BOSTON – For his peerless talent and uncommon character, Steph Curry has long been justified to make even the most modest of acknowledgement to the truth. The NBA's Most Valuable Player is the most underpaid athlete in professional sports – the fifth-highest-compensated player on the Golden State Warriors. And yet, no one has ever seen him deliver so much as an eye roll – never mind heard a grumble – on the imbalance of it all.
For a different superstar of a different cloth, the residue of signing a four-year, $44 million rookie contract extension in late 2012 could've brought out the worst of jealousies and pettiness. There are times Curry can walk onto the floor with Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut and understand that he's the lowest-paid Warrior on the court.
Does Steph Curry think about it?
Of course, Steph Curry thinks about it.
"I had to make a conscious decision and remind myself over and over [to let it go]," Curry told Yahoo Sports. "I could've had a different perspective and said, 'I want to get everything that I could get, wait it out, test free agency that next year – and who knows what would've happened? But for me, a $44 million contract was plenty for me to be able to provide for my family. When I made a decision to sign an extension, I told myself that was the right decision for the moment.
"And, yeah, you should get paid market value, paid for what you're worth, but at the time, for four years, I was comfortable with it. You can't look back, because it'll bring negativity. It'll cause dissension in the team if you allow it to."
At the intersection of the rookie extension window and the severe doubts about the stability of his ankles in the fall of 2012, Curry was a marvelous talent, but still far short of transcendent. Curry could've passed on the deal and gone into restricted free agency in 2013.
The choice was clear: Stay healthy, become a star and probably get a max offer on the market.
Or risk those ankles crumbling under him, leaving Curry without a lifetime of financial security.
"After three years, I've still got to remind myself every day," Curry told Yahoo Sports. "Number one, there's nothing I can do about it. There's no point to moaning and complaining and trying to change something that really can't be changed. I knew there might be a time down the road, after all the ankle injuries, that if I'm playing to my potential, it's going to be human nature to think, 'Oh, I should've done this, or that …'
"[But] at the time, the counsel that I got from my family, my agent, myself, was that it was the right decision to make. With that, I could take care of my family and be good. And hopefully anything that happened after that would just be icing on the cake."
From the 2009 NBA draft class, Ty Lawson signed a four-year, $48 million extension and Jrue Holiday signed a four-year, $41 million deal. All around the league, the discussion surrounding Curry's deal wasn't that the Warriors had gotten over him, but that the franchise could be saddled with a broken, unproductive player. It is easy to forget, and Curry never does.
He's the standing league MVP now, and appears on his way to winning the award in back-to-back seasons. And yet in Golden State's championship series victory over Cleveland a year ago, the Finals MVP turned out to be Iguodala. Privately, Golden State's front office officials will concede Iguodala probably wouldn't be a Warrior without the cap space created out of Curry's discount.
Curry thinks about this, too: Whatever he's lost in NBA salary, his career and ultimate earning power have profoundly benefitted because he unintentionally gave Golden State an MVP talent on a solid starter's contract. Curry made it much easier for the Warriors to surround him long term with an elite supporting cast. Through it all, too: Curry has never felt the need to remind everyone of it.
"I have thought about it occasionally, and understand that, for me, talking to the people in my camp, everything does happen for a reason," Curry told Yahoo Sports. "I've tried to just be appreciative of what I have. Obviously a lot of other things have happened off the court that have helped the situation, Under Armour, other sponsors.
"On the back end, when this is all said and done, things will come around the right way. It's nice to know that I got a championship out of it, an MVP season out of it, and hopefully setting up for something better down the line."
Curry is a phenomenon, the Ted Williams of basketball. He shoots the ball the way Williams swung a bat: Genius born of relentless repetition and obsessive study of the craft. Fans flood turnstiles to watch that long, gorgeous 3-point arc in warm-ups, the way they would gather to watch a hitter take batting practice.
The Warriors are 24-0, and Curry is playing ball at a level seldom seen in the history of the sport. In the summer of 2017, Steph Curry will stand to be paid a five-year, $175 million-plus maximum extension. He's right. Things do happen for a reason.
"I'm taken care of, and I'm thankful that I can be on the court able to play at a high level," Curry told Yahoo. "I'm thankful it's not the other way around, that I didn't become an overpaid player. That's a different conversation."
More NBA coverage: