Stephen Curry & Lionel Messi: Different Goals, Same Once In A Lifetime Talent
March 12, 2016, the Golden State Warriors trudged off the hardwood at the Oracle Arena trailing by nine points to the Phoenix Suns. The Dubs had won 47 consecutive home games – an NBA record stretching back to last season - but that run was under serious threat. However, there was a sense of calm around the arena as head coach Steve Kerr gave instructions to his players.
There was no panic, urgency or nervousness in the defending champions; they had been here before. It showed. The Suns were treated to a clinic in clutch basketball as the deficit was overturned and the game ended in a seven-point Warriors win. The comeback was led by one man; Stephen Curry. Who else? The reigning MVP dropped 15 points in the final 12 minutes, including a no-look three-pointer that epitomised everything that is great about the number 30.
With just under a minute gone in the quarter, the Warriors raced up the court after a Brandon Knight miss. Curry pulled up and unleashed from behind the arc, with the ball still in mid-flight and the 19,596 fans inside the Oracle on their feet, the point guard turned his back, ran to prepare for defence, and let everyone marvel at his incredible show of self-belief and confidence. Of course, it was money.
The Davidson product has been a man on a mission this season to prove the ring-winning campaign of 2014-15 was no fluke. His incredible shooting has led to this aura of invincibility and near perfection that has been the catalyst for the Dubs' run at the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' 72-10 regular season record. The Bay Area franchise are closing in with a record of 61-6.
The Golden State train is in full flow and Stephen Curry is the conductor. He can do it all on the offensive end; his handles are out of this world, his eye for a pass rivals the best points in the league and the ability to create space for others should not be underestimated, all of this while possessing the most devastating shot with the quickest release in the league.
The three-time All-Star is changing the way fans look at basketball. Every night people tune into Warriors games in their droves expecting him to do something unbelievable, and nine times out of ten he delivers. Night after night 'Curry' is a trend on social media platforms as videos do the rounds and people express their disbelief at what they are seeing.
He is the icon children look up to and his reach is stretching well beyond the somewhat refined boundaries of the basketball community. He is becoming a sporting and cultural figure, named in Forbes' 30 under 30 list, Curry's name is everywhere. It started in 2014 with Drake's 0 to 100 and has spread as his star continued to grow - of course, championships and an MVP award will do that.
Rick Carlisle, who won an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 1986 and is now the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, has no doubt about the impact the point is having on the NBA. He said: "Curry is changing the way the game is played before our eyes. What he's doing right now, he's changing the way our game is going to be played in the future. It's really historic. No one has ever played this way off the dribble. It's breath taking to watch. It's something that we really have never seen before in this league."
The boy from Akron is taking the NBA into a new stratosphere and his performances are on a level comparable with a certain worldwide superstar across the pond. Under the lights, in front of 90,000 fans, Lionel Messi can be seen treating supporters inside the Camp Nou and the millions of viewers in their homes to a spectacle of footballing brilliance. There has never been someone like Messi and there may never be another player who possesses his natural ability.
The Argentine is the pinnacle of football; the most talked about player on the planet. Idolised and appreciated by millions, his trophy cabinet speaks for itself; he has the game in the palm of his hand. Much like Curry, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner is at the mountain top of his respective sport, but when you think the only way is down, they both find a new, taller mountain and conquer it with consummate ease.
HARD WORK PAYS OFF
Both men are the faces of their sports and are at their undisputed best right now, but it has been a long, hard journey to reach the pinnacle for each man on their respective side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Messi had been touted as a future star since he first made the switch from South America to Europe at the age of 13. Barcelona could see his incredible talents at such a young age and did everything in their power to keep the teenager away from their fiercest rivals Real Madrid.
"I wear the number 10 Jersey for the US National Team in honour of the Greatest athlete I have ever seen: Messi." - Kobe Bryant
It paid dividends as 15 years later, the Argentine has amassed a plethora of winners' medals that include seven La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues. Since the moment he walked through the doors at the fabled La Masia academy, there has been a destiny surrounding him, but 449 goals in 519 appearances for the Blaugrana would have been beyond anyone's wildest dreams.
