It's fitting that Stephen Curry dons the image of one of the world's greatest bridges on his uniform. Bridges are used in many cultures as a symbol of transition, of leaving one's troubles behind for greener pastures.
The gateway to a new life embodies the current situation for both Curry and the Warriors. This is an organization far removed from the days of embarrassing ownership, trading Chris Webber for unknowns and countless seasons that ended with win totals like 26, 19, 21, 19 and 17. Now, it's about the promise of a new arena, explosive offense, unusually stingy defense and management that used its better sense to keep Klay Thompson rather than trade him for Kevin Love.
The Warriors could have easily taken the same dark path with their new star. When Curry signed a four-year, $44 million deal that's now one of the league's best bargains, there were serious concerns about the many surgeries on his ankles. It was another physical trial for the young point guard and another test of faith for a franchise that watched a promising Baron Davis get fat and leave.
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For once, neither took that dark path. That's because overcoming the limits of his body is nothing new for Curry. It's been told, re-hashed, written and televised countless times how the 5'6 freshman guard at Davidson College transformed into the superstar of today. He arrived at orientation with a quilt his grandmother gave to him and went to the school only because larger institutions offered him nothing. They thought he was undersized, which made sense at the time but looks silly now.
Yet overcoming his small size and ankle injuries to stay in the league is one thing. It's entirely another to become Steph, the outrageous, thrilling shooter and playmaker for the NBA's best team. The go-to explanation for his likability is that he's the every-man superstar, the one who resembles us unlike most of his colleagues because of his size, look and general demeanor.
There's something to that theory. Watching Russell Westbrook go coast to coast before unleashing a thunderous dunk between two defenders is thrilling because only androids can do it. Watching Curry dribble through screens before letting off a quick fire three-pointer is thrilling because it looks like any of us could do it. The way Curry excites audiences motivates us to go outside and shoot for hours, as if we can and will reach his skill level in the foreseeable future if we stick with it.
That will never happen because hard work will always be the Robin to the Batman of natural talent. Even those who preach the miracles of staying later than your competition and studying film until the dawn of the next day are more talented than a vast majority of the human population. Kobe Bryant wakes up at 3 a.m every morning to shoot thousands of shots and improves his footwork, but his high school highlights clearly show he was otherworldly at an early age. Hard work is vital, but only insomuch as it helps players reach their innate ceilings.
Every shred of evidence suggests Curry is as maniacal and disciplined as those in his stratosphere. Summers are littered with short videos of him working on his handles, his shooting and his golf swing, among other things. It just looks a bit different. Whereas LeBron James is lifting whole cows and throwing tractors across hemispheres, Curry is throwing candy in the air to catch it in his mouth while keeping his dribble.
That leaves us with a player who is as accessible as he is great.
Yet Curry is so talented and disarming that his accessibility gets taken for granted. The symbol of that phenomenon is his weapon of choice: the jump shot. There are always moments when a jumper lifts a crowd off its feet. When it's a heat check at the end of a run that feels like a personal attack. When it's the dagger that wipes away a comeback. When it's the game-winner, of course.
Curry has made the jumper as exciting as a poster dunk. You can feel Warriors fans holding their collective breaths whenever he gets the ball for a corner three, open or not. The fans are at the edge of their seats even when he has the ball around the three-point arc. He can put his defender on skates before hitting all net, and he can shoot it right in front of his man regardless of how good the defense is. The chances of him scoring are the same as they would be if he were wide open.
Nobody can dunk through a crowd like Westbrook or LeBron or contort their body between defenders like healthy Derrick Rose or Kyrie Irving. But everyone can shoot jumpers. It's the most basic of basketball skills. It doesn't even have to look good: Shawn Marion's motion is an insult to every book on form and posture, but it still works.
Steph has mastered the everyman skill like few others. How many other players shoot jumpers as accurately, as voluminous and as often off the dribble like him? How many do it while being the team's primary playmaker as well? Usually, these jump-shooting savants are either three-point specialists who spread the floor or shooting guards with the job description already in their title.
Steph is different. He broke the record for most three-pointers scored in a season two years ago with 272 made out of 600 attempts, an outstanding 45.3 percent. This year, he's on track to break the record again, all while shooting 48 percent from the field overall. The other guards who are above him are Goran Dragic, who takes significantly fewer shots, and Kyle Korver, who probably uses Marshawn Lynch's "you know why I'm here" line as he stands behind the arc. The rest are big men and Chris Paul, who is absurd in his own right. None shoot jumpers like Steph.
Steph's handle is just as absurd and yet another example of a simple skill becoming supernatural. His dribbling adds to his aesthetically pleasing game. Style matters: it always has. It's why we fall in love with certain players, whether they're big bruisers or flashy point guards. Curry, in layman's terms, is just disgusting with his handles. They're so smooth that it's hard to differentiate when he's getting himself out of trouble and when he's just trying to embarrass the defender. How do you deal with someone who can do this?
You can't defend Steph better than that. He just has mastery over the ball like it's a mutant power. He is as capable of making a pass that splits defenders as he is nailing a step-back jumper while under extreme pressure, all while looking so damn cool doing it.
Then there's the final accessible-turned-absurd skill: his on-court intelligence. It's not enough to be knowledgeable about defenses and the weaknesses of your opponents beforehand. Fluidity of the mind is critical. The Warriors' rivals in L.A., for example, have always been hell-bent on double-teaming and trapping Curry. Let the others beat us, the Clippers insisted.
But every time the Clippers attempted to stifle Steph on Sunday, he responded with a quick pass out of the pressure. Or, you know, he dribbled past three defenders to make one of the best plays of the season. He never panicked. He simply took what the defense gave him and continuously made them pay for it.
It shows when he scores in the paint as well. Floaters, early layups before the opponent can even jump, runners and hesitation jumpers ... it's like watching a scientist at work. It even shows on defense, where he just waits for players to trick themselves into seeing a passing lane that he's already covered or he strikes at the perfect time when they've put down their dribble.
Stephen Curry may look unimposing and his success may be built on skills that we plebes think we can duplicate, but that's underselling his genius. He's turned the simplest shot in the game into his most powerful weapon. He doesn't just dribble well; he dribbles around defenders like they're traffic cones. He's constantly out-thinking his opponents.
His genius is turning the ordinary into extraordinary. That's how his game has become as stylish and fluid as anything GQ has to offer.