Basketball is a game that demands a degree of physical dominance of its transcendent players. The enduring memory of Shaquille O’Neal, a dominant force in the NBA for many years, is a dunk of intense ferocity. For Michael Jordan, the image that sticks in the mind is his effortless glide from the free throw line towards the rim, tongue hanging out, a legend suspended in time and space. In these cases and many more, the inherent physical truth of basketball are revealed; although smaller players such as Muggsy Bogues and Spud Webb have enjoyed success in the NBA, there was always a ceiling on the limits of their rise, a frontier on the dominance they could achieve.
Stephen Curry, the reigning league MVP and current NBA scoring leader, instills fear in opposing teams in a fundamentally different way. His shooting range is unparalleled in the history of the game; no one has ever shot a remotely similar volume at anything close to Curry’s efficiency.
As great as Curry is, the enduring memory I will have decades from now is not a physical trait that Curry possesses or a feat that only he can realize, but a sense of inevitability that only he can provide when he is “heating up.” Whether in a game of Beer Pong in a fraternity basement or a game of pickup basketball where you get stuck with the guy wearing running shoes, there always lingers the faint possibility of “catching fire” – having several shots in a row find the bottom of the net (or cup). Of course, the elusive feeling of invulnerability lasts only until your ill-advised next shot clangs off the rim and you backpedal sheepishly down the court faking an elbow injury.
Curry’s “fire” is somehow yet definitively different. Other shooters find their rhythm, but Curry’s unrivaled range is impossibly surpassed by both the quickness of his release and, perhaps most importantly, the boldness of his shot selection. Confidence, recklessness, cockiness. When Curry is hot, it’s not uncommon to see him pull up from four, five or six feet from behind the line. When he is hot, Curry will gallop the ball up the court in a rushed walk, exposing at the same time the restraint that encapsulates his smooth game and the eagerness, with which he wants to hoist his next shot. If the game is in Oakland, the loudest crowd in the NBA will rise from its seats and scream so loud that the roar permeates the broadcasters’ microphones and echoes through the television speakers. Curry will stop on a dime and hoist the ball from his hip in his unconventional but undeniably effective style. The defender will rise, to no avail, to contest the shot. The ball floats through the air, sometimes splashing the net and sometimes not. The outcome is irrelevant. In five, 10 or 50 years, I won’t remember whether the shot went in. For all of his incredible talents, what I will remember years from now about Stephen Curry, a David among a sea of Goliaths, are these moments when the ball had just left his hand, and I was absolutely sure that it was going in.