During Stephen Curry‘s NBA MVP award presentation yesterday afternoon, Golden State head coach Steve Kerr admitted his star guard reminds him of Tim Duncan and Steve Nash. It’s a question he’s asked constantly, Kerr said, and the answer’s become almost robotic at this point. Kerr played with Duncan to end his career and was general manager of Nash’s Suns from 2007 to 2010. He also memorably won championships in the 1990s with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Phil Jackson.
Kerr might be a rookie head coach but he can recognize greatness when he sees it. And with the Warriors 71-15 on the season–including the playoffs–with Steph Curry throwing up numbers (23-plus points, 7-plus assists, 4-plus rebounds per game, and shooting 40 percent from three-point range) that are matched only by LeBron James and Larry Bird, it wasn’t a question of IF Curry would win the MVP. It was only a question of how many votes he’d win by. (He ultimately earned 100 out of 130 possible first-place votes.)
To go from being a good NBA player to one that now finds himself the newest member of the Wheaties Orange Box Club is the hardest jump to make of all. Every year, the NBA is littered with Jimmy Butlers: Overlooked players who use a combination of hard work and opportunity to scrap out a role for themselves or, perhaps, maybe even a chance to make a few All-Star teams. (I actually think Butler has a chance to reach another level from here.) However, the group that continues to improve to become legit superstars is miniscule. The league’s best players normally start with that hype. LeBron had it. Kevin Durant had it. Chris Paul had it. Russell Westbrook had it. This season was interesting in the fact that the top two MVP vote-getters were Curry and James Harden, another late bloomer that went from role player to Sixth Man star to franchise cornerstone to one of the five best players in the world.
Before them it was the aforementioned Nash, who was barely recruited before attending a mid-major, then spent a few years languishing in backup roles in the NBA. Kerr’s belief in the Nash/Curry comparison actually has parallels than he might not even realize.
But Curry is more than just a passing wizard who makes everyone around him better. He might be the game’s most incredible ball-handler, yo-yoing around defenders and playing with an elastic feel that makes him seem almost cartoonish, all while defining a new age in social media by being both fast food–no other player dominates Vine like this cat does–and a four-course meal–Curry improved his defense this year to finally become a five-tool basketball player.
Overall, Curry became more efficient with his touches and learned to affect the game without even having the ball, something that helped turn the Warriors into a juggernaut with multiple offensive options that can go off for 20 points. Even Curry’s jumper is somehow improving. He shot 51 percent from deep after the All-Star break and 42.3 percent overall on pull-up three-pointers, per SportVU and SI, a mark that would have made him the league’s sixth-best shooter overall from downtown.
While all of this has to be unexpected for most basketball fans, many of whom hopped off the Curry bandwagon after he had what felt like 54 ankle sprains early in his career, Under Armour had hoped all along for this. They put their faith in Curry, stringing along their basketball performance franchise by making him the face of their brand. Curry has delivered in every way since coming aboard in the fall of 2013, first by headlining new product from UA like the well-received Anatomix Spawn, and then earning his first signature sneaker, the Curry One.
Even after Under Armour failed to lure Kevin Durant away from Nike last year, Curry proved he is more than capable. His sneakers have started slow, but considering they feature the sneaker technology people love with the special AnaFoam construction, as well as fantastic colorways like the “Dark Matter” All-Star shoes and his soon-to-be released “MVP” colorway, it won’t be long before Curry’s product is linked with some of Nike’s best.
There are very few athletes in the world that can say they’re not only the most entertaining and exciting player in their respective league but also the most popular. Add in a signature sneaker, even in an age where it feels like everyone is dropping sig shoes, and you have a recipe for something special, something you can’t manufacture. Moments like these only come along so often and brands–whether it’s a behemoth like Nike or a newcomer like Brandblack–cherish them. They search for them. They pray for them.
We’ve seen dozens of MVPs come through the NBA but only a select few ever reach the status that Stephen Curry realized this year, making the jump from great to special both on and off the court. It reminds me of Allen Iverson with Reebok in 2001, which, ironically, was the last time a Nike or adidas athlete did not win the NBA’s MVP award.
Once upon a time in 2009, Stephen Curry was drafted behind names like Thabeet, Evans, Rubio, and Flynn. Now he’s an MVP and there’s no telling how high he’ll go from here.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney