On the day when he found out that he would be winning the MVP Award for the second straight season, Stephen Curry put on a performance that will end up being one of the defining moments of his career.
Curry had missed the previous two weeks with a knee injury, but he didn’t allow his impediments to get in his way of winning an important game for his team.
The first thing that came to mind while I was watching it was Michael Jordan’s “flu-like symptoms” game in the 1997 NBA Finals. The parallels are striking: both are courageous performances of two players overcoming debilitations to lead their team to playoff victory while taking control of the game.
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There was a Gatorade commercial a few years back in which Phil Jackson spoke of how Jordan’s performance in that game 5 during the ’97 Finals made him a believer in a player’s will to win overcoming all else. Maybe Steve Kerr had a similar epiphany while watching Curry’s hit shot after shot against the Portland Trail Blazers in game 4.
When Curry screamed “I’m back” to the stunned Portland crowd, I flashed back to another playoff moment involving the Trail Blazers: Michael Jordan’s shrug to Magic Johnson at the broadcast table after his 3-point bonanza during game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals. The Trail Blazers have a bad habit of being victims of an opposing player’s greatness.
As I watched Curry deliver 17 points in overtime in his first game back since his knee injury, I realized that what I was witnessing wasn’t just a talented performance, but a work of art.
I suppose it’s the same feeling that certain listeners are overcome with while listening to a Mozart piece: the combination of both creativity and beauty resulting from a type of human expression rarely experienced.
Sports are often condescended in our society as frivolous, but I can’t help but feel as if those critics fail to see athletics for the performance art it truly is. What makes Jackson Pollock throwing his heart and soul represented through paint onto a canvas anything different than Stephen Curry poetically tossing a ball into a ten-foot hoop with both flare and precision?
I read somewhere that during the peak of Jordan’s career, scholars who normally weren’t associated with sports described Jordan’s appeal as resonating not just within the frame of athletics or basketball specifically, but as penetrating realms of greater appreciation because he was the best individual in the world at any one craft. That’s a lofty claim, but it speaks to the transcendence that occurs when activity suddenly becomes art.
Curry has reached that level, as evidenced by the masterpiece he constructed last night for the world to appreciate.