Long Live the Chef
Believe me, I've avoided writing this essay. For a number of reasons.
For one, who hasn't written about Stephen Curry at this point? I thought about writing something on the guy last October, and then he came out and went Super Saiyan for the next six months (and counting). I certainly wouldn't have been the most original essayist then, but now? Ha.
Second, I fell in love with Stephen Curry the basketball player around the same time I started following a group of upstart kids whose franchise had just moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City. I've already written about how my love for the Pistons started to wane once the franchise traded Chauncey Billups to Denver, and even though I kept watching Pistons' games, it was moreso out of loyalty and habit than anything else. The Allen Iverson thing was never going to work, and I knew that in my soul the moment he got to Detroit. I'd watched Kevin Durant in college, I ardently argued that Portland should take him instead of Greg Oden, and I enjoyed seeing his highlights on SportsCenter whenever ESPN included those terrible Sonics games on their broadcast. Kevin's Sonics team sucked, but he continued getting the same buckets he got at Texas. The next year, the soon-to-be Thunder drafted Russell Westbrook, a raw combo guard out of UCLA, and team finished 23-59 after starting the season 3-29. Yeah, that’s not a misprint: they lost twenty-nine of their first thirty-two games. It was brutal. But, for some reason, I caught a lot of the team's last 50 games, and I saw something. The next year, they drafted James Harden out of Arizona State, Russell roughly figured out how to play with Kevin, the team went 50-32, made the playoffs, and sorta-kinda made Kobe and the Lakers work in their first-round matchup. I've been hooked ever since.
After making the NBA Finals in 2012, Oklahoma City's basketball team has stagnated, for lack of a better word. Injuries to Durant and Westbrook and the idiocy we know as the James Harden trade have prevented what I in all my biases declared a dynasty-in-the-making. Oklahoma City is absolutely still a contender – they just beat the San Antonio Spurs, and San Antonio won 67 out of a possible 82 games this season – but it just seems like they've squandered all the hopes and dreams I had for them. These playoffs have already shown us that the Thunder are one sprained MCL or one broken finger from getting the ring that's eluded them for a half-decade now. Unfortunately, I really don't see it for them anymore.
I never wanted to admit it, but the other night, after The Stephen Curry Show, recorded live from Portland, Oregon, I finally did.
Forty points. Nine rebounds. Eight assists. Off the bench. After he hadn’t played in essentially 3 weeks, because he slipped on some sweat and sprained his knee.
"I don't think I can be a Thunder fan anymore," I said to my roommate after the game as he walked to the kitchen.
"Tonight was the breaking point, huh?"
Yeah, it was. I want Stephen Curry to win everything, all the time, forever. This was, as Kanye said on one of those "School Spirit" skits, meant to be.
I could (and maybe should?) come up with some fantastic story about the first time I watched Stephen Curry play basketball. I don't have that story. I wish I did, because it would probably make this essay considerably more entertaining. Oh, well. You've gotten this far. I can only hope you won't leave now.
I do remember hearing his name going into the 2008 NCAA Tournament, this 6'3" light-skinned sophomore who'd led the obscure Davidson College to a perfect conference record while averaging 26 points a night on a variety of ridiculous jump-shots. Steph and Davidson played Gonzaga, the mightiest mid-major of them all, in the Tournament's first round and won behind Steph's 40. Next, they played Georgetown and won behind Steph's 30.
Then they played Wisconsin.
I do remember Wisconsin. Very, very well.
That game was at Ford Field in downtown Detroit, 20 minutes from my childhood house, where I planned to sit and watch the whole thing with my dad. By this point, Steph had become a self-constructed phenomenon, and I kept waiting for him to fold under the pressure. This 150-pound guy, at 19 years old, was giving the big boys 30 points every night under stadium lights when the gymnasiums in his conference might've seated maybe 2,500. LeBron was at the Wisconsin game. I couldn't comprehend how Steph kept showing up so big. A case of the yips would've been understandable, especially on that night.
