OAKLAND, Calif. – LeBron James proclaimed himself the best basketball player in the world during the 2015 NBA Finals. Stephen Curry, who beat James in those Finals and is the league's reigning MVP, recently told Time magazine he believes he now wears that mantle. His Golden State Warriors teammates agree.
"He should believe that, and he is," Warriors forward Draymond Green told Yahoo Sports. "I think the team agreed with that, and we're rolling with him."
Curry did little to diminish that claim after helping lead the Warriors past James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 89-83 in their Christmas rematch of last season's Finals.
"He is a special player, a special talent, a special person more than anything, and I think it's great for our league," James said.
Curry's old coach with the Warriors, ABC analyst Mark Jackson, however, declared during the network's telecast of Friday's game that the sharpshooting guard is "hurting" the sport of basketball.
"Understand what I'm saying when I say this. He's hurting the game," Jackson said. "And what I mean by that is that I go into these high school gyms, I watch these kids, and the first thing they do is they run to the 3-point line. You are not Steph Curry. Work on the other aspects of the game."
Curry chuckled at Jackson's comments but also seemed confused by them.
"I have to talk to him," Curry told Yahoo Sports. "I don't know what he means by that. If you can shoot, shoot. If you can't, stop."
Warriors center Andrew Bogut, who also played under Jackson, didn't appreciate his former coach's remarks.
"Anything he says, you can take that with a grain of salt," Bogut said. "And you can quote me on that."
In addition to his electrifying play on the court, Curry's popularity also is helped by his family-guy image and his 6-foot-3 frame that gives smaller players hope they can someday reach the NBA. Sam Moses, an AAU coach and executive director of Oakland's mammoth basketball facility, Jam Town, calls Curry "the perfect role model."
"He's clean cut, always with his family and very nice to his fans," Moses told Yahoo Sports.
Green thinks it is harder for children to aspire to become such a rare, athletic, physical player like the 6-foot-8, 250-pound James.
"It's good for kids to think they can be Steph because it gives them realistic hope," Green told Yahoo Sports.
For years, AAU programs in America have received a bad rap for not developing young players to have more fundamental skills the way Europeans do. But with Curry being such a phenomenal shooter and dribbler, Moses believes he can help to change that trend.
"The average kid now will work on having complete skill sets," Moses told Yahoo Sports. "You don't have to be big, strong and super fast anymore. If a kid comes in and says they want to be like Steph, they talk about ball-handling more than his 3-ball. He gets to the basket more than the shoots 3-pointers. You would think kids just want to work on the long ball, but they're working on their dribbling."
AAU Oakland Soldiers executive director Mark Olivier, who coached James in the program in high school, told Yahoo Sports that Curry inspires more kids to play basketball.
"Everyone can't be Steph, but the want can give them more drive and determination," Olivier said. "Younger players want to improve their shot."
Curry actually credits James for helping his rise to NBA stardom. During Curry's college career at Davidson, James helped mentor him.
"He kind of took me under his wing as a youngster when I was in college," Curry told Yahoo Sports. "We obviously battle on the same court now. We have mutual respect for each other and it's hard for us to do what each of us does."
Golden State now owns an NBA-best 28-1 record after its victory over Cleveland. The conversation has started on whether the Warriors can beak the 72-win record by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. If they do, Curry's legend will only grow.
Curry "is special, really special and we all know that," James said.