In a year when Presidential politics is a fixture in the daily news cycle, another campaign is brewing on the west coast. The Golden State Warriors are a stone’s throw away from having the best regular season record in the history of the NBA. We’ll have to wait a few more games to see if they reach this lofty achievement but this one thing I know – I’ll be glued to the television every time my local cable stations carry their broadcast.
That is because of one player on their team – Stephen Curry. Don’t get me wrong – they have a great team. Having been a high school player and coach myself I love team basketball. But I also love individual greatness. And right now Stephen Curry is doing things that we have never seen before on a basketball court.
I don’t think that’s overstating it. In my youth I grew up watching Bird and Magic. Those who marveled at their no-look passes and competitive spirit know how they revolutionized (and saved) the NBA in the 1980s.
By the time I hit high school and college, Michael Jordan had taken up their banner and again was doing things unseen before. His incredible athleticism and dynamic offensive skills – not to mention being a ferocious defender and competitor – took the NBA to new heights. In my life, he’s the best I’ve ever seen.
Those three did some unique and special things with a ball in their hands. Now almost a decade and half after Jordan, it’s Stephen Curry’s turn. I mean really, have we ever seen someone with such ball handling and jump shooting skills that you have to guard him the moment he crosses half court?
My two oldest kids and I literally jumped out of our chairs screaming Saturday night when he hit the game winner from just inside half court to beat Oklahoma City in overtime. Oh, by the way, that was his 12th three pointer of the game, tying an NBA record. In that game he also broke the record for most three pointers in a season – with 24 games to go. He did this while playing on a weak ankle he had injured in the 3rd quarter. What did I read he had…something like 31 of his 46 total points in the final 18 minutes of play? Unreal.
I’m not here to debate who’s the greatest player ever. To me it doesn’t matter. But what has me diverging today from my normal blog topics is what I see in Stephen Curry. Ironically, it’s the same two things that drew me as a youth to Magic, Michael and Larry.
The Joy of Stephen Curry
In an interview last week, Golden State coach Steve Kerr had this to say about Curry,
“These guys are really competitive, more so than you’d think. I mean, you knew it with Jordan, because he played with an anger. Steph plays with joy, so maybe you don’t see it as much. Steph inside is a killer. Really he is.”
It’s OK that athletes have a killer instinct. We’d expect nothing less from them and they’d expect nothing less from themselves. I mean what’s the point of sports if you don’t have that drive to compete against and beat your opponent?
But what seems lacking for many athletes today is the joy. We don’t see it on their face during competition. It’s not evident in how they play. I’m sure it’s there for many, it’s just not readily apparent.
Not so for Stephen Curry. He loves doing what he does and it shows. In that way he reminds me of Bird and Magic.
Who could forget Magic’s smile that could (and still does) light up a room. Or the hugs and high fives he’d give teammates. When he stepped on the court it was literally show time. He’d give you the best he had every night and make you walk away wanting more. He brought so much fun to the game, he made me a Lakers fan back then from the get go.
Bird’s joy wasn’t expressed in such an obvious way. Rather you saw it when he sacrificed his body to dive for a loose ball. You could feel it in the closing seconds when you KNEW he wanted the ball for the last shot. You could see it as he drilled the walk off shot in the 1988 3-point shooting contest. I mean who walks off and puts the #1 finger in the air before the ball goes in? Only Larry Bird.
Stephen Curry plays with that same joy. It’s obvious he loves being on the floor. From the smiles, to the shimmies, to the drive he demonstrates each and every game.
Clearly his coach sees the joy. My kids and I sure see it. That’s one reason we are so drawn to him…he teaches us that you can find joy in whatever line of work you choose to do, even playing hard core, professional basketball.
But there is something even more powerful Stephen Curry is bringing that’s relevant for us all, especially kids. And that would be…
Many have made their case that Micheal Jordan is the greatest NBA player ever. His statistics and list of achievements are too numerous to mention here. What makes his career all the more remarkable is that it almost didn’t happen.
That’s because Micheal Jordan was cut from his high school varsity team when he was as sophomore. That’s right, the greatest ever didn’t make the team that year. What would you have done in that moment of disappointment?
Too often I see today’s young people giving up. If they can’t figure out a problem in math class in 30 seconds, they look in the back of the book for the answer. If something seems too hard they don’t want to try it. If the risk is great, they shrink back from the challenge.
Think what would have happened had Michael Jordan felt this way…if he had not worked harder than ever to get on the team his junior season. What if he’d quit on his dream back then? The future of the NBA would have been rewritten.
Michael Jordan’s success after failure shows us there is hope. Hope that we too can have success after a failure and when the odds are stacked against us. That’s how Stephen Curry mirrors MJ. Stephen is bringing this hope to a new generation of youth.
Curry is not your typical NBA player. He’s not 6’9” with bulging biceps. He rarely dunks. He doesn’t bully his way through defenders with the brute force of his frame. He looks more like the skinny high school player next door who couldn’t get a scholarship to a Division I school.
But he’s worked hard and now seven years into his career his skills are off the chart. In a league that values height and length, strength and jumping ability, Curry is excelling on his own terms. He’s winning with quick, pure, long-range shooting…ball handling…dribbling…passing. In these ways, he might just be redefining what a future NBA player looks like. Don’t think there aren’t kids right now practicing their dribbling skills and shooting from 4 feet behind the 3-point line just to be like Curry.
He is giving hope to that 6’1”, 190 lb. high school shooting guard who’s been told he’s too small or slow or unskilled to play the game. He now knows that with hard work so much can happen, even things he thinks are impossible.
I don’t know how the career of Stephen Curry will play out. Maybe after a long career he becomes one of the top 10 greatest players ever.
To me, it doesn’t matter. I’ll be content to enjoy the present with my kids as we share oohs and aahs and screams at what he does on the court. And I’m glad to see an athlete bringing joy to work each day and offering hope that you can have success despite some long odds. That’s the type of role model a younger generation and all of us can applaud.
Questions: What impresses you about Stephen Curry? Do you find joy in what you do everyday? How did you work through a time when it felt like you had no hope?