The above shimmy by Steph Curry during Monday night’s 102-92 Warriors win in Atlanta didn’t seem like that big of a deal at the time. Sure, he was showing off a bit, but it wasn’t much different than what he’s been doing for a while now, including that scorching performance in Houston to all but end the Conference Finals last spring when he turned a court-side fan into his plaything. Steph said after Monday’s game the shimmy was directed at his former teammate and friend, Kent Bazemore, and for the most part people have dismissed this largely superficial bit of showmanship.
But sometime GQ contributor and Twitter tastemaker Myles Brown dropped this tweet on the universe during the game and people really wanted to talk about it.
Go read the responses. Some are excellent. Others, less so. But a lot of sportswriters chimed in, and it was a lesson in the positive effects of Twitter, whereby people bounce ideas and half-formed hypotheticals off their peers in an attempt to extend an idea beyond whatever connections they make on their own. The democratizing element supposedly inherent in Twitter continues to be a total farce — like American politics, it ain’t no Town Hall, and we’re not sure it ever should be — but it was a valuable discussion anyway.
That’s why we thought it was important to give DIME scribes a chance to chime in on the topic. We left the actual question pretty wide open, noting the tweet and the play itself. Was Steph’s showboating innocuous, or something that should be judged more harshly? And is going after him in a more physical way something opponents should do anyway — aside from the pride factor inherent in the question — because all other efforts to slow him down appear exhausted and largely ineffective up until this point in the season?
Maybe the league is too soft. I don’t know. People say the players are too close, and they play together too much, too early, so they don’t have the hate we used to have. People wish for the days of the Bad Boys, when you’d get knocked down if you preened, or given an elbow if you stared somebody down. That was fine. The ’90s were fine. Most things are fine. But it’s not that time anymore, and it isn’t going to be again.
Kent Bazemore is friends with Steph Curry. Lots of people are. Steph Curry showed emotion, as a goof, in front of his friend. It was a thing that happened, but because Steph Curry is the reigning MVP and will probably be the MVP again this year, and his team has 50 wins already, everything he does matters. It’s going to continue to matter as long as he is playing like an MVP and his team keeps winning lots of games.
Is Steph Curry too likable? I don’t know. Kevin Durant was super likable, and then he didn’t win titles, and then people finally criticized him some, and he got grumpy, and now he’s not as likable, but he’s still really likable or something. Curry is a human with human emotions and human feelings and the human desire to have fun and be the person he wants to be. So, he shimmied. And people got mad about it.
I don’t care if he does it every play if the team keeps winning and he keeps shooting the way he shoots. Celebrating isn’t a big deal. Showboating isn’t a big deal. If a team has a problem with it, beat them. Teams that aren’t winning don’t shimmy or dance for long.
Frankly, I’m far more confused by the fans’ reaction to the almost incessant showboating of Curry and the Warriors. And all those opining that Golden State gets a free pass from the majority because it’s “won something” is conveniently forgetting that this team has been doing it for years.
Remember Kent Bazemore, for instance? Before the lefty wing was a starter for the Hawks, he was basketball’s foremost frontrunner from the Warriors’ bench. Aside from the Clippers, though, the basketball world accepted the wild celebrations of he and others the way it never did for anyone else. I think the means behind that unique response is pretty obvious, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Like everything with Golden State, though, it all comes back to Curry and the aura created by the game’s best and rarest player.
I’ll never be one for condoning outright violence to combat shoddy showmanship or even obvious taunting. All those old-timers who long for supposedly “physical” and “hard-nosed” play of the 1980s and ’90s are conveniently forgetting the league and public’s collective shift in thinking when it comes to player safety. The health of these guys matters more than anything, and taking a cheap shot at Curry for shimmying and the like runs the risk of devastating punches being thrown.
Just ask Rudy Tomjanovich and Kermit Washington how they feel about that admittedly slight possibility.
There is a line between sheer brutality and taking a stand, however, and perhaps it’s time a Warriors opponent toes it. Why doesn’t a player get in Curry’s face the next time basketball’s golden boy makes a fool of he and his teammates? Respecting his undeniable brilliance is one thing; allowing him to capitalize on it and gain even more steam by sitting idly by and watching him mock you is another thing entirely.
Then there’s this: What if doing so throws Curry and the Warriors off their game?
For the record, I’m absolutely fine with players celebrating on the floor. It certainly bears mentioning that Curry’s latest shimmy came in the face of Bazemore, one of his best friends in the league. He wasn’t taunting Atlanta’s bench as a whole as much as having some fun with a former teammate.
