Stephen Curry seldom resembles Michael Jordan. But on a Wednesday night in late October at Oracle, the two-time MVP was making an exception.
After splashing his 10th 3-pointer of the game against the Washington Wizards and sending the crowd into a mad frenzy at the end of the third quarter, Curry looked to the Warriors bench and gave his teammates a throwback -- The Shrug, a la Jordan from the 1992 NBA Finals.
Curry’s quick 3-point attempt -- casually launched from 31 feet, just beyond the hash mark on the sideline and only nine seconds into the shot clock -- is his trademark, one that the entire NBA is chasing, just like it did with Jordan and his tongue-wagging dunks and fadeaways.
Watch the NBA on any given night and the story of this season has Curry’s fingerprints all over it. The league is taking 3s more frequently than ever, deeper than ever and quicker than ever.
It’s time to come to grips with the fact that Curry is the Jordan of his generation, single-handedly changing the way the game is being played and being appraised.
The dunk used to be the domain of giants like Wilt Chamberlain, but not guards. But Dr. J helped changed that, and then Jordan took it to another level. Basketball researchers dug up dunk totals from old Sixers media guides and found that Jordan’s reign coincided with a dramatic rise in the slam dunk. In ‘87-88, the year Jordan won his second Slam Dunk contest in a row, there were 5,727 dunks in the NBA. By Jordan’s final Bulls season in 1997-98, there were 9,318 dunks, a rise of 63 percent.
As the rarely questioned GOAT of basketball, it seems impossible to believe that Jordan used to be dismissed as “just a dunker” by his peers.
But Larry Bird did just that, talking to the Hartford Courant in 1987 about the MVP race.
“If I had to pick a guy beside myself [to start a team], there’s no question who I’d choose,” Bird said. “Magic’s head and shoulders above anyone else. I’ve always said, and I haven’t changed my opinion, that Magic is the best player in the league.”
Bird went on.
“Dominique [Wilkins] and Michael Jordan? They’re not Magic Johnson. They’re dunkers. Michael takes 30 shots to get to 30 points. You know, there’s a difference.”
Forget the fact that Jordan averaged 37.1 points on 27.3 field goal attempts and never scored below 30 points on 30 shots. But that “just a dunker” narrative would eventually change. Soon, Jordan would become a global icon. There was the “Be Like Mike” commercials. There was the generation of kids who started sticking their tongues out on the court and buying his Nikes. A barrage of high-flying guards, like Kobe Bryant, Jerry Stackhouse, Vince Carter and even Harold Miner, became the heir to Air Jordan, the “Baby Jordans.”
Like Jordan, Steph has become an inspiration all his own.
For the fourth straight year, Curry led the league in jersey sales. Curry nearly single-handedly put Under Armour on the basketball map (a Morgan Stanley analyst once pegged Curry’s value to UA at $14 billion). Kids, often clad in Curry gear, are shooting so many deep 3s that the NBA and USA Basketball issued new guidelines to discourage 3-pointersin youth leagues.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It was with Jordan. It is with Curry. Enter Trae Young and a whole generation of Baby Stephs.