Stephen Curry is Joe Montana.
Since Montana led the 49ers through their greatest era, one of the greatest eras of any team in any sport, no Bay Area athlete has reminded us of him. Until now.
Superb athletes have played around here — Steve Young, Barry Bonds, Tim Lincecum. I could fill this entire column with special names. But not one of those athletes had the Joe-like qualities in excess, which I’ll get to in a moment. Except for now. Curry has those qualities.
Stephen Curry is Joe Montana.
It verges on sacrilege to say anyone is Montana. In this case it is not sacrilege. It is reality. And it is the highest praise imaginable. So, what makes them the same person? Try this list.
Both are clutch. Hey, I’m writing about Montana in the present tense — at least some of the time. He exists in a permanent present tense.
The word clutch doesn’t even capture who they are, what they do. Watching them, you enjoy the absolute certainty they will rise to the crisis moment. Take over the moment and own it. No one is clutch like Montana and Curry.
Montana threw the pass that led to The Catch. It was his signature moment, but not his only clutch moment. The Catch is iconic for great football plays and hurled the Niners into their time of dominance.
Curry being clutch? Choose your game. How about Game 2 of this Oklahoma City series? Curry scoring 17 points in the third quarter, in one stretch outscoring the Thunder 15-2, Curry ending the game then and there. Curry making Russell Westbrook look like a crude point guard in comparison. Curry reminding everyone why he’s the league MVP and its best player.
Part of clutch is “cool.” Neither Montana (Joe Cool) nor Curry seems to sweat. All the heroics come naturally — Curry with that mouthpiece dangling from his lips like a pacifier.
MASTERS OF THEIR CRAFT
Montana and Curry have mastered the techniques of their craft better than anybody else. They turn sport into art.
Montana moved like a dancer, brought ballet to the pocket. And his passes were on-the-money. Dwight Clark told me Montana always threw the ball exactly where Clark could catch it. To the optimum place while the defense was trying to murder Montana.
Years after Montana retired, Bill Walsh watched Montana tape in preparation for a talk he was giving. He phoned me and said every pass was perfect — the Platonic ideal of that particular pass. I could hear the love in Walsh’s voice. He had fallen in love with Montana all over again.
Curry has the finest ball-handling skills in the NBA. Watch his warm-up routine. See his behind-the-back-passes or his over-his-head-backward passes. See him stop near the 3-point line, give the merest shoulder fake. See him get open, lift the ball from his waist. See the arc. Say three.
Both were small and got overlooked at key moments of their careers. Montana ended up a third-round draft choice. Seems amazingly weird in retrospect. Curry had to play college ball at Davidson — it was unclear he would develop an NBA body.
Overcoming average bodies, not being physical specimens is part of the Montana lore and the Curry lore. They are regular people. In a sense, they are stand-ins for the common folk, for you and me — our ambassadors to the world of pro sports.
Their size makes fans pull for them. Every time Curry gets hurt, it’s almost a Bay Area tragedy.
Both are modest. When he played, Montana was shy. He tried to accommodate the media, but sometimes was not good at it. He couldn’t get why people made a fuss about him. Montana is now a sophisticated, mature adult. A lovely person.
Curry is a natural. He is verbal to the max, and patient and normal. He wins good-guy awards from the media.
We refer to Joe and Steph by their first names as if we know them, as if they’re coming over for dinner tonight. It’s a bonus when our stars aren’t jerks, when we’re not forced to make excuses for them.
Montana and Curry play in joy. They love what they do. The field or the court are their natural playgrounds, where they are most themselves. And we feel the joy and share it with them.
A result of this joy is their eagerness to embrace a tough moment. A “situation,” as they say on TV. They love tough moments. Their joy translates into them being a sure thing.
ONE OF THE GUYS
Neither separates himself from the team. Both are one of the guys, part of the every-day fabric of the team. Their teammates like them. Offensive linemen helped up Montana when he got blasted. Warriors rush to Curry when he goes down. Draymond Green cradles his head. It’s not for show. Their teammates mean it.
Both have IT. This is the most important descriptive in the entire list and I honestly don’t know how to define IT.
I know when Montana and Curry are playing I can’t take my eyes off them. Anything can happen. Something heroic will happen. They will define the game. They will transcend the game. They will do something I never have seen. And they will win.
They are the incarnations of IT and, although I can’t explain IT, I know IT when I see IT. With them I see IT.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at email@example.com.