Grant Cohn: Stephen Curry is NBA's Mr. Normal

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Stephen Curry is normal.

Normal is the highest praise you can give a professional athlete. Normal is hard to find in the NBA.

Greatness is not. Greatness is easy to spot. We know how great Curry is. But his on-court dominance isn’t the only thing that makes him unique in his world. Other players take over games — you know who they are. Very few act like Curry.

Normal.

After practice, Curry sits on a stool next to the court as dozens of media members cluster around him. He never puts himself above anyone, literally and figuratively. He carries himself like a maitre d’ at Chez Panisse who kneels next to you out of respect when he takes your drink order.

Curry answers questions until reporters run out of them. His press conferences typically last longer than 10 minutes. And he answers all types of questions — good ones, bad ones, pointed ones, softball ones, informed ones, insane ones — and he answers with the same level of generosity and thoughtfulness every time.

He looks you in the eye, thinks before he responds and takes pride in his answers. Never seems stingy or rude. Never takes a tough question personally. Never acts like a celebrity. He acts like your favorite neighbor who’ll lend you the electric drill in a heartbeat.

Curry should not be this normal. He grew up the wealthy son of a former NBA player, Dell Curry. Steph had every advantage as a child. You and I cannot relate to his upbringing, and neither can most of his millionaire teammates who grew up poor or working class. And yet, Curry is the most down-to-earth star in American sports.

Draymond Green is not down to earth, although he may have been when he was younger. He still seems like a fundamentally good person. But just a couple weeks ago, he disrespected his head coach, Steve Kerr, in front of the media.

Kerr was sitting on the stool talking to reporters. Green was practicing his jump shot while music blared over the loudspeakers inside the Warriors gym. Kerr couldn’t hear himself talk and he couldn’t hear questions from reporters. So, he asked Green to turn off the music. Green refused and kept shooting. Just ignored the head coach. Forget Kerr.

A reporter asked Kerr who’s in charge here. Kerr frowned, shrugged and said, “I guess not me.”

Can you imagine Curry ever acting like that toward his coach? Never in a million years.

Kevin Durant is not down to earth. Again, he seems fundamentally decent, but he sulked all season because not enough people considered him the best player in the world. Fragile ego. And he has feuded with reporters who merely asked him about free agency — a topic he made relevant because he chose not to sign a long-term contract with the Warriors. He can opt out of his deal this offseason. Most people expect he will opt out and sign with the New York Knicks, just so he can have his own team and win more MVP awards.

Can you imagine Curry ever acting like that?

Russell Westbrook is not down to earth. He may have been when he went to UCLA — we were there at the same time. Took a class together on dinosaurs and their relatives. He showed up and took notes like everyone else. Seemed interested in dinosaurs, not to mention their relatives.

Now, he is relentlessly rude to working-class reporters. He answers every question with an attitude. Sometimes he doesn’t even answer, especially when he’s talking to Barry Trammel of the Oklahoman newspaper.

Westbrook especially hates Trammel. Who knows why? Every time Trammel asks him something, Westbrook says, “Next question,” or “Good question, not sure.” It’s the pettiest press-conference behavior in the NBA.

Can you imagine Curry ever acting like that?

James Harden is not down to earth. In news conferences, he sneers at questions when he’s not ignoring them. Acts like reporters are bums who smell. Avoids eye contact and makes Chris Paul answer for him. Paul is Harden’s designated talker, except when Harden wants to complain about officials. In that case, Harden talks for himself.

Harden also has a personal bodyguard who stands next to him on the court during timeouts. As if Harden is the president of the United States.

Can you imagine Curry ever acting like that?

Michael Jordan was not down to earth. Jordan wanted a good image, sure, so he groomed himself before interviews and smiled. But, he wasn’t actually helpful to reporters. He created the illusion of being helpful. He created the illusion of Michael Jordan.

Jordan sat at his locker after games and spoke at length. But “spoke” is the wrong word. Sometimes, Jordan whispered. Just to be difficult. Just so only a select few standing at the front of the pack could hear him. Screw everyone else.

Can you imagine Curry ever acting like that? He wouldn’t. And neither would his Splash Brother, Klay Thompson. Another player who grew up the son of a wealthy NBA star. Another player who shouldn’t be normal but is. Delightfully so.

Thompson is a different kind of normal than Curry. Curry is outgoing. Thompson is quiet. He seems shy.

But Thompson can be unexpected. One moment, he may not have much to say. The next moment, he’s saying profound things about meditation and nature sounds. And he’s earnest. Doesn’t put on a show.

When the Warriors drafted Thompson in 2011, he did an interview on a local television station to introduce himself to the Bay Area. He brought his parents, Mychal and Julie.

Mychal was in the newsroom socializing with writers and editors. Julie sat in the Green Room, and she was fretting. My father, Lowell Cohn, was in the Green Room, too. She told him, “Klay is going on TV and he doesn’t have a lot of experience. I’m nervous.”

“Come on, Mom,” my dad said. “He’ll do great. You’ll see.”

Of course, Thompson did great. As the show went on, his mother relaxed and got into how sweet and honest he is.

“How did it go?” My dad asked her when it was over.

“I’m really pleased,” she said about her son. “Thanks for sitting here with me.”

A few months later, Thompson was by himself at practice. My dad walked over and introduced himself and told the story about Thompson’s mother in the Green Room.

“She told me,” Thompson said. “Thanks for being so nice to my mom.”

Can you imagine Curry ever acting like that?

Of course you can. He’s normal.

Grant Cohn covers the 49ers and Bay Area sports for The Press Democrat and pressdemocrat.com in Santa Rosa. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.

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