Golden State’s Stephen Curry rolled his right ankle coming down from a layup attempt early in the first quarter against the San Antonio Spurs last night. Here’s that:
After hobbling into the tunnel in obvious discomfort, Curry returned to make two free throws, then left the game for good. It’s a sprain, and at least the fourth diagnosed ankle injury that the two-time MVP has suffered just this season alone. He’ll miss at least Golden State’s next two games, in Portland and Minnesota. Hilariously, the Warriors still have the NBA’s most stacked team even when deprived of the greatest shooter of all time—they came back to beat the Spurs last night when Kevin Durant just kinda decided it was time to—so they should be okay in the short term.
But the pattern is troubling, even for a True Warriors Hater like me, and growing only more so. Persistent ankle problems screwed up the first couple seasons of Curry’s career, badly enough to cost him tens of millions of dollars on his first veteran contract. That bargain deal later enabled the Warriors to build and sustain a historically great roster around Curry once surgery, an overhauled training regimen, and a commitment to huge ankle braces and (famously dorky looking) high-ankle sneakers seemed to stabilize things. Prior to that, though (emphasis added):
“He was turning his ankle in completely nontraditional, crazy ways,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers says. One time, Curry turned it while hopping into a passing lane during a preseason game against the Lakers. Another time, he was dribbling upcourt against the Spurs, with no one around, only to have his right foot fishtail like an old tire on black ice. “It was scary,” Myers says. “I’d never seen someone sprain his ankle like that prior to Steph. And I haven’t seen it since.”
The ankle injury that caused Curry to miss 11 games back in December occurred the way mundane ankle injuries occur even to players not known for wayward ankles: He lunged for a steal, his foot came down hard and off-balance on E’Twaun Moore’s foot, and his ankle rolled over. But the ankle injury that caused him to miss two consecutive games back in January reportedly happened during a routine, non-contact shooting drill. The one from last night seems to split the difference: After absorbing a mid-air foul, Steph lands, takes a fairly controlled-looking step, catches the toe of Dejounte Murray’s sneaker with the arch of his foot... and his ankle just rolls right over, immediately, high-tops and comically bootlike ankle braces and all. The right ankle, to be clear. The one that keeps finding ways to do this. Uh oh.
Given his worldwide fame and well-justified legend, it’s been strangely unremarked-upon that Curry is having one of his best seasons in 2017-18, after what was (also kind of quietly) a relative down year in 2016-17. Curry seems not so easily to reach the bonkers thermonuclear gear he found with such astounding frequency during the 2015-16 season, back when he pretty much broke and revolutionized basketball all by himself. That year, hitting one contested shot would seem to set him off for no evident reason and minutes later he’d be levitating and emitting beams of light from his eyes and splashing high-arcing bombs from midcourt. This year, in contrast, he’s played with a level of control and icy decisiveness that are new for him and, in their way, just as frightening for an opposing fan as the otherworldly transfigurations that made him a superstar. Except, that is, in the 15 games he’s already missed to injury, already by far the most since that 2011-12 season that his ankles almost completely stole from him, when it seemed like his career was in jeopardy.
The Warriors make the context for this stuff kind of weird. Truth is, even if Steph didn’t play again at all this season, they’d slip to no worse than, say, third place in any sane reckoning of the teams most likely to win the 2018 Finals, and probably would not fall even that far. Even if Curry never played again, every worth-a-damn free agent or disgruntled star in position to demand a trade would at the very least take a long look at the Warriors for as long as they’ve got Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson playing the league’s most fun and empowered brand of basketball. The Warriors will be fine. (Also, they can go to hell!)
But at the same time, it’s difficult to overstate what the experience of following the NBA loses when Steph’s not around—and what a tragedy it’d be for the sport itself if what’s happening this season really is the return of the chronic ankle problems that delayed his blossoming into Steph, one of the very most purely and transcendently thrilling stars it has ever had. And so, very uncomfortably, I’m... rooting for him? So that I can go back to rooting against him? This sucks!