Steph Curry has added yet another ridiculous first to his remarkable series of achievements this season. Barely hours after registering the finest overtime performance in league history, with 17 points in 5 minutes against the Blazers, Steph became the first unanimous MVP in league history. Out of the 130 voters not a single one thought Steph wasn’t the best player in the NBA. To put this into context this never happened for MJ, this never happened for Kareem, this never happened for LeBron, nobody has ever had as great an individual season. Obviously MVP voting is highly subjective, there have been a few players who probably deserved to be unanimous MVP (Shaq in 2000 and LeBron in 2013), but there has always been 1 or 2 voters who have just gone for their guy regardless. But this is what makes Curry’s achievement so special, he has cut through all the bullshit and homers on the ballot to get to a point where not a single voter could find a reason not put him number 1.
Why is Steph Curry so special? What is it that has catapulted him from very good NBA point guard to global superstar? The way in which he dominates the game is certainly part of it and the way in which he handles himself off the court too. Importantly though he is perhaps the first player to be considered the best in the league who nobody really expected to reach such heights.
Usually in the NBA the story goes the other way round. A player is identified at high school, recruited by all the top college programs, drafted early in the first round having played 1 year of college ball and ultimately never quite lives up to the hype, for Steph it has been different. Not considered a top prospect out of high school, with questions over his size, Curry played for three years at Davidson, a small southern college that has only produced a handful of NBA players (none of whom were very successful in the league). As a result Curry entered the league as the number 7 pick in 2011 with relatively little fanfare. All this meant that Curry had time to grow up and become a man before he became a superstar. Every stage of his life had not been filled with people telling him you’re the next big thing.
The fact that he became a man before he became a superstar surely contributes to the impeccable way he handles himself of the court. Curry seems so natural in saying all the right the things that there is no sense of an act being put on. He is a man who knows how to talk to people not someone who has had rigorous media training. This is surely a big part of the reason he holds the media in the palm of his hand, why he can have his daughter Riley answer questions for him and it not be seen as a crude stunt to deflect questioning. Curry comes across as a very genuine person to almost everyone he reaches and I think that is why he is gaining near universal adoration.
Steph’s on court game is also unique. Never has a little guy dominated the NBA like he has the past two seasons. John Stockton was great he dominated with excellent court vision and supreme efficiency, but Stockton was not the walking highlight reel Steph is. Allen Iverson may have been small but he was quick and athletic in a way Steph is not. For almost all NBA superstars the first building block in what they do is their athletic superiority over the rest of the world. Their size and speed make the things they achieve on the court impossible for 99% of viewers, this is why it is so fantastic to watch. With Curry though it is different. He is not that tall, or strong, or quick. What he can do is shoot with ridiculous range and handle a basketball incredibly well. These are things that you and I can go out on a court and practice, we will never be as good as him, but we can try. We could never dunk like MJ or LeBron, but perhaps for a few minutes we can hit a few 3s in a row, turn our backs to the basket before they go, and feel like Steph.
Steph Curry has made 3 point shooting cool and for that alone he has changed the NBA.
His game being so much more accessible to the casual fan, whilst also being spectacular, is surely the main reason why he is so popular. It will be interesting to see how his image changes as him and his team become more and more successful. There is innate part of the human condition which wants us to hate those who are successful, so far Steph has avoided this. He has also so far not had to deal with failure and the questions that emerge when you fail to deliver in a big spot and your team loses as a result. These are all things Steph will encounter over the coming years but the path he has taken so far leaves him far better prepared than most.