JOHN RIORDAN: Steph Curry adds a true quality to Warrior spirit

For a while there, it seemed like the NBA player of the year vote deciding the regular season’s Most Valuable Player would devolve into an alphabet soup of stats, highlights and what “valuable” really even means.

Like all good sporting debates, it’s layered and intriguing.

Steph Curry won in a landslide and no one is arguing. The Golden State Warriors point guard is now officially residing in the stratosphere of active stars defining this current era.

Of the 130 voters who were balloted for the annual award which routinely lands awkwardly just as the play-offs are beginning to simmer, 100 gave their number one to Curry.

A specialist from outside the three-point line and a key reason as to why the one-time also-rans from the Bay Area in Northern California are suddenly slight favourites to win the whole thing, Curry had stiff competition from what was a uniquely busy field of worthy candidates.

Just in behind him was the key man of the Houston Rockets, James Harden, who has fast evolved from that uniquely vital “sixth man” role he was famous for at the Oklahoma City Thunder to a pivotal member of the Rockets.

And summing up the concept of valuable is the third placed LeBron James whose Cleveland Cavaliers were stunted badly during a month long injury he was laid low by earlier in the season. Since he came back in, he fired them towards the play-offs and towed his team mates up with him.

But Curry has been other worldly and the Warriors have gone from somewhat of a punchline to genuine contenders. They have been a mirror image of the team that came close to drafting Curry, the New York Knicks.

Officially a joke, the Knicks pushed hard to bring in coach Steve Kerr last summer, a mild mannered but fiercely intelligent former player whose debut season is going more perfectly than even he could have imagined.

Kerr was an important member of the great Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls team of the mid to late 1990s before going on to add two of his five NBA titles during the emergence of the San Antonio Spurs.

This is his first taste of coaching after a decade during which media work bookended his stint as General Manager at the Phoenix Suns. Neither television analysis nor the rough and tumble of player transactions can prepare would-be coaches but Kerr has taken the opportunity on willingly.

Never have the Warriors won so many regular season games and they’re looking odds on to continue through to the finals later this month. With 67 wins from a possible 82, it’s little wonder that he has never looked back since turning down his one-time basketballing guru Phil Jackson who tried to recruit him to the Knicks last summer.

“It was difficult because I’m very, very close with (Jackson) and I feel like I’m indebted to him for much of what’s transpired in my career,” Kerr said back in February.

“But from the other side of things, it was just personal, family side. It was a lot easier to stay close to home, literally two miles from my daughter, who goes to Berkeley, and I got a team that has a lot of talent and a lot of great guys, so it was a good choice.” As for Curry, he has benefited no end from the opportunity to spearhead the improving fortunes of a team which up until recently were taking up space in what is often seen as an inflated league.

“I didn’t know much about the organisation when I was drafted,” he said Monday. “I didn’t know the players or the kind of direction we were headed. I was just happy to be drafted. That’s a dream come true for anybody.

“As you get established in the league, you get comfortable and understand what the situation is. It was a little rough my first few years, but I loved playing at Oracle ... you go around the league and you see different arenas, that’s somewhere you want to play 41plus games in every night.”

Curry is the son of a former NBAer so the genes are good and the pressure has always been less of a factor even when the glare of the spotlight grew and grew.

As the play-offs go deeper, the chances of Curry colliding with his closest competitors in the MVP race on the court should increase. One or other of Harden or James might be standing in his way should the Warriors navigate the Memphis Grizzlies.

In light of how the big fight was received at the weekend, there is a greater appetite now for athletes at their peak to do battle when the time is right.

There’s very little to choose between these men but the MVP award will be for nothing if Curry and the Warriors can’t fend off one or other or both of the Cavaliers and the Rockets. It won’t be pay-per-view but it will be a series of duels that will live long in the memory.

johnwriordan@gmail.com

Twitter: @JohnWRiordan


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