The Stephen Curry debate about whether he belongs in NBA’s Top 5 of all-time is not a debate
Steph Curry is an all-time Top 5 player.
Don’t worry if you don’t yet agree. That’s coming, too, just as surely as all the glory and threes and rings that have followed the NBA’s most underrated all-time great. Even now, after securing a fourth championship, and an NBA Finals MVP trophy finally heading toward his trophy case, the full credit he is due waits.
That’s always how it’s gone with Curry: Greatness, beyond a doubt, and then the recognition and acceptance of it later, often begrudgingly, almost always further down the road than has made sense.
There were the college years, when Curry’s dynamic greatness was on clear display at Davidson. Yet we — myself certainly included — had trouble seeing what he was. He fell to seventh in the 2009 draft, the lowest draft slot for any all-timer outside of some high school kid named Kobe Bryant. He was selected after players like Tyreke Evans, Ricky Rubio and — dear God — Jonny Flynn.
So for those keeping track at home, the Timberwolves took two point guards while Curry was still on the board, and that’s now four rings won by Curry. Zero by the rest of the lottery selections from his draft class.
But even the team that drafted him didn’t see it right away. The Warriors didn’t know what they had, and within the organization there were arguments over Curry’s true value, his ability to succeed and — wait for it — whether he could even play point guard. In some alternate universe, Curry weaves his magic elsewhere because Golden State chose to build around Monta Ellis.
The list of those who have doubted Curry, and the delayed respect he’s earned over and over again, is long. It’s a real-world version of the Larry David Super Bowl commercial about not seeing great ideas when they’re in front of you, moment after moment, confounding mistake after confounding mistake.
There was the idea you couldn’t win championships shooting three-point shots (translation: with Steph), until he did it, and then The Association shifted on its axis. There was the unanimous MVP he earned, a mark of history and his rare greatness. How did his fellow players around the league respond? By starting their own version — the “Players Choice Awards” — and promptly handing that “honor” to James Harden. They should have called it “The Anyone But Steph Awards.”
There were the people around the league, attached to other, jealous stars, trying to push stories about how Steph was good but not great. There was Durant arriving, and attaching himself to Curry and what Curry had built, and so many people missing the obvious fact that Durant needed Curry — not, as we now know, the other way around.
You’d think the architect of a championship team and then a 73-win squad would be seen clearly when Durant tagged along to be part of that story. Nope.
And now we have the latest version of the Curry’s-awesome-sure-but-not-that-awesome siliness, and the inevitable delayed comprehension of just how exceptional this basketball player truly is. He’s not just suddenly a top all-time player. He’s one of the absolute best. Period.
That, to me, was exactly what Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was getting at when he went out of his way shortly after Game 6 clinching victory to point out it is Curry, and not all the others in Golden State, who truly brought forth all this glory.
“Without him, none of this happens,” Kerr said. “You know? And that’s not taking anything away from Joe and Peter’s ownership, because they’re amazing owners, built an incredible organization. Bob Myers, helluva GM. Our players, we’ve had so many great players.
“But Steph ultimately is why this run has happened,” he said. “Much like Timmy [Duncan] in San Antonio. I’m happy for everybody but I’m thrilled for Steph. To me, this is his crowning achievement in what’s already been an incredible career.”
Not Kerr. Nor Kerr’s boss. Nor his boss’ bosses. Nor the other players he has coached to multiple championships.
Andre Iguodala said it more directly.
“I think he solidified himself today — not even today, just his career — as the best point guard of all time.”
Iguodala’s right. And that places Curry ahead of Magic, ahead of the Big O, ahead of Nash and Stockton and Isiah and CP3.
It puts him in very, very rarified air.
Curry, like Jordan and LeBron and Kareem, both forged greatness and redefined the sport. Curry’s place in the game’s history is not just what he’s done. It’s what he’s created.
A team that thrives when he is on the floor and utterly sputters when he is not. A three-point era he conjured from his own improbable and game-changing talent. The hall of fame careers he has been the catalyst for, from Draymond Green to Klay Thompson to Kerr. The culture he cultivates that makes winning so certain the Warriors are also next year’s favorites. The career resurrections (Andrew Wiggins) and surprises (Jordan Poole) Curry’s presence made possible.
The debate isn’t whether he’s a Top 10 all-time player. It’s whether he’s a Top 5 all-time player.
And the answer — as, inevitably, so many will come to accept at some silly point down the road — is an unequivocal, Of course he is.