For Curry, it has been a somewhat different story. The son of former NBA player, Dell, grew up in the basketball world and there was no doubt where he wanted to end up having watched his father represent the Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Hornets - among others. During his time in college, there was never any doubt he had what it took to be a player in the league. However, he was dismissed as nothing more than a shooter and there was never any suggestion he would make it to the dizzy heights he has achieved since 2014.
"What he's doing right now, he's changing the way our game is going to be played in the future. It's really historic. No one has ever played this way off the dribble. It's breath taking to watch. It's something that we really have never seen before in this league." - Rick Carlisle
A number of ankle injuries seriously threatened the burgeoning career of the Warriors point and there was even disappointment from some in California when the franchise decided to stick with him over Monta Ellis. How times have changed. The now-28-year-old is the reigning MVP, the NBA's leader in points per game this season, a three-time All-Star and the face of an organisation who are threatening an era of dominance comparable to the Bulls of the '90s or the Lakers of the 2000s.
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
Their backgrounds could not be more different, but their burning desire to be the very best has led to exactly that position. With both men two years away from their 30th birthdays, fans of football and basketball are being treated to once in a lifetime talents at the height of their powers, and there are a number of striking similarities between the captain of the Golden State Warriors and the captain of arguably the greatest club team in soccer history.
The sports are at completely opposite ends of the spectrum, but greatness is comparable and the similarities between Messi and Curry's style of play are clear to see; both can dribble in seemingly impossible situations, score from close-range, from distance, finish off the unimaginable, are unselfish and more than capable passers; it all creates the near-perfect, well-rounded attacking player that fans the world over take such great pleasure in watching.
Of course, their success would not be achievable without the backup of brilliant teams, and the two global superstars could not have better supporting casts to help them conquer their trades. Barcelona are the undisputed best team in world football having won their third FIFA Club World Cup in 2015. The frightening front three of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar is arguably the most devastating to ever play the game. Since bursting onto the scene, the South American has rubbed shoulders with greats like Carlos Puyol, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Thierry Henry and Ronaldinho - no wonder he has amassed 26 major honours in his club career.
Where Messi lifted the La Liga trophy in his first full season as a first-team player at the Camp Nou, it took Steph and the Warriors a long time to even reach the playoffs, but some brilliant team building by general manager Bob Myers has transformed the Oakland-based franchise from perennial underachievers to a team who strike fear into opponents throughout the league. Their current roster has a combined total of six All-Star appearances, and the Curry along with his 'Splash Brother' Klay Thompson form the deadliest backcourt in the NBA.
"Who is the Best Player in the World? Leo Messi. Who is the Best Player Ever? Leo Messi." - Arsene Wenger
A BLINK OF AN EYE, THAT'S ALL IT TAKES
But take away the key component from these teams and they are only half the force. Their uncanny ability to produce something from nothing when their team needs it most is what puts them at the forefront. The man from Rosario produced one of many moments of individual brilliance during Barcelona's run to Champions League success last season. With the Catalans looking to assert dominance over Bayern Munich in the first leg of their semi-final, their talisman picked up the ball on the right wing, turned Jerome Boateng inside out and left Manuel Neuer clutching at thin air to give his side a 2-0 lead and effectively put the tie to bed.
Curry showed his ability to come up trumps in a recent overtime victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the clock winding down and the teams tied in overtime, the 2015 All-NBA First-Team selection casually threw up a three-pointer from 37 feet - out of pure exhaustion according to his father - that banked off the backboard and broke hearts inside the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
It seems night after night the pair are on a tear to break every record imaginable; earlier in March, Curry became the first player in an NBA season to reach 300 three-point shots. He holds the record for most consecutive games with a shot from deep, which he snatched from Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver during a win in Orlando. He is tied with Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall for the most buckets from behind the arc in a single game, but it is only a matter of time before he makes that record his own. He is also the Warriors' all-time leader in three-pointers. In truth, any current three record in the NBA, Curry has in his sights and is likely to surpass them all.