March 28, 2008 was the night I decided I wanted to be like Stephen Curry when I grew up. His game was everything I wanted mine to be. A green light to shoot 30-footers? Heat checks when you're not even hot yet? I mean, look at what he does to this guy on this pump-fake. Look at this layup here. And click both of those links for me. Please. He's been ridiculous for 10 years now.
Oh yeah, they beat Wisconsin. By seventeen. They ended up losing in the next round to Kansas, but only by 2, and the legend of Steph Curry had already taken on a life of its own. He came back to Davidson the next year, and even though the team wasn't as successful as the year before, Steph was still … well, Steph. 44 points against Blake Griffin and Oklahoma. Another 44 against North Carolina State, with Bron-Bron in attendance for that one, too. Teams in his conference were so afraid of him by this point that one of them double-teamed Steph for the entirety of a game, daring Davidson's other players to beat them. Which they did, by 40.
Steph declared for the NBA Draft after that season, and even though folks seemed unsure of "how his game would translate to the pros," I was pretty pretty pretty sure a guy who can make 30-footers consistently would be a solid, if not successful, professional basketball player.
But, yeah. I never saw this coming.
The guy's ankles were made of papier-mâché like 36 months ago. At a point, it seemed like he was spraining one of his ankles every other day. Being able to shoot doesn't matter in the slightest if you can't run, or walk, or stand upright.
Steph stayed relatively healthy for really the first time in 2013, leading Golden State to a six-seed in the NBA Playoffs. Again, I'm biased, so of course I thought Steph would win, even against the higher-seeded Denver team they were scheduled to play, but he made that series look so easy. After getting past Denver in 6 (that series was apparently more difficult than I remember, but that's what the internet's for), they took that year's Spurs team to a 6-game series, and even though they ultimately lost, it felt like the start of something. They could've stolen Game 1 - and came damn close - and proceeded to win Game 2, in San Antonio. A few things break the Warriors way here-and-there, and they could've been ahead against the greatest dynasty of our generation, two-games-to-zero, headed back to Oakland. You never know what can come of these things. The Spurs were so much better than that iteration of the Warriors. But Stephen Curry, NBA Superstar was born during that playoffs.
And here we are: three postseasons, two Most Valuable Player trophies, and one NBA Championship later, with another one potentially coming in six weeks.
Who knows where this ends?
I mean, it's totally plausible Steph has reached his peak. You would think the numbers he put up this year are only replicable on 2K. Steph made 402 three-pointers this year in 79 games. Is that number 425 if he plays all 82? Could he push it to 450? Steph averaged 30 points a night in only 34 minutes. What happens if he plays another 4 or 5 minutes a night? Can he average 35 points a game? He shot 45% on three-pointers this year. Can he get it to 50%?
All the oldheads hating on Steph and the way he plays sound more and more senseless by the day. You're going to clobber a guy 30 feet away from the basket? You're going to tell your starting guards not to worry about pacing themselves and pick up the guy fullcourt? He's impossible to guard. He would've been impossible to guard in 1992, or 1985, or 1973. It's incomprehensible that a guy can be so accurate from so far way, but he is. I'm so jealous.
I hope he continues to break this game. It's so much fun to watch. I can safely say I watched more Warriors game than Pistons and Thunder games combined this season, cackling at the screen like a madman, in total disbelief of what I'm watching. I expect every three-pointer to drop, every ridiculous floater to somehow amount to two points. And half the time, they do. Must be a wonderful feeling to know you've got a fifty percent chance of success when you play the way he does. It just doesn’t make much sense.
On February 28, Steph and Golden State traveled to Oklahoma City. I was somewhere in Havana, Cuba. No television, no access to internet. My two favorite teams, and I'd completely forgotten the game was even happening.
Fast forward to my first contact with life in the United States, four days later, this time with limited internet access. Twitter was still talking about that game. Folks were saying Steph made some crazy 32-footer to win it. In overtime.
And at that moment, I was ready to leave probably the most beautiful place I'd ever been so I could watch Stephen Curry shoot an orange ball through a hoop, and in this instance, to beat the team I'm abandoning for him and his crew.
Man, he's a legend. Already. And we probably have another decade to go.
Long live the Chef.