This story was originally published on CSNBayArea.com.
Steph Curry returns to his hometown Wednesday with a perfect record and, moreover, an impeccable biography that twinkles brighter by the day.
He’s the reigning NBA MVP and great teammate who somehow has improved. He’s the leader of the defending champion Warriors, who on Wednesday night can lift their record to 20-0 with a win over the Charlotte Hornets.
Curry also is, by all accounts, the fabulous husband, the wonderful father, the good son, the splendid sibling and the exemplary role model.
His personal and professional stories keep getting better, though, as two events this week created even more distance between Curry and even the most impressive of his contemporaries.
The first occurred Sunday, when Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant announced his plan to retire at the end of the season. This represents another symbolic passing of a torch into the hands of Curry. Just as the retirement of Steve Nash last spring left Curry the official king of floor leaders, Kobe’s decision will create even more space for the expansion of Curry’s growing profile.
The second event occurred Monday, when star forward Kevin Durant ripped into the media for its depiction of Kobe’s decline. Some may be taking glee in Kobe’s fall, but those true to the game surely feel more melancholy than joy. Didn’t matter to KD. He sprayed everyone, dropping a couple unprintables in the process.
Once universally beloved, KD seems oddly intent on generating drama. It’s as if the Thunder forward decided some time last season to shed his image of maturity and politeness for one that projects a man who goes gangsta.
Which brings us back to Curry, for he meets or exceeds the entertainment bar that was set so high by Michael Jordan and met in most ways by Kobe. Michael’s rise made us fantasize about dunking. Kobe’s rise made us all want to believe we’d make every shot, particularly in the clutch.
The comprehensive purity and grace of Steph’s game has surpassed that of KD and, in most ways, of LeBron James.
Steph’s rise has tilted planet basketball toward the 3-point shot and the joy it brings. He glamorizes the trey every bit as well as Michael did the dunk while also exhibiting Kobe’s capacity for embracing and succeeding in big moments.
But there is something else that sets Curry apart. He has become a better hoops ambassador than any of them. Better than Michael, better than Kobe, better than LeBron, better than KD. He does as they did but with a wink and a smile that belies his ultracompetitive ruthlessness.
It’s as if Steph Curry leapt off the pages of a storybook.
He signs dozens of autographs at every arena, home and away. He poses for selfies, home and away. He gives honest answers to postgame questions, reasonable or not. He won’t hesitate to pull up, with his wife sitting in the passenger’s seat, to the Chick-fil-A drive-thru and order a sandwich. The list of charities in which he participates is longer than the lines awaiting those autographs.
Steph is a “regular” guy who does amazing things on and off the court.
Warriors general manager Bob Myers this week penned an essay for Sports Illustrated in which he expresses his opinion that Curry, nominated for the magazine’s annual Sportsman of the Year award, should win it. I read it, nodding throughout.
“Combine all of his traits and you have a person that is elite in every way,” Myers wrote. “Everything he does is with the highest character. He’s a great husband, father, son, brother, friend and teammate. He’s a joy to be around.
“He has a daughter the same age as mine and I’ve gotten to see how he approaches fatherhood and how he treats his wife. It’s beyond imaginable. I’ve learned so much from him. He’s the guy you hope your daughter marries.”
The NBA – hell, the sports world – belongs to Steph Curry.
Nash is gone. Kobe is leaving. LeBron is on the far side of his prime. KD’s easy charm is turning sour. Center stage belongs to Steph. He’s the guy having fun, the naturally complete package, ready for what lies ahead.