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Steph Curry is back, and so is the joy that he brings to basketball

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Stephen Curry plays basketball with a joy that is more important than wins and losses.

Steph Curry, focused, pointing towards the sideline in his return game from injury.

I hope God forgives me on judgement day for the blasphemy I committed. During his return against the Raptors on Thursday, I said I was watching Stephen Curry with the same skepticism of Saint Thomas after the resurrection of Jesus.

It was an extreme statement to make a point about the light and joy that Curry brings when he plays. Relative to the recovery periods for other serious injuries, he hadn’t been absent for long. But I was overcome by the irrational fear he might not be the same as he was before he left. That Curry wouldn’t be Curry. Injuries can have that sort of diminishing effect on players.

But then he did this:

It’s hard to watch that play and not grin. When I saw Curry make that shot and then celebrate, I wondered why it made me so happy. It’s not a rare move for him, and the Warriors went on to lose. He had a good game back, but it hardly changed the dreary season the Warriors are having.

Then I realized it was the full effect of his ability. Not just the gravity of his shooting and playmaking ability, but the simple joy of watching someone that great do the thing they’re incredible at. And when Curry is at his best, few other players embody the delight in excellence that he does.

This morning, Rob Mahoney wrote a great article about how Curry gives the Warriors a purpose and identity again:

When a team loses almost 80 percent of those games, as the league-worst Warriors have this season, all that’s left is the mess.

Stephen Curry returned to the lineup on Thursday to help make sense of it. What Curry offers Golden State, beyond the obvious benefits as one of the best living basketball players, is the reprieve that comes with change.

In the article, there’s a quote by Andrew Wiggins in which he says Curry makes the game simple and exciting for those around him. Mahoney relates the Wiggins quote to something that Steve Kerr always says about how he wants his team to play. It’s an essential quality of Curry’s game. Joy.

The joy of Curry is in the totality of him. His shooting, playmaking, leadership and confidence. Great players make things easier for their teammates. They transcend the game by moving outside the normal routines that trap other players because of their lack of ability. For example, most players could never even think of taking the shot that Curry did, especially while being defended tightly. But Curry can, and he does.

Great players like him open up another level of possibilities within the game. Because he can make those shots, his teammates have more space for creativity. Players like Curry don’t just elevate their team, but also our understanding of the sport and what can be achieved within it. It’s simply enjoyable to watch him operate on that higher plane.

Most great players are still reasonable to a point. They exploit mismatches, often because they are simply better than whatever defense is put in front of them. Curry does those things, but he carries a joy that’s particular to him. A joy borne of audaciousness.

Curry’s game is built on doing a lot of things that would be terrible ideas for everyone else. He curls around picks, and without even setting his feet, with a defender tight on him, he shoots. And he often makes those shots. But no one solitary example can do him justice. One of my most frequent reactions to Curry’s game is saying to myself, “that’s so fucking stupid,” while chuckling. I don’t mean it as an insult, but as an expression of disbelief and marvel.

The joy of Curry is separate from the Warriors’ success, though it does actively help the team. But even though the team is no longer playing like a juggernaut, Curry still retains that quality. After he made his first shot, and as he went on to play like his old self throughout his first game back from injury, everything was more fun by his mere presence. His teammates were more energized, and the fans were more engaged. Everyone was happier. That happiness stems from the fact Curry is a marvel unlike any other, that he treats what would be absolute limits of other players as suggestions.

It might not be as important as trophies, but the way Curry plays basketball shows how beautiful the game can be.