Last night, I rushed home to watch an NBA playoff game for the first time since the Los Angeles Lakers––the team I’ve cheered for my whole life––were last competitive. I watched the Golden State Warriors defeat the Portland Trailblazers, a victory that allows them to advance to the Western Conference Finals. But none of that mattered to me. I just wanted to watch Stephen Curry play.
His dominance is part of what’s compelling, as when Tiger Woods arrived in the PGA and revealed that golf could be played on a higher level than anyone had ever imagined. Last season, Curry made an impressive 286 three-pointers, securing the all-time NBA record for triples made in a season by beating the next best by 10 shots. He did so in a year in which he won the MVP and his team won an NBA championship. It was reasonable to think he might break his own record, or even reach 300 threes.
Then, this season, Curry made 402 three-pointers!
After a broader assessment of his off-the-charts statistical efficiency, Benjamin Morris of 538 simply declared, “Stephen Curry Is the Revolution.” That article is the best account I’ve seen of how unfathomably valuable Curry is to his team. Yet efficiency statistics do not capture how enjoyable a player is to watch as entertainment. As Nikil Saval noted in his comparison of Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant:
Though Duncan may end up being accounted the greater player, I am with those who find his post-up, bank-shot style a chore to watch. Very few, even the haters, have felt this way about Kobe in his prime. Every now and again, in my frequent moments of Kobe-doubt, I find myself rewatching one of those YouTube compilations of “Top 10 Kobe Clutch Shots” to regain my faith. Comparing his various off-balance threes to close out games of Stephen Curry’s, the most sublime of shooters, shows the superiority of the latter’s game—his half-court arcs slicing through the air like a knife through bean curd, with unprecedented ease—but also the peculiar inimitability of Kobe’s … not a single player who is statistically “better” than Kobe has been as glorious to watch.
While granting the sentiment, many would argue that Michael Jordan, a statistically better player, was as glorious to watch. David Foster Wallace once called the Chicago Bulls star “one of those rare, preternatural athletes who appear to be exempt, at least in part, from certain physical laws,” noting that he “could not only jump inhumanly high but actually hang there a beat or two longer than gravity allows.”