But Golden State might be unbeatable, and its players and crowd thrive off confidence gleaned from the hooting and hollering that other teams choose to allow. Curry and company could very well be the best this sport has ever seen, and an avenue to beating them four times in seven games come playoff time may not exist – as is, at least.
So, why not rock the show-boat and see what happens?
Steph Curry is the best at what he does. He knows it, the rest of the NBA knows, and why the hell shouldn’t he celebrate that fact after hitting a back-breaking shot? When you consider that Curry was doing it in front, there really wasn’t any harm. Was it cocky? Yeah, absolutely, but again, Curry’s kinda earned the right to be cocky.
Now, as to whether a team should try to “rough him up” or whatever, no, absolutely not. Think about that reasoning for a second. “Hey, none of our legal defensive strategies are working against this unstoppable player, so let’s resort to physical violence in a misguided effort to ‘shake’ him or whatever.” So what, you’ve “encouraged” Curry to stop dancing or shaking or shimmying? You haven’t done anything to stop him from raining threes from deep, from Klay Thompson being near-automatic, from Draymond Green giving defenses and offenses massive migraines. You’ve put a guy on the floor, congratulations. They’re still kicking your ass where it counts.
On the one hand, I understand the nostalgia of a lot of basketball fans who witnessed the drama of the legends who more closely resembled gladiators than the dancers of today. It’s hard to separate the style of play from the personalities that represented them, personalities that were so deeply imprinted on many fans and reporters.
On the other hand, as others have said here, times have changed. Players today are just as emblematic of their era as those who came before, and this era is one of open, fast-paced play between guys who have switched teams and allegiances several times before they even make it to the NBA. Asking them to put on airs of machismo is just as nonsensical as asking Bill Laimbeer to play nice.
Someone, somewhere will eventually get fed up with the Warriors’ antics, and if they have the right personalities on their team, we may yet see some fighting. Of course, two of the guys in the NBA most likely to start some sh*t are already on Golden State — Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green. While Stephen Curry dances and preens, he’s got scrappers behind him ready to throw down. You think a seven-foot guy who grew up with Aussie Rules Football would have any second thoughts of knocking out, say, Lance Stephenson if he gets too familiar with Steph? Me neither.
Now, there’s a segment of fans who want to see Curry knocked out for reasons that have nothing to do with bygone eras, and they might be calling the loudest for Curry to get hurt: Fans of the teams that the Warriors are humiliating. This was the same reason many enjoyed the fights of the old days — players they loved carried out their deepest, darkest wishes against opponents. They’re the people Curry and company are so good at tuning out, and they’re called haters nowadays.
I don’t think that any of us — being the responsible, empathetic human beings that we are — would advocate taking a shot at anybody with the intent to injure that person. But I’m also a little surprised that virtually no one has tried to do so with Curry, if only out of sheer frustration. Watching the monolithic Warriors do what they do on television is one thing. I can only imagine how maddening it must be to play against them in real life.
Curry and all the rest of the GSW provocateurs compound that grief with their unapologetic swagger, which arguably sometimes toes the line between ‘celebrating’ and ‘taunting.’ His shimmy in front the Hawks bench Monday night seemed relatively harmless to me, especially because some of you guys already shrewdly pointed out that Curry and Bazemore (the purported target of the shimmy) are old buddies from the #BazedGod’s Warriors days. But I can also totally see where a lot of other guys not named Steph Curry might’ve picked up a quick technical in that scenario.
Part of the problem is that the wording in the rule book is left purposely vague as to allow the refs to use their discretion when interpreting it on a case-by-case basis. That discretion also apparently applies to who they hit with techs as well as why. That superstars tend to get the benefit of the whistle is the NBA’s worst-kept secret. Curry isn’t breaking new ground here.
But a few of you guys also mentioned something that I think gets closer to the heart of it, i.e. his supreme likability that itself is a combination of things: the beaming youthfulness, that he’s a family man and loving father to the hammiest and most adorable little girl on the planet; the laid-back down-to-earth personality off the court, and the simple objective fact that he’s just so damn fun to watch.
