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in Books

Basketball's Superstar

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Adam Elliott Segal, author of  Basketball Now! and MMA Now!, talks to us about the NBA, Steph Curry, and what it means that "Stephitis" is taking over. Let us know what you think by tweeting us @FireflyBooks.

 

Basketball Now

 

When I was young, I’d play ball hockey by myself on the front porch. I was always Wayne Gretzky, moving swiftly on the ice, searching for Edmonton Oilers linemate Jari Kurri, who would fire a wrister top corner. I was never Mario, God bless his talent, or any other great player from the era. It was always Gretzky, the superstar, who forever changed hockey by passing from his “office” behind the net to Anderson or Kurri, who amassed record after record en route to four Stanley Cups in five years. Jordan did the same thing for basketball with clutch shooting and six titles in under a decade in Chicago. Thanks to the advent of instant replay and an insane aptitude for last-second brilliance, Jordan became every kid’s go-to guy with a Nerf ball and a plastic hoop. You were Jordan versus Ehlo in ‘89, Jordan and the Bulls knocking off the Jazz in the 1998 Finals. You were Jordan, never Magic. Jordan, never Bird. You were Gretzky, never Mario. You were Ali, never Frazier. You are Curry, never LeBron.

Basketball’s enjoying a banner season, and owes its success to one man: Steph Curry. The other major sports have paled in comparison. Marred by the ongoing Deflategate and concussion lawsuits, the NFL spent 2015-16 skidding in the mud. Aside from Cam Newton’s emergence, the NFL superstar quarterback era is a dying breed (see Peyton Manning and Tom Brady). The defense-first Denver Broncos, led by Manning, won the Super Bowl in such defensive fashion that Coldplay’s halftime show was perhaps the most exciting thing that happened all night. Tennis is reeling from controversy. Maria Sharapova, the WTA’s most marketable star, was recently suspended for drug use. The CEO of Indian Wells just resigned following sexist comments made towards the women’s tour. Rafa’s knees are failing him. Federer is finally showing signs that old father time is catching up.

 

Footballs Greatest Stars

 

Baseball, America’s national pastime, is under fire for domestic violence. MLB recently suspended Aroldis Chapman for 30 games following domestic violence charges; Jose Reyes is currently under investigation for similar charges. While baseball’s popularity and bottom line appear healthy and the in-game product is both entertaining and affordable, small markets such as Kansas City and Toronto enjoying playoff success can’t be ideal for a league whose major markets depend on television revenue—Jeff Passan recently called the Dodgers 8.3 billion dollar deal an unmitigated disaster.” Baseball is also lacking a superstar, a transcendent, honest-to-God superstar who is changing the way we watch, interact and think about how to play. Curry is doing just this for the hardcourt. Neither Bryce Harper nor Mike Trout—the best young ballplayers in the game—have led their respective teams to a championship. While hockey’s second coming in Conor McDavid could still define a new era in the NHL, it might take some time—Edmonton is poised to finish in the bottom three once again, and the NHL playoffs, for the first time since 1970, will feature zero Canadian teams. Scoring is down, goalie pads are ginormous and the $5.2 billion dollars Rogers shelled out for the NHL rights is looking like an early albatross as ratings plummet and viewers alter their media diet.

 

The Soccer Book

 

Across the pond, the English Premier League has a fabulous underdog story in Leicester, as profiled recently in Sports Illustrated, but it’s a common trope we’ve seen before in sports—rag tag crew defies the odds to win the championship. From a basketball perspective, I’m pretty sure it’s called Hoosiers. Lionel Messi of Barcelona may be the closest comparative to Curry, a Pele-like superstar who is altering the way we view soccer and who some call the greatest player ever thanks to his fourth Ballon d’Or last season as best footie player on the planet. But here in North America, neither Newton, Trout nor Sidney Crosby has transformed their respective sports like Curry has for basketball, and his team, the Golden State Warriors, looks poised to become the next NBA dynasty. ESPN recently argued that Curry isrevolutionizing the game and dubbed a certain phenomenon afflicting youth basketball, ‘Stephitis.’” Kids of all ages, from elementary to college, are hucking threes from well beyond the arc to mimic the point guard, who is shooting, and making, shots from wherever he damn well pleases. At one point, his shooting percentage from 28 feet out was better than the average NBA player from three feet. A cultural shift is happening on the court. It may not be a stretch to think that in a decade, seeing a 40-footer hit nothing but net may be a common highlight. For Curry, it’s almost automatic and he is setting records at will. VICE argues he is having the best offensive season in the history of the game.

