By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Writer
As the seconds ticked off the clock, Steph Curry grabbed his knees before collapsing onto the court in a seated position, burying his head in his hands. The emotions were pouring out of him with so much intensity that they got the best of him, a feat 29 other NBA teams failed to accomplish this season.
For Curry, this NBA championship hit differently.
Just a short time ago, his team was counted out. He was dismissed. The dynasty was left for dead, buried in a graveyard with other legendary teams that collapsed and couldn’t be resuscitated.
Curry heard all of the talking heads who claimed the Warriors‘ run was over after Kevin Durant left in free agency in 2019. He heard people laugh off their chances of ever being great again after they finished with the worst record in the league in 2020, winning only 19 games. He heard everyone call him too old, too injury-riddled, too past his prime to lead this team to the mountaintop again.
That’s why as the buzzer sounded on Thursday, Curry got goosebumps. It’s why as he hugged his father, Dell Curry, he was so consumed by the moment that he claims he blacked out.
“It was surreal because you know how much you went through to get back to this stage,” Curry said after Golden State’s 103-90 title-clinching win over the Boston Celtics in Game 6.
This was Curry’s greatest accomplishment yet. These Warriors weren’t supposed to be here.
The team’s Big Three are all at least 32 years old. Klay Thompson was a lesser version of himself after returning in January from ACL and Achilles injuries that sidelined him for two-and-a-half years. Draymond Green was accused (unfairly) throughout the Finals of being more interested in his podcast than his play. In fact, during the broadcast for Game 6, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy called this iteration of the Warriors the least talented group that Steve Kerr has coached, intending it as a compliment.
Curry put this group on his back.
On the biggest of stages, he kept producing masterful moment after masterful moment. He was a wizard on offense, while also playing the best defense of his career.
In Game 1, he had six 3-pointers in the first quarter, an NBA Finals record for a single period. In Game 4, he had 43 points and 10 rebounds. In Game 6, he had 34 points on 12-for-21 shooting from the field, going 6-for-11 from beyond the arc, while also finishing with seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals.
Performances like those cement a player’s legacy, and, for whatever reason, Curry entered the Finals with his in question. Even though he was a two-time MVP and an eight-time All-Star, pundits debated whether he was a top-10 player or even a top-five point guard.
With this win, Curry silenced the noise.
“I think he solidified himself today — not even today, just [over] his career — as the best point guard of all time,” said Andre Iguodala. “When he’s gone, we’re really going to miss him and forget how much of an impact [he’s had], not just on the Warriors or the NBA, but on the entire globe. You know, like he made the world move.”
Curry has changed the game of basketball as we know it. He made shooting from anywhere on the court a possibility. He redefined what it means to never stop moving. He’s like a painter who created a new genre of art, or an author who invented an entirely new literary construct.
But Curry often doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He’s too disarming. His body isn’t built like a Greek God. You could easily run into someone with his frame at your local gym. It’s hard for our brains to compute that he’s one of the greatest athletes ever when he looks so darn normal.
But this season alone, he set the all-time record for 3-pointers made. He was named MVP of the All-Star game, MVP of the Western Conference finals and, for the first time in his career, MVP of the NBA Finals, with a unanimous 11-0 vote.
As Curry accepted the MVP Finals award, his teammates all waved one hand in the air, up and down. Curry shook his head in humility. His wife, Ayesha Curry, blotted tears from her eyes. What was long considered the one hole in his otherwise impeccable résumé was finally plugged.
But after the Warriors won the title, that accolade was the last thing he wanted to talk about. When asked what the award meant to him as he sat on the postgame podium, he pounded his fist on the table and said, “Forget that question. Why you start with that question? We’ve got four championships.”
That’s the thing about Curry. He’s the most humble superstar you’ll ever meet, this generation’s Tim Duncan. In fact, Kerr recently told me that every time he goes out to dinner, he makes a toast to Curry, something he picked up from Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who toasts Duncan before each meal.
Kerr knows that without Curry, there wouldn’t be any bottles of champagne in the locker room on Thursday. There wouldn’t be a fourth ring. There wouldn’t be a dynasty.
“Steph, ultimately, is why this run has happened,” Kerr said. “To me, this is his crowning achievement in what’s already been an incredible career.”
You could tell how badly Curry wanted this. He was talking more than usual to the crowd during the Finals. Instead of playing with pure joy, he was playing with pure intensity. Curry wasn’t shimmying, he was roaring.
He even engaged in the trash talk. After a bar near Fenway Park in Boston posted a sign in chalk that read, “Ayesha Curry Can’t Cook,” he responded by wearing a T-shirt after Game 5 that said, “Ayesha Curry Can Cook.”
And while talking about his emotions after Game 6, he held his hand over his eye in the shape of a zero, mocking a gesture that a few ESPN analysts made last August when predicting how many more titles he’d win.
Curry always believed in himself. When he suffered a broken hand four games into the 2019-2020 season, he used that as an opportunity to work on his game, a luxury he didn’t have during the team’s five-year Finals run from 2015-2019.
He spent hours in the gym each day with his trainer, Brandon Payne, becoming faster and stronger, doing drills that constantly pushed the limits of what either man thought was possible. He’d do a 90-second shooting drill in 85 seconds, then 80. He’d stare at a light fixture as he dribbled, doing different moves with each hand based on what color the light turned, with increasing speed.
And when the Warriors were eliminated by the Lakers in the play-in tournament last season, Curry became even more determined. He was relentless in his pursuit of greatness. Dogged.
“It’s been a year and six days that I started the process of getting ready for this season,” Curry said with surprising exactitude. “It all paid off.”
The good news for the Warriors is that the 34-year-old Curry isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. If anything, he’s getting better with age. His game is becoming more complete.
Warriors general manager Bob Myers has watched Curry absolutely shatter everyone’s expectations of him, transforming from the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft into a player who belongs on the Mount Rushmore of basketball lore.
“When he came into the league, he was not this guy,” Myers recently told me, adding that throughout the years Curry has turned into one of the most competitive, skilled and high-character athletes out there. “You’d be hard-pressed to wonder why anybody wouldn’t want to play with him.”
It’s something the Warriors don’t take for granted.
After winning the championship, his teammates hugged him as he cried. They chanted “MVP” for him. Thompson danced with him on the stage while he held his trophy.
For Curry, it was everything he dreamed about when winning another championship seemed like nothing more than a ridiculous impossibility to everyone — except him and some of his teammates.
So, on Thursday, Curry savored every moment of this.
After the game, he held a cigar in his mouth as he sprayed bottles of champagne around the locker room with unbridled happiness.
This night belonged to him. Curry turned a team that was at the cellar of the league just two years ago into champions, something that has never been done before in the history of the league. He refused to give up. He refused to believe what everyone else said about him and his team.
New players? No problem. Injuries? So what. Everyone is getting older? Who cares.
Curry didn’t let any of those hurdles get in his way. He dug in harder. He inspired everyone around him. He kept producing more masterful masterpieces.
And in doing so, he proved that he’s in a class of his own, a player so skilled that he can never be underestimated.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter at @melissarohlin.
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