One of the most disrespectful things I’ve ever seen Stephen Curry do happened last February. With the score tied against the Thunder, Curry grabbed an outlet pass, dribbled slowly, and pulled up for a 38-footer with 2.9 seconds left on the clock. Swish. Game over.
That was standard Curry, in that he often takes and makes impossible long threes. It was also an invitation to hop down the court, celebrate with his teammates, and then shimmy and dance all over the Thunder’s arena as they dealt with the heartbreaking loss.
The shot was amazing, and the subsequent celebration — which would have been penalized as taunting if the NBA was anything like the NFL — was even more so. It was exuberant, insulting, and so much fun to watch. It was a perfect time to gloat.
It also sparked the never-ending discussion of whether Curry is arrogant or if he’s just having harmless fun.
The answer depends on your perspective.
In a sense, Curry has amassed more than enough evidence to warrant the arrogant distinction. He shook Andre Iguodala’s hand after shooting a three as the ball was still in the air. He shot a corner three, turned around, and stared down the Kings bench as it dropped. He said he hoped the Cavaliers’ locker room still smelled like champagne after beating them for the title, then decimated them as everyone clutched at their pearls. These are just a few examples.
The most recent incident happened against the Pelicans a few weeks ago. In the third quarter, Curry caught a pass from Draymond Green on the right wing with Jrue Holiday defending. Spinning counterclockwise, Curry shot a fadeaway three with Holiday’s hand in his face.
When the shot dropped, Curry turned to his right and put out his hand for Darren Erman, a Pelicans assistant coach, who also used to be a Warriors assistant, to give him a low-five. Which the coach surprisingly did.
After the game, Curry explained why it happened:
"He was telling, I think, Jrue — while I'm shooting — he's yelling out, 'If he makes it, it's a good shot, if he makes it, it's a good shot.' Trying to encourage their defense. So I wanted a little praise for that good shot and he gave it to me.”
From a different perspective, Curry is just enjoying himself and, in turn, making the game more entertaining. But it’s still unsportsmanlike to some and works to goad his opponents. He rubbing their faces in their inability to stop him. The Pelicans seemed to take it in stride (even if the players gave Erman “a little hell” about the incident), but not all teams are as forgiving or relaxed about these things.
So while the argument rages on, both sides are right. His antics can be harmless fun for him and disrespectful to others. It just depends on whether you or your team is dishing the punishment out or receiving it.
Were it someone else, maybe the story is different.
Curry has cultivated a brand as the humble, easy-going family man, the media darling, and the angelic underdog, even after a championship and two back-to-back MVPs. This helps repels negative criticism about his character. He’s confident, not arrogant. He’s fun, not disrespectful. He’s venting his frustration when he hits a fan with his mouthguard, not displaying his entitlement.
That allows him to do villainous things without ever being labeled a villain. And he seems to take advantage of this privilege often.
The argument extends to the Warriors as a whole. They are both the lovable familial bunch and the assholes of the NBA. They’re at once the baby-face of Curry and the heel of Draymond Green.
Yet, a crucial part of the dichotomy is crystallized by Curry’s awareness of the reception of his and his team’s behavior. He knows how some negatively view his team’s antics and he still intentionally does them. Why else would he convince his teammates to have a “Super Villain” party? He knows opposing players and teams don’t like it, and he knows he can get away with it in a way other stars could.
So yes, he’s disrespectful in that sense.
But this is a boring debate
His shimmies and staredowns don’t need to be defended or argued against. This is a game. What matters is that Curry’s persona is entertaining and essential to the larger conversation of the league.
That’s doubly true if it’s all on purpose. His actions can be seen as rude, arrogant, and abrasive, but they’re also exciting. They’re Michael Jordan clowning LaBradford Smith. They’re Allen Iverson walking over Tyronn Lue. Embarrassing your opponent and showing off is a pivotal aspect of becoming a big personality in basketball. Everyone knows this, regardless of how much we hand-wring about morality.
A good crossover gets Curry to the rim, but a great one breaks George Hill’s ankles and makes the commentator utter “oh my goodness” in shock. Just as a fadeaway three over Holiday is impressive enough, taking a low-five from the Pelicans assistant coach makes it more fun. This becomes great entertainment.
It also puts Curry in an unenviable position and makes him a target.
Every player that he embarrasses becomes an enemy of his. And they eventually look to return the favor.
The moment of dominance is always fleeting. One day, the perpetrator will be on the receiving end of his humiliation. It was #ArrogantSZN until the Warriors ran into the Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals. All fun and games, until the 3-1 memes descended. All champagne jokes, until LeBron James woke up.
The ancients called it karma. The kids say it’s life coming at you fast.
But mostly, it’s the random chaos of life that assures victory and defeat are matters of momentary circumstances. Every time a player like Curry engages in #ArrogantSZN behavior, their own moment of failure tastes that much sweeter for their dissenters.
And we should embrace that as neutrals. The trajectory from hero to unstoppable villain to pitiful victim is the drama that makes the NBA, and sports in general, worth following.
So let Curry and the Warriors be arrogant
Whether they intend to be disrespectful doesn’t really matter. Don’t admonish their actions. Instead, admit that they’re contributing to the lifeblood of the sport in a way that’s no different from Usain Bolt celebrating and jogging in first place as other racers struggle to finish.
The double-edged nature of that behavior — supreme arrogance leading to supreme embarrassment — is part of that lifeblood, as well. It’s the suspense that keeps those who do deem Curry and the Warriors as arrogant watching. The more he gloats, the more they want to see him fail.
That’s another reason why his behavior should be championed. It’s more fun this way.