SAN ANTONIO – Stephen Curry wasn't letting go of the basketball. Once he dribbled out the clock, Curry straddled the ball at his hip, clinging to it as he stood on the AT&T Center logo near the San Antonio Spurs' bench and hugged Draymond Green. Curry managed to keep it connected as he leapt to chest-bump Marreese Speights. It suddenly became part of him as Curry shifted it from arm to arm through three postgame interviews. He didn't drop it as he smoothly walked through the tunnel, high-fiving and tossing his wrist bands to "MVP"-chanting fans.
Then, once he cleared himself of cameramen and cellphone-snapping onlookers and had a brief moment alone, Curry's quest for fun kicked in. Curry tossed the ball a few feet above his head and caught it, whirling it around and again placing it at his hip until he completed his lonely but triumphant journey to the Golden State Warriors' giddy locker room. There, Curry placed the ball in his stall having learned a valuable lesson from his first championship: If you do something significant, hold on.
After the Warriors clinched the title in Cleveland last June, Curry was so overwhelmed that he hurled the game ball high toward the rafters. He didn't realize the mistake until he saw Andre Iguodala track it down like a hawk, embrace it like a newborn and claim ownership. To this day, Curry claims Iguodala stole the ball from him. Iguodala disputes that version of the story.
"He threw it in the air and I ran it down. That was easy," Iguodala told The Vertical with a laugh. "I'm sure he's going to try to collect them, any time a milestone is set throughout the rest of his career. But he's got a long way to go. He's got plenty of times he can get some memorabilia and have it for himself."
The Warriors' ultimate goal remains repeating as NBA champions. And the obsession to set a new mark of 73 victories on Wednesday in the regular season finale at Oracle Arena is much more immediate. But Curry wasn't about to diminish the importance of what occurred in a building that has tormented him for his entire career, and in a city where the Warriors franchise hadn't won a regular-season game since 1997. Golden State snapped a 33-game regular-season losing streak that spans Tim Duncan's entire career, though it is somewhat deceptive since the Warriors won a playoff game in San Antonio in 2013. Coach Steve Kerr brought some levity to the accomplishment by twisting the quote of former tennis star, Vitas Gerulaitis, who ended a 16-game losing streak to Jimmy Connors in 1980.
"With apologies to him, I'll use his line: Nobody, and I mean nobody, beats the Golden State Warriors 34 times on their home floor," Kerr said, laughing to himself. "Nobody. You got that?"
More importantly, the win placed the Warriors in the rarefied, 72-win air that has contributed to Michael Jordan becoming some seemingly untouchable, mythological figure. Only two teams in NBA history have as many regular-season victories. Now, only one has a chance to get 73. Of all the ridiculous ways in which Curry's life has changed over the past two years – from befriending President Barack Obama to becoming the supposedly relatable face of the NBA – being on the same footing as Jordan, in just one category, is most unbelievable.
"I try to stay in my lane when it comes to that," Curry said, when asked to make a comparison.
Curry still remembers doing whatever it took to accompany his father, Dell, to Charlotte Coliseum to catch the Bulls playing, even if it violated his parents' strict policy of not attending games on a school night. He would wait in the tunnel and stand in awe as Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and even his future coach, Kerr (the shooters connection, perhaps?), made their ways out of the arena.
"They're synonymous with winning, and championships. That word – elite," Curry explained. "That was something that was a special time as a kid. The energy in the arena was always electric watching Charlotte with my dad, but when the Bulls came, it was a totally different vibe, so you knew what it meant when they were playing. Something special is probably going to happen."
Twenty years after Jordan's improbable run, Curry has the Warriors on the precipice of doing something even more special – in a similarly, greedy, cutthroat fashion. Except this time, it comes in a cuddly, baby-faced package that smiles, dances and giggles through the obliteration of foes. Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich has often called Curry "unsolvable" because of his unmatched range, nifty ball-handling and unpredictable shot selection. The Spurs kept Curry bottled up for a half – similar to how they kept the reigning MVP in check last month – until he uncorked another one of his one-man circuses, replete with a 70-foot shot that was a split-second after the third-quarter clock expired.
"Steph was just amazing," Kerr said. "Michael was the most confident human being I've ever seen, but the confidence of Steph, you don't shoot 35-foot fadeaways off the dribble unless you're really confident. Steph is similar in that regard."
Perhaps the impressive aspect of the Warriors' run – which has already seen them set the record with a 24-0 start, become the first team to never lose consecutive games and the first to never lose to the same team twice – is that this is coming in a title defense. Jordan's run with the Bulls was fueled by the disappointment of losing in the conference semifinals, coming out of a year-and-a-half retirement, and he was eager to re-establish his dominance in leave-no-doubt fashion. Curry and the Warriors have avoided the pitfalls and laziness that often come after winning a ring. Golden State is out to prove that last season was no fluke, and that their spot among the all-time greats is secured.
"Why not go out and take advantage of an opportunity that may never come again?" Curry said. "That's what I think about every day – playing the game at a high level year after year, after year. We're on a team that's chasing history. That's a special opportunity that you want to give everything you have to get."
Curry was asked if his coach was rooting for the Warriors to break the record and replied, "He better be." Kerr still humbly marveled at the dumb luck that put him in a role as a reserve on the team long considered the "best ever" to being the coach on a squad that could one-up it.
"As a player, it seemed like a bigger deal," Kerr said. "It meant more to me back then, personally, but to see the looks on these guys' faces to see that they have a chance to break the record and at least they've tied it, they're pretty excited. That's what's great about coaching, when you see your team smiling and happy."
Growing up in Illinois, Iguodala remains a fan of those Bulls teams and holds them with the highest reverence, but breaking the record has never been a big deal to him. Iguodala noticed that Curry had the game ball at his locker after Sunday's win but let him have it. If the Warriors complete their chase with a 73rd victory, Iguodala won't be waiting to catch Curry slipping with the game ball.
"Nah, I don't really care," Iguodala told The Vertical. "That don't mean anything to me. Championship balls, that's all that matters to me."
So, if the Warriors repeat …? "Yeah, we gonna fight over that one," Iguodala said with a laugh.
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