Two years ago, ESPN host of First Take, Stephen A. Smith, admitted what had been glaringly obvious to those of us not completely obsessed with physical dominance in sports: Steph Curry was the best player in the NBA, not LeBron James.
Funnily enough, it had been LeBron’s own paranoid statement during the the NBA Finals 3 years ago, that really got the debate going. “I’m the best player in the world…” he bragged, feeling for some reason, the need to say something publicly, that had not even been debated in the media since Kobe Bryant was in his prime. But state it LeBron did, in the midst of a Finals against Steph Curry’s Warriors.
Many in the media and in fandom were incensed by the comment because even the great Michael Jordan himself had not made such a proclamation. However, members of that Warriors team were clearly offended. Not because they felt that LeBron was jumping the gun on the G.O.A.T. discussion. No, their offense was not over the Jordan-LeBron debate. It was over the hitherto ignored Curry-LeBron debate.
In a press conference after a victory against LeBron’s Cavaliers, Curry did not respond to LeBron’s presumptive “best player” comment, but his running mate did. Klay Thompson unapologetically responded to LeBron’s assertion that he was the best with a simple “no.” He declared for the world to hear, his genuine belief that he was privileged to play with the player he believed to be the best. Steph Curry.
Curry’s response was interesting. He thanked Klay for the public recognition, which was the first of soon to be many. He did not deny it. He did not shake his head at Klay’s emphatic statement. He agreed 100% with what Thompson had just said. Steph Curry didn’t just think that he was better than LeBron: he knew it.
To those not obsessed with physical superiority, the difference between Steph Curry and LeBron is wide and obvious. Their equivalents in Association football would be Steph Curry=Sergio Aguero LeBron James= Robert Lewandowski. Technical ability in sports matters. Each sport has technical skills unique to that sport. Steph Curry’s technical basket ball skills are vastly superior to those of LeBron James. The only argument LeBron would have is in passing. Three point shooting: Steph. Dribbling and handling: Steph: Free Throws: Steph.
And it was those technical skills which saw Steph Curry not only outplay LeBron, but the entire league during his second MVP season, deservedly becoming the only unanimous MVP in NBA history. LeBron whined about it of course, but the sports media was no longer touting the same old refrain that no matter what we see on the court, the answer to the question is always LeBron. Some still held on to it, but others, like Stephen A. Smith had to admit the obvious.
At that point Steph Curry was the most beloved NBA player in the media’s eyes. The fans clearly preferred his game to LeBron’s: his jersey sales and All Star votes clearly attesting to that. The debate between Steph and LeBron was on, and in both the fans’ and media’s eyes, Steph Curry was winning.
Much to the chagrin of one LeBron James. He was supposed to be the “Chosen One” and all that, destined to be greater than Michael Jordan, a fate mapped out by Media Narrative from before LeBron even began his NBA career. Now that very media consensus about him was beginning to fall apart. Someone in his own generation had passed him in their eyes. The athleticism part he had down, but the technical ability and overall flair and finesse has never been there. LeBron James has never been technically good enough to ever live up to the comparisons with Michael Jordan. The media protected darling of the NBA, was no longer even that, he was slowly being replaced by Steph Curry.
But then something happened. LeBron “miraculously” came back from 3-1 down against Steph Curry’s Warriors, re-writing the narrative, and permanently damaging Steph Curry’s legacy in the process. The fact that the Warriors were robbed in that series by horrible officiating, is now a forgotten tale.
Curry’s media darling status was officially over, as were debates about who’s the best. The status quo had been restored. “The bigger you are the better you are” is the common media refrain these days. And of course Steph Curry isn’t very big (basketball wise).
The media war on Curry was subtle at first. It began with the assertion that he “needed” help from a “better” player when Durant decided to leave his team and join Curry’s team. Then it began to get more and more dismissive and downright disrespectful: Westbrook was now better, so was Harden. It even came to a point where the media would speculate on whether or not Curry was even a top ten player. Was the media vitriol all because Curry “blew” a 3-1 lead?
I don’t think so. How could someone fall from grace so quickly? Was it really all over one series? Despite the media bashing Curry received last year, and it was bad, he still remains the most popular player in the NBA. Barely anyone brings up his name in the best player discussion anymore, having been replaced in the media’s eyes by Kevin Durant and Giannis (the Greek Freak).
However the bashing hasn’t stopped. It seems to have gone up this year. “Why wasn’t Steph Curry suspended?” was the outcry by the media. “If it had been [insert name] he would have been suspended.” They literally campaigned for Curry’s suspension and when it didn’t come they cried about it not being fair. But since when has the media cared about fairness?
I don’t recall seeing anything like it. The media has gone from being passive aggressive towards Steph, to all out aggressive. They clearly want to destroy this man’s image and the immature behaviour he displayed against Memphis, is certainly helping them in this task. But why do they (seemingly) hate Steph Curry so much? How has he gone from being so beloved and elevated in their eyes, to so hated?
In my opinion, it all goes back to LeBron. It always does. Perhaps the media is trying to make it up to him for even daring to say that Steph is a better basketball player. Think about it. Which player more than any other threatens LeBron’s legacy and bid to catch Michael Jordan? It’s Steph Curry.
He is more popular with the fans and he plays on a better team, a team built around him. He handed LeBron another Finals loss, before Durant ultimately joined. He already has two rings and if he wins this year, will have already caught LeBron, long before LeBron ever catches Michael. When Durant was out injured last season, the Warriors didn’t miss a beat. Curry was still clearly the best player in the NBA, during that run proving he was holding back that season to integrate Kevin Durant (an assassin in basketball terms) into the team. A team which goes as Curry goes.
In the finals, the one game the Warriors lost, even with Durant scoring over 30, was when Curry had a bad game. It would be clear to anyone who wasn’t a LeBron fanboy, that Curry and not LeBron, is the best and most effective basketball player of this generation. The media’s LeBron experiment though now a complete bust, would be over. Their propaganda failing to not only get him over the Michael Jordan hump, but over the Steph Curry hump.
Had Curry’s ankles still been a mess, LeBron James would be 5 in 8 in NBA finals, having gone to 7 straight. The argument for G.O.A.T over Michael would be considerably stronger and more credible. Instead, when the media tries to instill this fantasy into the public’s head, it only serves to anger honest people, who know that LeBron’s 3 rings don’t match up to Michael’s 6 and his 5 defeats don’t match up to Michael’s 0.
The media loves this debate. They love this controversy. LeBron or Michael. As I’ve said before, commentators live for controversy. They love the “debate” more than the sport itself. They need to keep this a debate for ratings and for talking points. This is why Steph Curry’s image had to be destroyed. He had gotten in the way of a good story. Since that first Finals appearance, when Klay Thompson announced him as truly the worlds best basketball player, through that unbelievable MVP season, he ruined the Lebron-Jordan G.O.A.T debate.
Since that time, his team lost a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals (it was fixed that way), to a “courageous” LeBron James led team, and subsequently he’s been paired with Kevin Durant, who in technical ability as a basketball player, is his number one rival; his stats undoubtedly taking a hit; and he’s been dragged into mini debates like Steph vs Kyrie, Steph vs John Wall etc. since according to the media now, he isn’t even in the discussion with LeBron anymore.
The overall lesson here is that the media narrative conquers all. They won’t even let reality get in the way of a good storyline. Had Curry been a footballer with that kind of ability, he’d be Cristiano, he’d be Lionel; recognised as technically superior to a clogger like the media hyped LeBron James.