Curry’s impact in such a short amount of time is miraculous in its own right. In just under two seasons, the Golden State point guard’s become a hero to a younger generation, the guy you pretend to be alone on the court. The three-point line, introduced in 1979, during an era of predominantly big men, changed the game. No one back then was spotting up for a three in transition. Generations change. Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain gave way to Magic, Bird and Jordan, who gave way to Kobe and LeBron. Curry’s the latest iteration of a superstar blazing a new trail. We are witnessing firsthand the birth of a superstar, and it’s been damn fun to watch.

Are the 2015-16 Warriors as good as the 95-96 Chicago Bulls, who finished with 72 wins? Was Bird or Jordan as pure a shooter as Curry? The comparisons have been fodder all season, and Curry already has more three-pointers than Jordan made his entire career. He is barely 28 years old. Records aside, it’s the intangibles Curry brings to the table that’s making him the most exciting athlete on the planet. His pre-game dribbling skills are already legendary. Fans on the road line up early just to watch him practice. His ability to hit threes in transition is unstoppable, as evidenced by the 37-footer he hit one Saturday night in Oklahoma City to win the game, the most viral moment of the NBA season thus far. Fellow stars like LeBron, Dwyane Wade and DeMar Derozan all took to Twitter to express awe and admiration. Every night he plays, a Vine shows up in seconds. It seems like he hits a buzzer beater to end the quarter every single game. Dirk Nowitzki—who changed the game for seven-footers by adding an unstoppable step-back jumper—recently called Curry “a freak.” He is playing at such a high level that “video game” often follows a description of Curry and even the makers of the latest version of NBA 15 are baffled—they simply couldn’t conceive how good Curry could become. “It’s going to take some fundamental changes in our game code,” the Visual Concepts Gameplay Director of NBA 15 said. That same game Curry hit the 37-footer for the win, he eclipsed his own single-season mark for three-points shots, with 1/3 of the season still to go. The reigning MVP and NBA champion has been so good many are calling for the point guard to win Most Improved Player in the league.

 

Basketballs Greatest Stars

 

One New York Times article this season likened Curry to a ballet dancer. The Golden State Warriors guard was called “beautiful to watch” and “effortless” on the court, much like a dancer would be on stage. It’s an apt comparison, and one not often used when referring to sports. He is live theatre on the court, the lead actor delivering a soliloquy to an audience of hoops nerds, a perfect blend of size, speed and skill that’s captivates all of us for 48 minutes a night.

Curry is appealing cross-market and across gender and race lines. He is identifiable to kids because is small and slender (6-foot-3, 190 lbs, to be exact) and to much older fans in awe of something new. His off-court antics are a marketer’s dream: the family man with an all-worldly smile toting his daughter to post-game press conferences during the 2015 NBA Finals. His sponsor, Under Armour, is reporting a 350% increase in sales just this season alone thanks to wooing Curry away from Nike several years ago. Furthering the basketball as ballet metaphor, Under Armour, along with quarterback Tom Brady and golfer Jordan Spieth, employs pioneering African-American ballet dancer Misty Copeland.

There’s more: Curry’s instantly likeable shimmy-shake devoid of hubris when he hits big shots, or thumping his heart following an impossible three— another oft-mimicked meme occurring on basketball courts across the world—are now trademarks. He is operating as close to perfect as one could imagine. This is Gretzky territory, Jordan territory, Messi territory. He is reshaping the way we watch sport, and more importantly, how it’s played. There is poetry to the way he shoots, a rhythm to his movements. It’s about time we recognize this for what it is: an act of transcendence.

 


Adam Elliott Segal is a sports writer whose work has appeared in Sportsnet Magazine and enRoute. His first book was MMA NOW!

 

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