Steph Curry’s Less Than Perfect Coronation

On the night he received the league’s biggest honor, the leader of the Warriors was merely human. 

There must have been three dozen cameras facing Stephen Curry last night when he stood at mid-court in Oracle Arena to accept his MVP award. His 16-second speech and requisite raising of the league’s trophy was recorded for posterity by trained professionals using the best equipment available. Immediately, it was up on YouTube, streaming in high definition. By morning, legions of news sites had their own versions online.

And yet, hundreds, maybe thousands, of fans, knowing full well that everything in front of them was being filmed, held up their phones. From 20, 50, 200 feet away, they documented the moment with tiny cameras designed to film farting pugs and laughing babies. For fans of the newly minted MVP at last night’s game, the pre-game ceremony would be the only moment worth recording.

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The Warriors came out flat, scoring 22 points in the first quarter. A few seats down from me on the Siberian-version of press row, where they put the lowly web writers, Warriors play-by-play man Jim Barnett, presumably out of a job for the night thanks to TNT’s national broadcasting rights, told a friend it was the worst quarter they’d played all year. 

The trouble with the slow start was not so much on the scoreboard—the Warriors were only down six after the first quarter—but in the arena. The crowd, known for rattling the faces of all who enter, wanted to erupt. It got loud during the MVP ceremony, louder during Curry’s introduction and loudest after a Leandro Barbosa 14-footer near the end of the first quarter. But then there was a Grizzlies bucket, a missed Warriors three, and a forty-three minute commercial break.

That was the ebb and flow of this game. The Warriors would get close, tempt the crowd with a tiny taste of the blistering runs they’ve gone on all season, and then promptly throw a pass away. Building glee would give way to disappointment. And on this night, which saw Curry enter an elite fraternity, he was most responsible for killing the mood. Not that he was bad—he led the Warriors with 19 points—but he was bad for him. Only five times this season did he shoot worse from three than the 2-11 he put up last night. Only five times did he end a game with a worse plus/minus than the -8 he recorded in game 2. On a night when the crowd wanted nothing more than to serenade their baby-faced point guard with chants of MVP, he gave them little opportunity to do so.

All told, I counted five arena-wide chants, the last, which came before the first of two free throws in the fourth quarter, delivered more out of obligation than enthusiasm. Curry, a 91% shooter from the line this season, missed the second free throw.

When looking to explain Curry’s bad game, it’s tempting to chalk it up to the distractions of the pre-game MVP ceremony and press conference earlier yesterday, but that’s too convenient. The explanation for the bad game is probably just that—he had a bad game. It happens, even to Stephen Curry.

In a counterintuitive way, it was perfectly timed. Not so much if you were a Warriors fan at Oracle hoping to scream yourself stupid, or if you enjoy seeing Disney-like scripts play out in real life. But Curry’s appeal, beyond his skills, rests largely on his relatability. Despite being the son of a former NBA player, he’s spent much of his life as an underdog. Recruited barely out of high school and largely unknown in college, Curry has achieved greatness with the body of a ripped 15-year-old thanks to an unrelenting work ethic. He’s not a physical freak or an athletic powerhouse, he’s just a dude who made himself great. It’s easy to see yourself in him and watching him fail after receiving the biggest honor of his career only makes it easier. If MVPs can struggle, then so can the rest of us. Take heart, humanity. 

Photos by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images