Why Steph has an advantage over LeBron when rare superstars originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SAN FRANCISCO — In the fourth summer of his NBA career, Stephen Curry can wake up every day with a smile of a champion and then peek at multiple MVP trophies. In a league of 450 active players, only one other has experienced this with such frequency.
While Curry and James’ careers aren’t exactly parallel — they were drafted six years apart — they’re forever linked by the tetralogy, four straight NBA Finals in which the Steph’s Warriors faced the Cleveland Cavaliers of James. Each man is in his thirties and none has known a more respectful and fascinating opponent.
They are twilight-entering rivals, which makes the comparison fair. A warning: the opinions here stray from the typical NBA debate. We don’t come to belittle one to flatter the other. Steph and LeBron have earned enough respect to be immune to palaver.
Two assertions are not in dispute. The first is that LeBron has done things that Steph could never have done. At 22, he took a pedestrian roster, the 2007 Cavaliers, to the finals. Although they were swept away by the San Antonio Spurs, getting that team through the Eastern Conference has been one of the most miraculous achievements in American sports of the 21st century.
The second is that Steph did at least two things that LeBron never could.
One is that Curry took two different incarnations of the same franchise to and through the Finals. Most of the Warriors around him in 2015 have retired, and many of those around him in 2022 were in college in 2015.
The second is that Curry influenced the direction of the entire sport. His footprint on basketball is bigger than anyone since Michael Jordan – and in a way even bigger. Steph has taken the 3-point shot, once the domain of specialists, and put it at the heart of success. He is, quite literally, a game changer.
The NBA is, by that measure, Steph’s league — even with LeBron in it.
Andre Iguodala entered the NBA in 2004, a year after LeBron, and has played with or against everyone from Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson to Luka Dončić and Kevin Durant. Iguodala is one of the most attentive observers of the game and has seen its evolution. He grasps the importance of Curry and marvels at his ownership of the 2022 Finals.
“You’ve never seen a guy his size dominate the league like that and just to put the weight of everything on his shoulders throughout a series of finals,” Iguodala said. “We all saw what he was doing to those boys. Normally you get a guy who is a center, like Hakeem (Olajuwon) or Kobe Bryant, LeBron James – those guys are 6-7+ and they can walk into their shoes and shoot guys.
“But a guy his size who is ‘vertically challenged’, just, you’ve seen it, we’ve all seen it. It was just amazing.
Curry, at 6ft 3in, made basketball accessible to many who would have been fired at the time or Jordan or Kobe, when scouts were looking for hyper-athletic wings in hopes of discovering someone who could do half the things MJ or Kobe did. Steph has scouts scouring Division II rosters for shooters. He’s the reason Max Strus has a job in Miami, why Desmond Bane can be a star in Memphis and why 6-foot-1 Alfonso Plummer — even at 24 — is lucky to hear his name called in the draft of the NBA on Thursday night.
Another category where LeBron or anyone can compete with Steph is in fostering an engaging and inclusive environment. While LeBron’s teammates sometimes seemed almost fearful — or smothered, in Kyrie Irving’s case — Curry was an active scout in pursuit of KD and sets an approachable tone in which every team member feels valuable.
“Everyone on this team is selfless, from the top to the bottom of the food chain,” says Jordan Poole. “The humility that the guys have, we want to see everyone succeed. We want to win games. And to be able to have that with such a talented team as we have is rare.
It wouldn’t be true if Curry wasn’t there to back it up. His combination of generational offensive ability and routine affability is key to Golden State winning more championships than any other franchise since arriving in 2009.
“The problem with Steph is that without him, none of this happens,” coach Steve Kerr said. “It doesn’t take anything away from the ownership of Joe (Lacob) and Peter (Guber) because they’ve built an amazing organization. Bob Myers, crowned GM. Our players, we’ve had so many great players. But Steph is ultimately why this race happened. Kind of like Timmy (Duncan) in San Antonio.
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Jordan’s cultural impact could never be matched. Her shoe brand has thrived over two generations, with no reason to believe she won’t make three or four. Neither LeBron nor Steph could compete with that.
MJ has won six rings and five MVP awards and is usually ranked #1 on any list. LeBron has won four championships with three different teams and holds four MVP awards, all before Steph won his first. Curry has four rings and two MVP awards, including the only one by unanimous vote. LeBron and Steph belong to the top five of all time.
What neither MJ nor LeBron did was change the game. Too unique.
Steph did. By being the rarest superstar we’ve ever seen.
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