How Steph Curry’s Crowning Achievement Commanded Everyone’s Attention

With just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter of a dominating Game 6 clincher, Steph Curry looked past Al Horford and toward history. Curry danced, sidestepped, jumped back, and bombed a three over Horford’s head to put the Warriors up 15 and secure the team’s fourth championship. As he sauntered back up the court, Curry clasped his hands and put them up to his head, letting all of TD Garden know it was time to put their title hopes to bed.

By the time Curry received his first Finals MVP trophy later that night, he had a more serious tone, acknowledging the pride he felt getting the MVP and winning a fourth title — but not before pointing out that he was listening the whole time, as many dug the Warriors’ grave. Postgame, Curry called out ESPN directly for claiming as recently as last August that the Warriors would win zero titles during the remainder of his contract. It only makes sense that as his game-sealing three over Horford swished through, Curry would make a show of that shot, the team’s return to the top, and the history of the moment.

He was a legend reaching yet another apex; an all-time great becoming greater. Wherever Curry was in the all-time conversation of the NBA that is defined by accomplishments, he soared above that in Boston on Thursday. With four titles, he is now level with LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal. He’s eclipsed the career count of Larry Bird and Dwyane Wade.

Maybe it appears obvious to praise a legend like Curry, or like he had no reason to find motivation in the “chatter” or what was done for entertainment on First Take. In a league that is defined by its eras and icons, Curry has come to define his — this title and, perhaps more importantly, his fist Finals MVP award are his crowning achievements. But recent NBA champions have been muddled into these lost months and years of sickness and loss. And even before that, we lost perspective, rarely pausing to identify greatness when it’s happening — our attention spans, particularly when it comes to what actually happens on the court, have only gotten shorter. We celebrate with a few days of tweets before the Woj bombs start back up, with all eyes turning to the trade rumors and free agency tidbits.

Yet the Warriors have always been a draw, from nearly the instant they came on the scene. And though his heterodox style as an outside-in combo guard ran counter to most of what had been popular in the league before him, Curry has always been the reason for the Warriors’ magnetism.

Like LeBron James, whose 2016 title feels like the last one to matter this deeply in the NBA consciousness, Curry has been a constant among the basketball watching public long before he ever participated in a professional game. We’ve been dazzled by the man for 15 years, since he was a baby-faced, mid-major stud spearheading a surprise run to the Elite Eight. His 54-point coming-out party at Madison Square Garden was nearly a decade ago. His first MVP came during the rookie campaign of his apparent number two, Andrew Wiggins. The double bang against the Thunder arrived when second-round opponent Ja Morant was just a high school junior.

We had gotten a little out of practice discussing Curry, understanding the way his gravity and selflessness makes the whole team work, appreciating that his game is not just about jump shots and shoulder shimmies. This run served as something of a re-education. There Curry was, doing his best to help frustrate Luka Doncic in the Western Conference Finals. Or in the championship round, scoring comfortably from all three levels and lifting up an offense that no longer had Kevin Durant or the best version of Klay Thompson, while Draymond Green needed several games to start to figure out how to make his presence felt on that end of the floor against the vaunted Celtic defense.

This time, Curry won with a refurbished Wiggins as copilot, putting on his best-ever Finals display at age 34. And in doing so, he certainly commanded our attention once again.

And while Green’s podcast and Jayson Tatum’s homage to Kobe Bryant snuck in as tiny snacks, basketball excellence really was the entree in the NBA conversation this month. With distractions at a minimum, Curry let his game do the talking. Even Celtics fans stuck around by the hundreds at the Garden to watch as Curry received his Finals MVP trophy, named after Boston’s first legend, knowing they were witnessing something special.

Not every legend is magnetic. Time strengthens ties. We grew up alongside LeBron, and his every move made news. We knew Kobe was hunting Michael Jordan, and that Jordan was changing the game that Bird and Magic Johnson redefined. There’s a natural fluctuation in what captures our attention, but one thing is constant: People care and tune in for the greatest players of an era. Curry, as we saw this year and have seen repeatedly over the years, is one such player.

Golden State once was an antidote to the superteam, the best example of this era of what happens when a franchise drafts well, develops well, and has everyone from the top down bought into what needs to happen to succeed. Then, with the signing of Durant, they joined those ranks and were only derailed by a mix of catastrophic injuries and Kawhi Leonard magic.

This year, they were Tiger Woods at the 2019 Masters, recapturing the magic that made them so great and seeing themselves ascend to the mountaintop once more. Over time, the Warriors have certainly attracted as much cynicism as they’ve repelled. But having beaten back all of the doubt around small jump shooters leading championship teams, Curry singularly breaks through it.

Curry reorganized the Xs and Os of basketball, redrew its geography, and redefined the size and style of excellence. He carried the defining franchise for an entire era of the league. As he toppled the Celtics, he had every right to be exuberant. The cynicism was gone, and his Warriors were back at the top.