Is Stephen Curry the greatest basketball player on the planet?
The slender kid from Davidson College who absolutely electrified the 2008 NCAA Tournament, joining Clyde Louellette, Jerry Chambers, and Glen Robinson as the only college players to score over 30 points in their first four career tournament games, while leading his team to the Elite Eight, is not just a kid anymore.
Five years later, Stephen Curry has amassed an NBA Championship, MVP, and multiple three-point shooting records--collegiate and professional. His game and body, for that matter, took time to adjust to NBA rigors, but Curry has emerged from his first journey to the pinnacle as the NBA's deadliest weapon.
He saunters up the court, ready to pull the trigger at any point. He knows no range. His step-backs, runners, and side-steps all fluid and natural. Give him a sliver of space and he's either a blur or the deadliest shooter the world has ever seen. When the three point line was adopted in the 1979-80 season, I don't think the rule makers imagined the evolution of a game-wrecker like Stephen Curry. In the month of January alone, he and the Golden State Warriors managed to beat King James and the Cleveland Cavaliers (at Cleveland for the first time since winning the championship last June) AND the San Antonio Spurs, who are 45-8, by a combined 64 points. The Warriors' games have become so laughably one-side that Curry will sometimes sit in the fourth quarter, while still leading the league in points per game with 29.8. Golden State is an unbelievably well-coached, highly skilled unit that is rivaling Michael Jordan's 1997 Bulls team, but when Curry is not in the lineup Golden State looks like a spitting image of themselves. Like Jordan and James, he is a basketball anomaly; a once-in-a-lifetime player who's skill, style and popularity will transform the game of basketball into a new modernity.
After a Game 5 defeat in the 2015 NBA Finals, Lebron James responded to a question of his comfortability performing on the game's biggest stage by simply proclaiming, "I feel confident because I'm the best player in the world. It's that simple." Despite the King's adamant belief in himself, his response raised some eyebrows as it is rare you hear an athlete elevate him/herself to such a high pedestal. In context though, you kind of believed him; I mean averaging 35 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists dragging along a tattered Cavaliers lineup is the epitome of hero-ball. Having seen the outcome of the Finals and having witnessed the relentless rampage of Stephen Curry, should we still believe Lebron James?
Over time, one's achievements elevate a player to such a platform, but who ascends to the throne and for how long are only questions reserved for the basketball gods. There is no defined criteria for becoming the world's best basketball player. However, the curriculum vitae of past athletes who were regarded as the globe's best--I'm talking Kareem, Magic, Larry, MJ, Kobe, and Lebron--provides a conceptual framework of the road left to travel for Stephen Curry.
To be the GOAT, the Greatest of All Time, or a "once-in-a-generation" player, winning is everything and it is the only thing. Championships, yes that is multiple, are vital as well as Most Valuable Player awards in the regular season and in NBA Finals appearances. Perhaps the most important element of this journey is the ability to put together successive seasons of championships and awards; legends have to continue to prove their greatness and defeat those who are just as hungry as they are for that transcendent tag.
The sustained dominance of these eight legends is the reason why some of basketball's greatest players and hall-of-famers have not been able to achieve their own dreams of winning an NBA championship (e.g. Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and Kevin Durant). Each legend ruled over the NBA for a given period of time, some simultaneously, accumulating championships and post-season honors along their quest.
No other basketball player has as many championships as Bill Russell with 11! In the 1960s, the Boston Celtics, the team he played center for, failed to win the championship just once. The Celtics owned that decade and Russell was their anchor. With five MVP awards during that span, King Russell ruled from 1959-1969.
Before there was an Air Jordan, Kareem set the standard. Winning Rookie of the Year in 1970 and back-to-back MVP awards in the two years following, Jabbar's twenty-year career included the highest amount of Most Valuable Player awards given to a player with six. Besides Kareem's lone title with the Milwaukee Bucks, who drafted him in 1970, his championships came with the flash of the Showtime Lakers, but his unprecedented skill set ran rampant across the NBA for the better part of the 1970s.
The 1980s saw better league parity compared to the NBA's early years; however, two players and their teams, the Celtics and the Lakers battled repeatedly for supremacy. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson collided early in their careers during the 1979 NCAA Basketball Championship that would foreshadow the dominance and control they wielded in their respective conferences--Larry in the East and Magic in the West. Three times (1984, '85, and '87) did they meet in the NBA Finals to settle who would reign supreme. Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers got the better of Birds' Celtics, winning the lifetime series 2-1.
Then there was Michael Jordan, who came and went and came again just to make sure we didn't forget what Air Jordan meant. From his off-court personality, the man with the shoes and movie deals, to his on-court demeanor--the killer and ultimate trash-talker--Michael Jordan ushered the league into its modern-era by defining what it meant to be a superstar.
The exodus of the league's highest exalted left a void of entertainment and power. Imitating Jordan's style and flare, Kobe Bryant, a child prodigy emerging straight out of Lower Merion high school, traversed a twenty-year NBA career to mature as the "HeroVillain." It wasn't all sunshine in Hollywood under the Black Mamba's reign, as the consummate power forward, Tim Duncan, and the San Antonio Spurs became a constant territorial enemy in the West.
If you have Lebron James on your team, you have an immediate opportunity to win a championship. For five straight seasons, Lebron has ended his year fighting for the right to call himself and his team the best. After twelve years in the league, King James is still stuffing the stat sheet, playing the game as the Jack-of-all-trades. His engine, though he'll deny it, is starting to deteriorate. All of those games played well into the summer--Finals series and Olympic games--as well as the grueling minutes are starting to take a toll on James, sighting lower back and hamstring issues as chronic injuries. Time waits for no man and the mortality of Lebron James has been particularly evident watching a more spritely individual wow and amaze us just like the kid from Akron did before he blazed his NBA path just some years ago.
I don't think it's a question of if Stephen Curry becomes the most dominant basketball player rather a matter of when that time comes, if it hasn't already.
He has the number one selling jersey in the NBA and he was second in All-Star votes behind Kobe Bryant, who made his final All-Star Game appearance just yesterday. It is evident that the tide of popularity has shifted in Curry's favor.
Wardell Stephen Curry II is not just running away with his second MVP award, but he's doing it while embarrassing great teams with great players. It gets harder and harder to refute his on-court dominion and notion that this league is his when he's running circles around the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, in Kawhi Leonard, making him look silly and making King James question the possibility of winning another NBA championship. At twenty-seven years old, Prince Curry has entered the prime of his NBA career. If he wishes to join the esteemed list of all-time greats he must continue to dominate and continue to win. It is time for him to build his legend.