What every sport needs
Every sport becomes more interesting when it evolves beyond a battle of the biggest, baddest, and strongest.
Stephen Curry is a joy to watch. As Phil Taylor explains in a Monitor cover story (click here), the Golden State Warriors point guard clearly enjoys basketball. And that joy is helping fans and players raised on a game that sometimes has seemed to be only about giants jostling and jamming remember that 125 years ago basketball began as a shooting sport. A ball arcing into a peach basket can be a thing of beauty.
Long shots aren’t all there is to Mr. Curry. He is a virtuoso ball-handler. He notches assists, steals, and rebounds, and he can dunk (not often, but convincingly). But it’s his three-pointer that has revolutionized the game. His incredible accuracy is forcing defenders out of the under-the-basket mosh pit to try to stop shots they used to ignore because they so seldom succeeded. Three-pointers aren’t flukes anymore. The NCAA championship came down to dueling three-pointers.
The entire court is in play – or at least the half under attack – when shooting gets an upgrade. More geometry to cover requires more teamwork. When the Boston Celtics finally snapped the Warriors’ 54-game home winning streak on April 1, they did it not by shutting Curry down (he scored 29 points) but by energetically answering every Golden State goal. Every Celtic played a part.
Because of Curry, kids of all sizes are more likely to see themselves in the game. He even stirs something in Walter Mittys long overshadowed by bigger, stronger players. “Yemma fades. He fires. The crowd is on its feet!”
Where was I? Curry is by no means an Everyman. He’s 6 feet, 3 inches; in top shape; practices incessantly; and is the son of athletic parents, including an NBA-star dad. By all accounts, he’s also a good guy – devoted to his wife and daughters, even-tempered on the court, charitable, modest, quietly religious. Basketball can only benefit from more players like him.
So could other sports. Football, in particular, needs a Curry revolution. The physical toll the game extracts is well documented. The pipeline of young athletes will run dry unless the game changes. Plays that outwit rivals, that reward speed, maneuverability, perception, and teamwork, make any sport more interesting than does a steady diet of smash-mouth showdowns, bone-crunching hits, and moments of silence as trainers hover over downed combatants.
Now, being big and strong certainly doesn’t preclude being smart and skilled. But the morphological arms race, the dark side of which is abuse of performance-enhancing drugs and an on-field and off-field culture of violence, has robbed football and other sports of diversity, variety, and fun. Games are only games, after all. They are sideshows in life, not the main attraction.
Which is not to say that sports must be nicey-nice or that everybody who shows up is a winner. Competition is exciting. Winning is gratifying. But Stephen Curry has brought two crucial values back to basketball: He wins games and he wins hearts. That’s a combination every sport needs.