Transcendent athletes are the rarest of birds. Blue-Eyed Golden Doves, if you will.
Stephen Curry is one of the transcendent players of his era, and was recently compared to another all-time great NBA star that reached heights never seen during his time. In a recent ESPN interview, Kevin Garnett dropped a controversial quote as a throwaway line while commenting on Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins and his opportunity to play alongside Curry in Golden State.
“He’s playing with the Michael Jordan of his era,” Garnett said. “The knowledge that he takes not just from Steve Kerr and that coaching staff but that pedigree of excellence that they push around there in Golden State — you can’t come in there and be less than. Those are champions in there. Those guys have won together. They’ve been in the grit. They’ve been in the foxhole together. I think it motivates him.”
Of course, anytime a player is compared to Jordan, it causes an immediate uproar among a specific sector of basketball fans. Many talking heads took the bait and got all up in arms over Garnett’s comparison. Deadspin’s own Rob Parker chimed in on his radio show, The Odd Couple, along with Chris Broussard on Fox Sports Radio, saying it’s “ludicrous” that KG can say that about Curry, and not LeBron James. Whoa! If Rob Parker is defending LeBron James, pigs must be flying over Downtown L.A.
Now, suppose we’re talking about a straight-up apples-to-apples comparison of Jordan and Curry as players, legacy vs. legacy. In that case, no, Curry isn’t anywhere near Jordan, even at this stage of his career. But I didn’t take Garnett’s comment this way.
In the late 1980s and 90s, Jordan revolutionized and changed the game of basketball on every level. Everybody wanted to Be Like Mike, from the NBA down to the playground. In the late 90s, the league became more of a one-on-one isolation game. The game went from in the paint to above the rim, at every level. That was Jordan’s influence. Only nobody could do it like Mike. Kobe Bryant may have come closest, but even he wasn’t on MJ’s level. Before Jordan, it was thought that an impactful big man was needed to win championships. Jordan obliterated that theory. The great Larry Bird once said, “It’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.” That quote should sum up Jordan’s impact on the game.
Before Curry and the Warriors jumped into the championship picture in 2015, no one thought a team built on jump shooting could win a title. Golden State jumped that hurdle, led by Curry, and hasn’t looked back. Curry’s signature is all over this era of NBA basketball the same way Jordan’s has been for 30 years as 3-point shooting has skyrocketed, with some teams taking over 40 per game. Last season Utah led the league shooting 43 per game. Five years earlier, 2015-16 the Warriors led the league at 31.5 3-point attempts per game. Halfway through this year, Minnesota is leads the league averaging 41.7 attempts per game, followed by Utah with 41. At every level, players are shooting more threes than ever before. That is the Steph Curry effect.
So, no one is saying Curry is as good a player as Jordan, but merely pointing out how he’s changed the game in a way not many have. Both guys changed how players approach the game at every level. As great as LeBron is, he has not done that on the court. Off the court is another argument.
Surely this won’t be the last of this argument, because as Curry continues to break records and potentially wins more titles, his name will be mentioned a little more often in conversation with Jordan. I’m not saying Curry is in the GOAT discussion, because he’s not right now. But winning a couple more titles and more awards on top of the records he’s continually setting, and before you know it, we could be talking about Curry as a top-five all-time great. Don’t sleep; it could happen.