost to the Spurs. Mark Jackson is getting dangerously close to ruining him just as Mike D’Antoni did with Amar’e Stoudemire by refusing to rest him. And honestly, the Warriors don’t exactly have a great track record of luck.
So enjoy Curry while you can. He’s completely and utterly one-of-a-kind, a breathtaking talent who has captured the essence of video game basketball better than any player in a decade. Let’s just hope that can translate into a long, meaningful NBA career.
By: Sam Quinn