It’s almost as if his cockiness manages not to be a personal affront to anyone in particular. Even his opponents look at him in awe, because it’s hard not to stand transfixed in the face of pure aesthetic beauty. Part of it is the spirit in which the Warriors approach the game, which is one of exultation. Basketball is supposed to be fun, and nobody is having more fun than the Golden State Warriors. It’s infectious, and it’s hard to be mad when you’re too busy marveling at it. Maybe that’s why a majority of folks — fans, refs, opponents, media included — are willing to overlook a lot of things that would otherwise rub us the wrong way.
For those who do take offense to Curry’s swagger, well, I’m not averse to a good hard foul every now and then, although preferably one safely this side of the Flagrant 1 variety. But there’s far too much hand-wringing about how soft the league is these days, and if you’re someone who pines for the bare-knuckle, Bad Boy days of the ’80s and ’90s, then you either suffer from selective memory or a perverse nostalgia for the bad times.
The call to arms seems like the next level in Steph’s slow, inevitable climb to over-saturation. LeBron had his own fall from heaven during a post-peak dip in popularity at the end of his first go-around with Cleveland, and everyone — including LeBron himself — thought of him as a villain during that 2010-11 season in Miami. Is Steph headed towards that same “cultural whiplash,” as Yahoo’s Eric Freeman described it? Is that what these first percolations questioning his braggadocio really signify?
There are other questions wrapped up in Brown’s tweet about race and taste and America, which is still unrepentantly racist; you can’t repent if you don’t first offer penance, and that only comes from honest self-evaluation, something Americans haven’t been good at since we created the Atomic bomb. And while questions of race and society at large are exactly the sorts of topics this sort of roundtable should address, they’re so convoluted with multiple meanings as to render the discussion pointless. Plus, we’re not really talking about Steph anymore, but a groan-inducing quagmire of gymnastic rhetoric.
Should someone crack Curry over the head with a forearm on a rebound and just stand there, daring the league to lob a six-figure fine? Part of me actually hopes for this. Not because I’m bloodthirsty, but because Steph is tough enough to take whatever tired tough guys think they can, or should, dole out. I can’t remember where in the replies to Brown’s tweet someone mentioned all the NBA players who had been roughed up and then shirked from contact during future forays into the paint. How the physicality affected their psyche and ultimately made their presence closer to specter or spectator than an NBA player. I could mention how Steph does his damage from 30-plus feet, so banging with the bruisers isn’t as necessary, but he does it at the rim, too, and I don’t think even a jaw-jarring Anthony Mason elbow, Bill Laimbeer body slam, or John Stockton hip check keeps Steph from popping back up and going about his business — including the same helter-skelter streaks into the lane he’s always doing these days.
The tired refrain venerating 1980s or ’90s basketball is largely championed by those who actually remember ’80s and ’90s basketball, and that group keeps dwindling. I’m still probably one of those people. I loved the Joe Dumars version of the Pistons history embraces as thugs, thereby covering up their actual skill level (severely underrated). I also dug the Chauncey, ‘Sheed, Ben Wallace, Rip and Tayshaun Pistons in 2004. Hand-checking makes sense to me; zone defense doesn’t; I grew obsessed over Roy Hibbert’s verticality a few years ago, and it even bled into my thinking this summer. Everyone remembers Jeff Van Gundy holding onto Alonzo Mourning for dear life in the 1998 Playoffs, but all I remember is ‘Zo and former teammate Larry Johnson uncorking punches that would’ve killed Van Gundy if he hadn’t been crouched beneath the fray. And that thought still brings a smile to my face, as atavistic as it might make me and those of my generation.
But the aesthetic of Steph is the same as the SSOL Suns, the Spurs running the Heat hapless in the 2014 Finals, the Hawks in January of 2015, and the Warriors for most of the 2015-16 season, and it supplants any of that retro whoo-ahh toughness we’re all so proud to embrace after a few snorts of Jameson on a Friday night.
So, Steph’s getting a little cocksure. So what? His team’s won 50 games and we’re still almost a week from March. His bravado in front of the Hawks bench doesn’t seem bothersome, which probably outlines larger societal implications mentioned above, but it still doesn’t really change the feeling that it’s still somehow okay.
Perhaps the ubiquitous talk of of Steph’s humility is already grating to those of us who think modesty is just a bunch of Judeo-Christian fluff; God’s dead, etcetera; The choir boy routine is looking like a front.
Perhaps Steph’s crossed some competitive line in the sand and an opponent will — or, even should — crack him in the face, so he’ll have to prove his mettle once again. But this whole scenario of physical retribution is already getting tiresome. Unfortunately, it might’ve also just begun.