Stephen Curry leading the Warriors to another NBA title would spark a new round of GOAT debates


Stephen Curry leading the Warriors to another NBA title would spark a new round of GOAT debates

SAN FRANCISCO — The Golden State Warriors are nearing a fourth NBA championship. Which means Stephen Curry is closing in on something even more impressive: the legacy of LeBron James and the surprise loot that comes with such a chase.

Because even if he doesn’t catch LeBron — and he might — Curry is well positioned this month to overtake the likes of Kobe, Durant, Bird, Magic and Wilt on the all-time great list.

During the Warriors’ eight years of dominance, Curry was his team’s talisman and catalyst. Beneath his surprising but unrelenting excellence, a rising tide of success and celebration has sprung up because of him.

Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have emerged as surefire Hall of Famers. Steve Kerr went from failed general manager and television analyst to literally one of the top 15 coaches of the game in the history of the sport. Andrew Wiggins kept his promise. Jordan Poole switched from G-League hope to third Splash brother. Etc.

Curry created all of this. Its size has brought rings, legacies, wealth, a new stadium and even another all-time great, Kevin Durant, to an organization that was among the worst in American sport history prior to Curry’s arrival and rise to power.

Nowadays, Curry accumulates more TV minutes than game minutes.

Now only the Celtics stand in his way of capturing as many rings as LeBron, a fact that requires a suddenly A wake-up call about how we thought we understood this era of basketball and those that preceded it.

We’ve spent so much time focusing on LeBron vs. Jordan that we’ve overlooked the fact that some of the King’s current crown could end up being sent up the coast — at least for a summer.

The collective media and fan awakening to Steph’s growing legacy has already spurred talks about whether he can surpass LeBron’s standing on the list of all-time greats, and for understandable reasons.

After all, this is the barometer for how we measure size today. The fact that Steph has beaten LeBron in three series doesn’t hurt either.

And while LeBron works with a Lakers organization he helped usher in probable insignificance, Steph could very well go into next season as the betting favorite to win it all again. It’s not inconceivable that we’re headed towards a reality where Steph will one day retire with more championships than LeBron.

So the Steph-could-be-better-than-LeBron talk isn’t crazy. Steph is the greatest marksman in the history of the sport – so great, in fact, that he changed the NBA and changed the course of its history like Wilt, Bird-Magic or Jordan. The game’s focus on 3-point shooting and positionless play is primarily rooted in Curry.

He defined and changed an era.

All-time greatness is an interesting mix of competing interests: individual achievements, sure, but also team success. And luck. And the narratives that shape how we perceive—and remember—these rarest stars.

Steph has a claim in all of these categories.

His individual resume is amazing: Two MVPs (one unanimously). Most three-point shots ever made. Career shooting percentages of 47.3 from the field, 42.8 from 3 and 90.8 from the strip. One of only 11 players to claim a 50-40-90 season. Etc.

The team success that Curry has produced is also undisputed. There’s the three rings and counting, yes, but also a streak of six NBA Finals in eight seasons. Kobe Bryant never did that. Neither does Tim Duncan. LeBron did make it to eighth straight, but he didn’t make it with the same team. Only Steph has been able to stay at this level and continue to thrive in this century.

As previously mentioned, he has made other players Hall of Fame inductees as well. Jordan most likely did, but it’s hard to say the same for LeBron. That too is important, even if it’s harder to measure or prove.

And as the best marksman of all time and the guy who didn’t hop from team to team, his narrative game is on point. This is the guy Durant needed to join, not the other way around. And yet, Curry, the then-reigning MVP, welcomed Durant to the team by subjugating his own shine — and the shots, awards, and recognition that came with it. Everyone says the team and the win come first. Curry practiced this by belittling himself for it.

No great man has ever done that in his heyday. Again, it’s easy to overlook, but worth considering in any GOAT debate.

That’s a big part of why Curry Durant is the superior player historically. Durant needed Curry to win titles. Curry is about to prove that he definitely didn’t need Durant. That — plus the statistical reality of Steph’s importance to Durant while he was down at the Golden State, as often excellently described by NBA writer Tom Haberstroh — elevates Curry above Durant.

There is no Golden State Warriors as we know them without Steph. And without Steph, Durant might have as many rings as James Harden or Russell Westbrook.

The Steph vs. Durant argument is a warmup to the Steph vs. LeBron argument. Steph is not an imposing athlete by NBA standards. He’s not physically a freak of nature — not like MJ or LeBron or Kareem or Wilt or Shaq or Magic or practically any of the other greats of all time who look more like Avengers superheroes than jocks.

That’s part of why, even now, too many have missed Steph’s greatness. They’ve also often overlooked how his individual genius works seamlessly with his teammates, lifting them up, making them better and empowering them to find the best versions of their basketball selves.

The literal space alone that Curry creates for teammates — the attraction he exerts on defense and everything that then happens to everyone lucky enough to play with him — is difficult to measure but impossible to miss. He’s literally a game changer once he just touches the ball or passes halfway.

But LeBron is, well, LeBron. He will almost certainly end his career as the all-time top scorer. LeBron is already seventh on the list of all-time assists. He hunted and hunted Jordan for a reason. He’s amazing and this run from Steph doesn’t change that even as it closes the gap.

As we always do, the conversation about Steph Curry celebrates him and misses the larger, topical point. Curry brings up LeBron’s legacy, while true and interesting it still likely ends up with LeBron ahead when they both retire.

But that’s not the real point, at least not today.

That is: The fact that we’re having this conversation means that if Steph leads Golden State to a fourth title starting Thursday, he’ll narrow the gap between himself and LeBron so much that it’s other all-time greats that he does have is surpassed.

Names like Kobe. Duncan. durant Bird. Magic.

Another title, and Steph and the Warriors shows that everything that preceded this one revolved around Steph Curry. Not Durant and the two titles he piggybacked on despite his obvious contributions. Not Kyrie Irving leaving Cleveland. Simply a great player of all time, shaping the game’s story and his team’s destiny using his own rare amazing gifts.

Another title, and the all-time great debate goes something like this:

  1. Jordan

  2. LeBron

  3. Karem

  4. Shaq

  5. steph

Finally, can Steph overtake LeBron? Maybe, but unlikely.

But beat the Celtics and he will have shot himself farther than any of his patented deep shots.

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