Why Steph vs. Sabrina 3-point shootout is a gift to basketball

Why Steph vs. Sabrina 3-point shootout is a gift to basketball originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

There are times when brainstorming sports marketing folks strike lightning by devising a competitive event that feels natural and joyful and capable of engaging men, women, children and perhaps a few pets.

Kudos to the NBA and WNBA for opening the floor to brainstormers Stephen Curry and Sabrina Ionescu, listening to what they said and grabbing the concept.

It was good-natured social media banter between Curry and Ionescu that hatched the idea to expand the NBA’s All-Star Weekend to include a 3-point shooting contest that allows adults to laugh and children to dream.

In one corner, representing one gender, is Curry, the Golden State Warriors superstar and future Hall of Famer.

In the other corner, representing another gender, is Ionescu, the New York Liberty superstar-in-waiting and longtime Curry admirer.

Curry and Ionescu will spend Saturday night waging war against each other from beyond the arc in the “Stephen vs. Sabrina” 3-point challenge. It’s the first marquee one-on-one battle of the genders in American sports since 1973, when Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs faced off on the tennis court.

“It's just continuing to raise the bar and give us the opportunities to be on this platform,” Ionescu said Tuesday on a Zoom news conference. “Understanding it being on TV and young girls and young boys being able to watch it. Understanding how important visibility is, and knowing that there's going to be a young kid who maybe hasn't watched many WNBA games but is going to watch and tune into this. And they’re going to have that dream of one day going up and shooting against their idol.”

It’s man vs. woman. Bay Area vs. Bay Area. Splash Brother vs. Triple-Double Queen.

“It's an authentic competition between two great shooters,” Curry said. “We've had success in a 3-point contest, and now you're trying to level the playing field and see who the best shooter is on that given night.”

Ionescu is five months removed from setting the WNBA’s single-season record from deep, draining 128 triples, and she’s seven months removed from setting a WNBA record that eclipsed an NBA record Curry set in 2021.

Ionescu made 37 of 40 3-pointers – including 20 in a row – in the WNBA 3-point contest during All-Star Weekend last July. Curry’s NBA record, since tied by Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton, is 31 of 40 at All-Star Weekend three years ago.

It was Sabrina’s record-shattering performance, and Curry’s impressed reaction, that generated momentum toward Saturday night after Ionescu issued a lighthearted challenge on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“You can't back down from that challenge,” Curry said. “I absolutely loved it.”

Ionescu, 26, is so eager to stare down one of her idols that she requested the contest use the NBA 3-point line, which is 39 inches further from the hoop.

“It's not like I'm joining the NBA 3-point contest, but we're really having our own,” she said. “And the significance and importance of that and kind of just having that idea stem from a joke and now being able to see it come to life, knowing that it's going to be a great experience for us both and exciting to see obviously who the winner is but what it's going to mean for basketball as a whole.”

So now we have NBA stars choosing sides and having fun with the battle. Curry’s longtime Golden State teammate Klay Thompson says he’s picking Ionescu. As is Dallas Mavericks star Kyrie Irving, who went so far as saying he’s “pulling for Sabrina.”

Draymond Green is staying loyal to Curry. So, too, is Steph’s former teammate Kevin Durant, who initially said he was picking Steph, then changed his choice to Sabrina – before ultimately going back to Steph’s camp because “you know how I like to switch.”

“She’s the champ,” Curry said of Ionescu. “So, I'm the contender. Let’s lay it on the line.”

The relationship between Curry and Ionescu goes back about a decade, when Steph was a young star on the rise and Sabrina was a young girl who saw him play at Oracle Arena. She idolized Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant and Curry, with the proof displayed on her bedroom walls.

By the time she became a local celebrity for her basketball exploits at Miramonte High School in Orinda, Curry was a two-time MVP who not only knew of Ionescu’s game but was willing to offer pointers.

They since have engaged in behind-the-scenes competition, including a game of H-O-R-S-E in which the fairer gender emerged victorious.

Which is why Curry referred to Ionescu as “the champ.”

He’s two years removed from seizing the NBA’s career record for 3-pointers. This season, at 35, Curry is on pace to approach his single-season record of 402. He’s giving himself a chance to have all other 3-point shooters eating his dust.

Correction: All other “men.”

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