INDIANAPOLIS — It’s unlikely Stephen Curry will join the rarefied air of NBA legends with three MVP awards, but hardly any of that group had to single-handedly keep a dynasty from crumbling while it was still in full bloom.
The Golden State Warriors point guard was helplessly watching from home while recovering from a groin injury as a smooth-running season nearly capsized in Los Angeles in mid-November. An on-court disagreement between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green went too far, turning into an ugly affair that had many questioning the short-term viability of Golden State’s three-time title run.
The incident seemingly came out of nowhere as the Warriors were 11-2 and playing as loose as they had in a some time. But the team that prided itself on staying in the moment had a highly dissected moment of slippage due to Green’s emotion and Durant’s impending free agency this summer.
Curry’s injury stopped the early MVP conversation that hadn’t included him for a couple years, but that took second place to what felt like the most trying time of this dynastic run.
He admitted it could’ve turned into a full-blown crisis “if we let it continue,” Curry told Yahoo Sports recently.
However, he joined the team for the next home game — a time when feelings were still raw and he could’ve let things simmer before jumping in — because it was important for him to be there.
“He’s got the respect of everybody in the organization, on the team,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters days after the incident. “He’s very wise. He brings us together. He’s a guy we count on to keep things rolling.”
Curry visited with Green at his house.
“You gotta get right in it. You listen [while] understanding I don’t have all the answers. I have some, but not all,” he told Yahoo Sports. “It’s important to know where everybody is coming from, to understand what’s on their mind, with the stresses they’re dealing with on and off the court so that we can help each other. For a little bit that was lost.”
The healing didn’t happen immediately, as things were awkward for some period of time while Curry was still a ways away from returning to the court.
“It’s a very select few that have been through the struggle. We have to rely on each other and that’s what got us through, the equity,” Curry said. “We’re all different, we come from different backgrounds, different ways of seeing life and value and appreciate what everybody brings to the table. If there were 15 me’s, we wouldn’t win. If there was 15 KD’s, we wouldn’t win. Fifteen Draymond’s … we have a little bit of everything.”
If Curry’s value on the floor is immeasurable, his value off it was shining brightly in a way no other teammate could dim as he walked a delicate line between his teammates.
“Drama’s gonna happen, but you gotta understand that and put everything on the table,” Curry said. “I’ve been part of that conversation and that’s been gratifying.”
On the other side, he also had to make sure the culture he had a strong hand in building would not be torn down.
“[I didn’t know] how hard this is. We always talk about how hard it is to win games, championships. Everybody thinks that’s just putting the ball in the basket,” Curry said. “Many a team, many a championship run, has been derailed by egos and mismatched personalities and drama that never got solved. It’s unfortunate, but we’re not gonna be that situation.”
That incident seems long forgotten as the Warriors find themselves atop the Western Conference, chugging along to a No. 1 seed at 41-16 and with a shot at catching the Milwaukee Bucks (43-14) for the league’s best record.
Curry’s at a precious point in his career. The usual concerns of injury are seemingly behind him, and he’s meshed with Durant on the floor to maximize their collective efficiency.
Curry’s 28.6 points per game and 44 percent shooting from 3-point range are his highest marks since his unanimous MVP campaign in 2016.
“Everybody can come up with certain narratives,” he says on the topic of the MVP award. “It’s clear who the best guys in the league are, who’s helping the team win. Comparing numbers and styles … beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t know why I can’t [win again], but I feel confident in knowing what type of player I am. I’m sure KD would say the same thing.”
Durant can certainly make his case as the best player in the game, but Curry’s importance to his team can’t be understated.
It’s amazing his name doesn’t come up often enough in MVP conversations, a fact he doesn’t consider to be as puzzling as he does a simple fact of life.
“I definitely feel like I’m better than I was three years ago,” Curry said. “It’s a good feeling knowing successes I’ve had personally don’t get in the way of progress with the team, getting better and finding ways to expand your game. Experience, more maturity and being challenged in new ways definitely helps.”
He pauses before asking: “How many guys have three? Michael, Bird, LeBron …” His voice trails off before the rest of the elite company is revealed: Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Moses Malone.
“If it happened, you could add me to that list,” Curry said. “Anybody who’s had one knows the feeling of what it’s like to hold that trophy up the first time, and the next time. You know how driving of a force that can be.”
But those players hardly had to deal with the internal strife that could’ve wrecked a championship team during a quest for a third MVP. Jordan’s third MVP came when the Bulls won 67 games in 1992, while Larry Bird’s came when the Celtics were at their peak in 1986. LeBron James led the Heat on a 26-game winning streak in 2013, coming one vote short from becoming the first unanimous MVP.
All would hold the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the season.
The season James went on his third MVP run, Curry was just experiencing his first taste of sustained success after years of nagging injuries. Those years stand out far more than this in terms of difficulty.
“I wouldn’t trade this … the most trying time for a leader is when we were losing and weren’t making the playoffs and trying to figure out how to get over that hump every day,” he said. “You can see it, but you can’t get there. And then when you’re walking off the court every night pissed off because you lost. That’s the worst.
“[This is] different because you’re trying to sustain greatness, keep your focus on where we wanna be in April, May and June, with the 82-game schedule and we’ve been through this long gauntlet five years in a row. It’s different challenges that arises.”
And had Steph the diplomat not come to the rescue with a guiding hand, there might not be a May or June to worry about — making him as valuable as any figure playing today.
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