Messi, well his achievements are unrivalled, he is the king, football's golden boy. Barcelona's all-time leading goalscorer, the highest scorer and assist provider in La Liga history, five Ballon d'Ors, 91 goals in the calendar year of 2012, the most hat-tricks in Champions League history and more than likely to retire as the all-time record scorer in the prestigious competition – that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Former professional footballer Gerry Armstrong, who played in the eras of Diego Maradona, Michel Platini and George Best put into context exactly how good Messi is. He said: "I have played against Platini, Maradona, Cruyff and played with George Best — a lot of big names, but none of them has been able to do what Messi does. Two years ago I said that the best player I played against was Maradona and the best player I have played with was Bestie. But I can now say I have never seen a player as good as Messi. He's in a league of his own."
If that's not enough, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was under no illusions who the best player ever is: "Who is the Best Player in the World? Leo Messi. Who is the Best Player Ever? Leo Messi."
Even Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant got in on the act: "I wear the number 10 Jersey for the US National Team in honour of the Greatest athlete I have ever seen: Messi."
The left-footed wizard is already well on the way to being named the greatest footballer of all-time. In the generation battle with Cristiano Ronaldo, he is out in front, and when compared to the likes of Diego Maradona and Pele, he is on a par, if not ahead of the two legendary figures. The only thing against his record is a World Cup winners' medal – he came so close in Brazil 2014 but fell at the final hurdle to Germany. Curry has some way to go before he is challenging Michael Jordan for the title of GOAT in the NBA; realistically, he will never hit those heights - but he is still a phenomenon.
There is something exciting and special about seeing a 'small' - we use that term lightly - unassuming point guard dominate the NBA in a way he is. Shooting the three has always been considered a circus shot by the purists and majority of legends, but seeing Curry make a mockery of the traditional style of play is fresh, new and captivating.
Curry holds supreme confidence in his own ability, but his humility is what sticks with the fans and, during his MVP acceptance in 2015, coach Steve Kerr spoke of how those traits can help the Warriors achieve great things. He said: "You think of players who are brash and confident, those are usually the ones chirping away. But Steph is so quiet and humble away from the court and to me, that is the most powerful form of leadership.
"It carries over to the locker room. We have an entire team full of players who are confident and, other than Draymond [Green] very quite. But very much believing in each other. Steph embodies all of that and he makes it easy for all of us to buy into this idea that we can do this together and achieve great things together."
The man in Barcelona also uses his seemingly lightweight frame and small stature to the best of his ability. Standing at 5'6", the forward possesses surprising upper-body strength but utilises his stature to mesmerise his opponents. Using his low centre of gravity, Messi is able to twist away from tackles at breakneck speed and leave defends in his wake. Sound familiar?
THE WEALTH BEHIND SUCCESS
Ankle problems meant the NBA star was something of an unknown quantity outside of the Bay in his formative years. So much so that the four-year, $44 million rookie scale contract extension he was handed by the Warriors was seen as a risk by some basketball experts. How wrong they were. Not only is the number 30 bringing success on the court, he is single-handedly leading the franchise in the business sector, and sponsors have flocked to the Oracle in recent years to get their slice of the proverbial Stephen Curry pie.
"Steph is so quiet and humble away from the court and to me, that is the most powerful form of leadership." - Steve Kerr
In an article released by Forbes in November of 2015, it was clear to see just how important the point guard has become to the Dubs as their success last season sent their popularity through the roof. During the space of 12 months, jersey sales for the former Davidson player rose by an astounding 581 percent while his merchandise sales were up by an equally significant 453 percent.
His jerseys were sold in all 50 states of America - in 38 of those, he is the top selling player and has cracked markets like Los Angeles and New York. His merchandise has also been sold in 26 nations worldwide. Fanatics.com, the world's leading online retailer of officially licenced merchandise, ranked Curry as the number one NBA player.
In January, the NBA released information from their largest Black Monday and Cyber Thursday in history and announced that Curry topped the player rankings - ahead of LeBron James - and the Golden State Warriors bested the Chicago Bulls to finish top of team merchandise. With his popularity improving dramatically in the 2014-15 season, his marketability has skyrocketed.
