When I watch the Warriors now, I count how often they make me laugh out loud.
It might be Klay Thompson seeming to launch a three before he’s even caught the ball. Or Kevin Durant, going coast-to-coast, with a crossover, for a dunk.
But mostly it is Steph Curry.
There’s whirligig dribbling, leaving the best athletes on Earth spinning in circles; the crazy-long 3-pointers that bring you off the couch. And most of all, how often those moments win a game.
Last week put an interesting pin in Curry’s career — who he was and who he’s become.
Tuesday was the fifth anniversary of the February night when he came to Madison Square Garden and took over the place. The 54 points Curry scored then are still a career high.
He was coming off an injury-plagued second season, but in 2013 the little guy out of Davidson (enrollment 1,950) was starting to get national NBA buzz.
Still, you’ve seen The New Yorker cover. New Yorkers see the Hudson River, Jersey and then some other stuff out to the Pacific Ocean.
Who cares what’s going on out West?
That’s what New York thought about Curry then.
Harrison Barnes, a Warrior that year, said recently that as Curry hit one long 3 after another (he was 11 for 13), the Knicks fans began to cheer him. With four minutes to go, Curry splashed one from 25 feet. It was his 46th point and gave the Warriors the lead. The crowd roared. The Knicks called time out. Curry shimmied.
Now fast-forward to last Monday’s game in MSG. There’s a video of a kid in a Knicks jersey, standing at courtside. As Curry comes out of the tunnel, the kid puts his hand up and without breaking stride, Curry high-fives him. The kid is so gobsmacked that he pretends to faint, falling backwards onto his chair and then to the floor.
That’s what New York thinks of Curry now.
There are smart people claiming that the 54-point game changed the NBA. There’s an argument to be made. Since then the number of 3-pointers has skyrocketed, and (relatively) little guys with lots of moves — Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, James Harden — are the stars. Seven-footers are scrambling for minutes.
“He is the most impactful offensive player, in terms of what he does to the defense, maybe ever,” Steve Kerr told SB Nation.
Here’s the unfair part. That’s not enough.
When an athlete rises to a national level, we expect more. He represents us, speaks for us and sets a standard.
You can’t prepare for that. And athletes are often the worst. They may have lived a coddled life in locker rooms, often taking a pass on school. They are thrown, cold turkey, into the glare of a public life. Sometimes it isn’t pretty.
Ever since Curry went global, I’ve been waiting for a churlish moment or a thoughtless quote. It hasn’t happened.
He seems happy to go anywhere, to try anything. A few months ago, Jimmy Fallon asked him to shoot a butternut squash at a hoop on the Tonight Show. Curry did, swishing the squash.
But he also appeared with Fallon in November to read part of an essay he wrote for The Players’ Tribune. It was on Veterans Day, saluting those who served our country.
The final line, an appeal “to be louder than all the silence and to quiet all that noise,” was heartfelt and nicely phrased. (The Players’ Tribune sometimes helps edit athletes’ contributions. Still, you don’t hear something like that from many athletes.)
Curry’s a semi-regular on the Ellen Degeneres Show, including two weeks ago, when he cheerfully goofed around with his wife, Ayesha. The two had the audience giggling as Steph played the chef and Ayesha reached through his jacket to be his hands.
Now, for all I know this is an act.
In private, maybe Curry is rude to waiters and hates kittens. But I have two stories.
The first is from Raymond Ritter, the Warriors’ all-NBA media relations guy. Before Steph was Steph, he had an excellent rookie year. There was some thought he might make the All-Star team.
He didn’t. And when the roster was announced, Ritter said he got a text from Curry. “Thanks for your help,” it said.
Ritter says he’s gotten thank- you’s from players who MADE the team, but this was a first from someone who didn’t.
The other is the year I went to the Warriors’ preseason tipoff luncheon.
There must have been 2,000 people in a huge SF ballroom, and I was way in the back, minding my own business. As the event ended, Ritter asked if I’d like to go to a small reception afterward.
Uh sure, why not? I went in and took an inconspicuous spot along the wall. Ritter returned.
“Want to talk to Steph?” he said.
“Oh geez,” I said. “Honestly, I just came for lunch. I’m not even writing this.”
But Ritter was already gone. He came back with Curry.
Curry didn’t know me from a ham sandwich. But he was charming.
He asked about my family, made a few jokes and politely took his leave. Now that, I thought, is an impressive young guy.
That was before two NBA championships, two MVP awards and a 54-point game in Madison Square Garden.
In that time I’ve seen nothing to change my mind. Impressive guy.
Contact C.W. Nevius at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @cwnevius.