I still remember the day when I first thought Steph Curry was going to be a superstar.
It was summer and I was entering my fifth year in college. Dressed in my least favorite shirt (one I was willing to be drenched in sweat and greased all over), I came to lunch at our school cafeteria after putting in 4 of the 8 required hours of summer internship at a machine shop. Inside the low-ceiling, poorly ventilated space with hardly any aisle distance, a flat screen hung in one of the columns, its speaker volume barely audible because of the cacophony of discussions by students huddled over identical square tables.
I settled down and found a table near the center, and there he was onscreen, his face young enough to be a college freshman – an NBA player whom many would call the greatest shooter of all time – Steph Curry. His Golden State Warriors team at the time was playing against the more reliable and higher seeded Denver Nuggets. But from what was being displayed on television, it looked like it was the Nuggets who were the underdogs.
A New Style of Play
The pull-up three, a move where a backcourt player, after an inbound pass from the opponent’s half, dribbled the ball up the court and suddenly shot from the three-point line – was a move that only Steph Curry had a license to do at that point. Even the great Steve Nash, known for being an elite shooting point guard in his prime just half a decade earlier, rarely pulled up from three.
Steph Curry was starting a new way of playing the sport, and basketball fans at that time weren’t yet ready for this style of play. The Warriors were down by double figures when I took my seat, but Steph and Klay (yet to be nicknamed the Splash Brothers) put on a shooting barrage that wiped out the lead in less than two minutes. I was still fiddling with my backpack and figuring out what I wanted to eat for lunch, while my two college classmates who were also my intern-mates were already on the cafeteria queue.
A Quick Rewind
To the Denver Nuggets’ credit, this was the most unusual Denver Nuggets team to ever achieve the 3rd seed in the Western conference. To think that their best player at the time was Andre Iguodala (whom the Warriors would acquire the following season and would become their Finals MVP two years later), this was a Nuggets team that lacked a true superstar. Carmelo Anthony was already in the East playing at Madison Square Garden, but it was this Denver Nuggets team which he left the two years before which was turning some heads in the regular season.
Today, in 2021, it’s hard to imagine any NBA team even making the playoffs without a true star. In that 2013 playoff game with the Golden State Warriors facing off against the Denver Nuggets, it was clear that there was a star emerging. To be more accurate, there were two stars emerging and from the same team – and it’s just incredible to think that it would only take two more seasons before they would win the highest prize in the basketball world.
Steph Curry's Influence
My two classmates are back at the table, the aluminum trays clanging against the varnished wood. Four fried chicken necks apiece for J and K, the latter adding a platito of Filipino-style spaghetti. I decided to leave the game momentarily to get my own lunch. I decided on pork steak, Filipino style – lightly fried cheap pork cuts with a sweet corn starch sauce and sautéed onions.
When I was back at our table, it was the Warriors now with the double-digit lead and it was the fourth quarter.
‘This Stephen Curry guy’s a true shooter,’ J commented, half-watching the game and half-reading a text message.
‘That Thompson guy can also shoot. He’s like Ray Allen,’ K answered.
In 2013, Ray Allen of the Miami Heat (just one season removed from being a Celtic) was the barometer for which a good shooter was measured. It was only two years prior when he surpassed Reggie Miller’s all-time record in career three-pointers made, a feat which at the time seemed so out of reach for most NBA players. But these days, with the way the NBA game is being played, you could easily foresee anyone from Steph Curry, James Harden, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, or even Buddy Hield surpassing Reggie’s or Ray’s career records.
And that’s the real impact Steph Curry has brought to the game of basketball. For me, it started during that series with the Denver Nuggets, where someone who played with that style could prove that you could elevate a basketball team and win. Of course, it would be under the Steve Kerr system of playground basketball where Steph’s true talent would be unleashed. But as far as superstar conception is concerned, it was in that Denver Nuggets playoff series that superstar Steph was born.
The three of us – J, K and I had all but cleaned out our respective aluminum trays, save for a few chicken bone remnants. The Golden State Warriors obliterated the Denver Nuggets. While it is noble and inspiring to see a superstar-less team succeed in the regular season and make it to the playoffs, you aren’t going to win in the NBA without a superstar. These days, you need two or three superstars. That day, we knew that Steph Curry was already one.
We each stood up for a glass of water at the only water cooler in the cafeteria and talked about arriving late for the afternoon. Our supervisors at the machine shop didn’t really care what time we arrived. They were happy to have extra hands in the shop, but probably also pretty annoyed that we were in their airspace and waving these fancy new smartphones that were starting to gain popularity. Facebook was beginning to become more accessible in the phone, and it sounds crazy to even say that aloud right now. 2013 was such a different time.