MuscleMilk, Unilever's Degree, Express, State Farm, Kaiser Permanente and PlayStation can all name Curry as a client, but it is Under Armour who are planning to utilise the Warriors superstar to the best of their ability. The sports manufacturer are constantly fighting a battle to assert themselves in the trainer game given the success of Nike and Air Jordan, but they may have hit the jackpot.
Nike let the guard go in the summer of 2013, and it could prove to be the biggest mistake in the sporting manufacturer's history - although, Kanye West may try to convince you otherwise. His original salary with Under Armour was under $4 million dollars, but one MVP season later and his contract was extended to 2024 and included an equity stake in the Maryland-based company. The salary was not disclosed.
However, CEO Kevin Plank has plans to build a $1 billion empire around the once in a generation superstar. The Curry Ones and Twos were both released last year and it seems the company are on to a winner with their big-name talent. If there is a blueprint to follow, it would be Nike and Jordan, but in the much less streetwear orientated world of soccer, Adidas and Team Messi reign supreme.
The manufacturer, who are the main company behind NBA jerseys, have helped develop the Messi brand since he signed with them in 2006. The 'Team Messi' social media pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - which are completely separate from his personal accounts - have a total of 10.8 million followers and cover all things surrounding the Argentinian in the world of football merchandise.
The latest boots endorsed by the global superstar have been worn by a number of professional football players throughout the major leagues in Europe, such as Manchester United youngster James Wilson and Chelsea starlet Kennedy; putting Messi alongside the likes of Kobe Bryant in terms of fellow professionals donning his footwear.
Endorsements play a huge role in the wealth of all sports stars and the 28-year-old Barcelona magician has a number of different avenues. According to Forbes, Messi raked in $22 million dollars in 2015, to go along with his basic salary and winnings in Catalonia last year, it made the leading scorer in La Liga history the fourth-highest paid athlete in the world; behind Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Ronaldo.
Curry's earnings in 2015 paled in comparison to the $74 million that made its way into Messi's bank account during the calendar year; he failed to make Forbes' top 100 - a list that included 18 NBA players. That has something to do with his contract at the Warriors, but he stands to earn a max deal once his current one in the Bay expires.
IT'S ALL ABOUT FAMILY
Money is far from the be all and end all for the point guard. He is a family man, with his wife Ayesha and his two daughters - Riley is a sensation in her own right - the Curry's are seen as a family to be admired, and that is part of the package that has made the Warriors man such a raging success with fans worldwide.
"The love, the passion, the work ethic within the family has all conspired to help Steph reach this point. One thing I've learnt about Steph is that he is all about family." - Steve Kerr
Ayesha and Steph tied the knot in 2011 and have been together for a long time. Curry also speaks openly about his faith - thanking God in his MVP speech - it all adds to the image that makes the superstar relatable and likeable to the regular Joe. His family play a huge role in his success. His brother Seth - who plies his trade with the Sacramento Kings - and his father can be seen at the majority of his major events, along with his sister Sydel and mother Sonia.
Kerr also commented on the role Steph's family have had in helping achieve the greatness we see today: "You win an MVP, that doesn't just come from nowhere, it came from Steph's family. All those qualities that we talk about, the humility, work ethic, passion - it all comes from family. That environment growing up has led to this moment. The love, the passion, the work ethic within the family has all conspired to help Steph reach this point. One thing I've learnt about Steph is that he is all about family."
Messi's family also play a huge part in his life; his father Jorge is his agent and the Messi business is run by various members including his mother and brothers. The forward has often talked about the impact they have had on his career and enjoys an extremely close relationship with Celia - his mother - whose face he has tattooed on his left shoulder.
When it comes to building his own, like Curry, he has been in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend Antonella Roccuzzo who he has known since childhood; together they have two children and it is these elements of a person that people grow to admire and appreciate away from the bright lights of the hallowed turf and hardwood.
They may have come from different continents and compete in sports with very few similarities, but the likeness between the two superstars are clear for all to see; 'incredible', 'unbelievable' and 'stunning' are all words suitable for describing the duo, but once in a lifetime seems more fitting – we will never see another Stephen Curry, nor a Lionel Messi. But we will see the players who have grown up idolising them and, when the dust settles on their respective careers, seeing how they've inspired a generation will be one final, everlasting achievement.