When will Stephen Curry’s bubble burst? Can it ever?
The line suggests this writer wishes nothing more than for that to happen, which is not the case. The question is relevant because of two things. You could say with quite some authority that Curry is the face of the NBA. Since July of this year, he also plays for a team who have joined forces with one of the top three players in the league. The Golden State Warriors are no longer the good guys.
As your fame and popularity rises, so does the distance you may have to fall as perceptions change.
What we have seen this summer since the Warriors heartache of that seven-game Finals loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in June is a Curry tour stretching from Western California to East Asia, and whatever the culture or country it seems his popularity has reached unfathomable levels. This type of fame certainly looked unattainable - as if it was a goal for the down-to- earth Curry - when we saw that scrawny kid at Davidson hit the deepest shots imaginable.
But it is so. On arrival at any given airport or any given court throughout the world, it seems locals have managed to get their hands on the latest Curry jerseys, any attire with the colours blue and yellow and audaciously those suspect Curry II’s. The ever-growing brand of this man - and his team - has gained a level of steam not seen coming off the trains we saw in Great Britain until the middle of the 20th Century.
Since those heady days when Curry was taking his Davidson squad to the NCAA Elite Eight, those biceps look a lot bigger. The hair is trim, the beard tight, and the shot even better. Curry’s jersey was the top seller last season. He led the league in scoring with 30.1 points per game, and has won the last two MVP awards.
And it’s because of all that that this might be the year Curry is roughed up by more media personnel looking for any blemish on his record, more opposing fans delighting in any error of judgement, meaning Curry has to stay calm while his golden boy looks and tantalising talents make way for the most common bug in the NBA sick book; build the stars up, celebrate them, then tear them down.
Ask yourself why Mr. Curry is perceived to be less arrogant than others? He may be humble and say the right things, but he may also stick his gum shield out and run down court before his treys have hit the bottom of the net. Does he have the benefit of the doubt with these things? Perhaps, but this is now a very different landscape.
Youngsters on courts all over the globe mimic the quick release and the 30-foot efforts; those males a touch older may grow envious of the attention their closest female peers have for Curry. For the media covering the 28-year- old closest, what might they make of another thrown gum shield and a chance to attack a ‘story’ that will inevitably garner a lot of attention. Curry has done a remarkable job of quelling any issue that has the capacity to become bigger. But he faces his toughest test yet with an even more remarkable set of teammates around him this season.
No longer are the Golden State Warriors a team of well selected draft picks who rose to the top of the tree through chemistry, talent and great coaching. They have now officially bought themselves a free agent in Kevin Durant who hands them a no-win situation in the eyes of those looking in. If they win a title, they made it easy for themselves. If they lose, however, Curry and his team will go down as one of the biggest busts ever, and number 30 will take the biggest hit, fair or not. Of course, if Golden State win then Golden State are happy.
Durant faces an entirely different pressure having never won a championship before, but it’s Curry who has maintained an unblemished persona to this point. Perhaps Durant’s addition will help him, after all it may take some of the attention away. But won’t Curry still want the attention? Those closest to him will say no, he doesn’t need it. All he wants is to win. But he does have a lot to lose and his behaviour will be monitored by the circling sharks this season.
During the 2016 NBA Finals, there was chippiness between Curry and the previous face of the NBA LeBron James (you could argue James has never not been the face of basketball since he was drafted in 2003). James is suitably irked that the MVP trophy has been taken away from him and his contribution in the Finals last season suggests he is still the most valuable player to any team. After blocking a couple of Curry attempts during the series, James insisted on sending a message to his nemesis, who was also born in Akron, Ohio.
Just a few words to remind him who was the King. Curry had some words to fire back and suddenly he looked less like a miniature hero evading all these freaks of nature around him, instead allowing his frustrations to boil over which we rarely see and which still looks abnormal, almost illegal. It is an act we rarely see with Steph, who has been seen to entertain his coaches by rolling around the practice court with a hoodie over his head.
Embarrassed or less talented opponents seemed to tire of his act down the stretch, whether it be from Curry’s sublime ball-handling ability making defenders look silly, or his acts of over-confidence on court going unnoticed as he speaks elegantly off of it.
But then came the biggest challenge of Curry’s career. His injuries throughout the postseason spoke true to the reality that he means so much for basketball. The playoffs lost some of its fire while he was away, and he was never quite the same on his return. Skinny by nature and small by NBA standards, it has always looked and felt as if Curry had something to prove.
Now he wants his championship back.
How are these Warriors going to be received? Will they be like the Chicago Bulls squad of the 90’s, and even like last year’s Warriors club, who rode into each city like a famous rock group? Will Draymond Green’s goofy nature be overtaken by his off-court snapchat shifts and diatribes in the locker room? Will Durant be called a traitor by Oklahoma natives and a weaker player for joining forces with a 73-win team? Can he remain effective in a system that has three other players with Russell Westbrook-type needs, namely ‘give me the ball’?
They cannot all be like Klay Thompson, who keeps his nose clean, head down and chugs along. These question marks turn us back to Curry. They put more spotlight on this particular superstar. How will he handle playing with a new teammate who wants to shoot the ball 25 to 30 times a game, who wants the ball in his hands and wants to prove he can win a title?
Will Green remain selfless among the success of three big scorers around him? Curry is the leader by example, and this will remain his team on the court. Green is the voice within the bowels of Oracle Arena, but the NBA world doesn’t watch that space. They are watching Curry; his actions, his behaviour, his comments, his habits and tics, not least his performance.
Does a star remain a star for his entire career? Don’t perceptions change? The Golden State Warriors makeup certainly has, but despite everything around him - including his wife Ayesha kicking and screaming - Curry has remained calm, stayed true to himself and focused on the things that have driven him since he watched his father Dell play professional ball in Charlotte.
Will that continue, or will outside forces see to it that he be viewed as something different?
Like every previous Curry narrative, it will be must-watch.