It’s been apparent that he was probably the best shooter of all time for a few years, and he has been an offensive savant from the time he was a young guard fighting for more playing time and battling ankle injuries. But no one predicted he would become a game-breaking revolutionary, at the helm of a championship team with a legitimate chance of turning in the most dominating regular season ever. He looked to have realized his potential the last two seasons, handing out 8+ assists every night while scoring among the league leaders thanks mostly to historically sizzling three-point shooting.Despite all of the hard work that Curry has put in to his game, and the familiarity that must come with hitting shot after shot after shot, I’d imagine he has his dumbfounded, joyous moments as well.
His Golden State Warriors came into their own around him last season, helping him get the first MVP and championship trophies of his career. And then something crazy happened to start this season: he got better. Curry is averaging 32 points per game (23.8 last year) and going about 5 for 11 on threes per contest (he went 3.6 for 8.1 last year). At this rate, he’s set to dwarf his own all-time record for three-pointers made.
The reason he is making even more threes and scoring even more points is simple: he’s taking even more shots. He has a green light at all times to shoot, from his coach and, now, his confidence. It takes serious chutzpah to take so many bombs in the first place, and it’s not just about volume with Curry; since every opponent’s priority is to stop him, he is shooting more difficult shots, further away from the basket, and they keep going in. These are shots that would get most players benched for taking one, let alone a handful in a game.
And chutzpah, he has. Curry holds his pose on the release. He embellishes passes with gratuitous behind-the-back, no-look flare. He begins his celebration while the ball is still in the air, for goodness sake:
He’s so, so good. And he is very, very aware of it. Are his antics prideful? Should we acknowledge his talent but take issue with his flamboyant style on the court?
The sports world is quick to make absolute judgments about a player’s pride, humility, respect, or “character” over actions like bat flips, pantomimed moonings, and trash talk. This phenomenon is less common in the NBA, where superstars are regularly critiqued for being too nice or too selfless. A lot of this is due to a nostalgia for Michael Jordan’s heroics. Many fans lament that more athletes don’t have the “it” that Jordan had—that kill gene—and the accompanying greatness that led us to celebrate his ruthlessness on the court and overlook his ruthlessness off of it. If we’re sports morality relativists, then we don’t have to care if Curry is the dribbling embodiment of pride, so long as he’s playing in the NBA and not the NFL.As fans with a Christian paradigm, it’s not so cut and dry. On some level, yes, of course Curry is prideful. We’re all prideful creatures. Pride is pernicious, and there is something of a sliding scale between pathetic pride and glorious pride. I’m on the pathetic end of the pride spectrum when I’m CRUSHING my toddler in a board game and letting her know all about it. If Steph Curry is proud when shooting the prettiest, best jump shot known to man, high on the cheers of twenty thousand fans, he’s on the glory end of the pride spectrum. God has graced the world with the glories of basketball specimens like Curry, just as he has graced it with brilliant minds like Stephen Hawking, and brilliant comedians like Mr. Bean. They all are vulnerable to the pre-fallen Satan kind of pride—when you’re so good you forget that God made you that way, failing to direct the glory heavenward. I’d imagine that is the prideful temptation when you’re at the apex of a jump that started at the free throw line and will end in an iconic dunk that helps spawn the billion-dollar Air Jordan brand.
Shall we then abstain from rooting for Curry, or the league’s other flashiest players? Should we instead caution about their looming fall, refusing to celebrate the pride that precedes said fall according to Scripture? Consistently parsing out displays of genuine pride or humility would be its own, dreary sport within a sport, and we might as well quit watching sports at all if we’re worried about further inflating the egos of multimillionaires. A lazy solution of avoidance isn’t necessary, though. The solution is joy.
The act of cheering is, in the first place, an act of reveling in a beautiful thing God has put before us. Whether after a transcendent performance of a symphony or a leather ball going through a plastic hoop as an obnoxious buzzer rings, a polite clap, rowdy holler, or excited jump-hug can all be done out of a simple joy, an appreciation of what God has set before us. It’s possible to cheer with sinful pride, too. My team won, and I am better than you, fan of the other team. In my experience, the pure joyfulness is the common shape that cheering takes.
And the player is in on the joy. Steph Curry has every reason to enjoy what God has constructed in him. He can revel along with his fans in the stupefying talent God has granted him, without forgetting his Creator. My favorite Michael Jordan moment was not a cold-blooded fist pump, nor was it him enjoying a victory cigar while cradling one of his many trophies. Jordan, the poster boy for unapologetic pride in his accomplishments, once found himself along for the ride of his talents. In the 1992 Finals, Jordan uncharacteristically shot and made six three-pointers in a single half. As the crowd, his teammates, and the broadcast team marveled at the sixth, Jordan jogged across half court and shrugged. In one motion, he told the world, “I don’t exactly know what’s going on with my fingertips, but it’s pretty cool.”
Despite all of the hard work that Curry has put in to his game, and the familiarity that must come with hitting shot after shot after shot, I’d imagine he has his dumbfounded, joyous moments as well. God is good. Basketball is fun. It’s okay to enjoy it, whether you’re cheering from home or swishing the J yourself.