Read: MVP Stephen Curry
When Sports Illustrated honored the Warriors with its 2018 Sportsperson of the Year award, the magazine said it was for myriad reasons, including “injecting joy into the game and setting fire to conventional wisdom.” And the personification of that joy is Steph Curry.
“Our universe revolves around him,” the Warriors’ general manager, Bob Myers, told Sports Illustrated. He’s “the reason for all this,” Curry’s teammate Andre Iguodala said. Another teammate, Shaun Livingston, called Curry “the soul of the team.” And Kerr put it this way: “The whole culture revolves not only [around] his talent, his unselfishness, but his joy.”
That is perhaps the most striking thing about Steph Curry—the joie de vivre he brings to the game. It’s unmatched by any professional athlete today, and equaled by only a few in history. Magic Johnson is one; Muhammad Ali was another. (Curry doesn’t possess Ali’s cruel streak, which the boxer showed toward Joe Frazier.)
You see the ebullience before tip-off, when Curry amuses himself (and delights fans) with a two-handed, 40-foot pregame tunnel heave, which he performs with the help of a 65-year-old security official. He’s known to recruit teammates to use basketballs to play volleyball, bowl, and run football plays as part of their pregame warm-up. He keeps things loose, and he keeps things fun.
On the court, Curry is demonstrative and intense, entertaining, and at times playful. He often celebrates after hitting a three-pointer, sometimes doing the shimmy, hyping up his teammates and the home crowd. Curry radiates a feeling of enchantment and childlike delight with the game, which seems like an extension of life itself. He’s a fierce competitor without hard edges.
This season has been the most grinding one for the Warriors during their half-decade-long dominance of the NBA. Tensions have flared between Durant and the star forward Draymond Green. At times, the Warriors have appeared lackadaisical, distracted, and mentally worn down. The players seem to sense that their dynastic run is winding down. At these moments, it’s been Curry who has stepped into the breach, bringing the locker room together, telling the world and his teammates, “We cannot lose the joy that we need to play with.” He doesn’t want the dance to end. Neither do I.
The Western Conference finals with Portland begin at Oracle Arena on Tuesday evening. For at least the first part of the series, the Warriors will be without Durant, the former regular-season and finals MVP who was playing as well as he ever has prior to his calf injury. Golden State seems more vulnerable than at any other point in the past few years. But in the furnace heat of the playoffs, when some players rise to the challenge and others disappear, the Warriors will happily cast their lot with their cheerful assassin, the overlooked high-school prospect who transformed the game, the best long-shooter ever to set foot on a hardwood floor.