Was Steph Curry's transformation into an NBA supervillain inevitable?

DJ Gallo
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">‘Curry is not the first public figure to be placed upon a pedestal and then knocked off it quicker than LeBron executes a chase-down block’. </span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Tony Gutierrez/AP</span>
‘Curry is not the first public figure to be placed upon a pedestal and then knocked off it quicker than LeBron executes a chase-down block’. Photograph: Tony Gutierrez/AP

Basketball fans were first introduced to Steph Curry 20 years ago the same way we learned of Riley Curry two years ago: he was the cute child a famous NBA father occasionally brought to work. A decade later we saw him again, knocking down jumpers for tiny Davidson College in the NCAA tournament and delivering hopelessly dorky rap verses about the campus dining hall. College Curry was the same kid we met in the 90s when Dell Curry was still in the league, just taller and with more range.

But today that kid has turned into, well, kind of an asshole. No longer the innocent, bright-eyed legacy marksman, Curry now gets into shoving matches with the likes of Semaj Christon.

How did it get to hate so soon? Less than two years ago Curry was the fresh-faced star on the NBA’s new marquee team. “Meet Steph Curry, the NBA’s Most Beloved Megastar” read a headline in Bleacher Report in March of 2015 that now seems like something out of ancient time capsule. Twenty-four months later, Curry is battling MMA aficionado Draymond Green for the position of top henchman on the league’s undisputed squad of basketball supervillains. It’s the biggest heel turn since Green first tried to shove his heel through an opponent’s torso.

One could argue the emergence of Curry’s dark side is a natural effect of the pain and humiliation from losing a 3-1 lead in the NBA finals. (As you may have heard, the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead last year in the NBA finals despite have the unanimous league MVP. It was widely reported online.) But Curry actually began trending towards bad guy well before that. LeBron James’ dismissive stare down of the sharpshooter in Game 6 of the finals showed Curry’s peers had clearly grown tired of him by last spring. And don’t forget that seconds after that James block, Curry fouled out of the game and, in exploding at the official who made the call, hit a fan with his spit-soaked mouthpiece. Villainy!

The reasons Curry is disliked by many of his NBA peers is undeniably complicated. Some of it is blowback and jealousy from the fawning media coverage Curry received starting with Golden State’s 2015 championship, glowing press that only built through his record-setting three-point barrage a season ago. Some of it is the perception that Curry is soft due to his style of play, wealthy upbringing and family-friendly, brand-conscious image. And as ESPN’s Jemele Hill and others have expressed, there is very likely a racial element, too, due to the fact that Curry is light-skinned, exposing a “deeper level of insecurity within black people that they have when it comes to skin tone.”

The hit to Curry’s sterling reputation also has nothing to do with anything he does off the court. He remains, by all accounts, a good father and active in the community. He even showed the willingness to stand up to a corporate partner last month, calling out the CEO of Under Armour – and not for producing the Curry 2s, believe it or not, but for speaking glowingly about Donald Trump. Asked if he agreed with Kevin Plank calling the president a “real asset” to the nation, Curry quipped: “I agree with that description if you remove the ‘E-T.’” Then he spoke privately with Plank about his concerns.

Curry is not the first public figure to be placed upon a pedestal and then knocked off it quicker than LeBron executes a chase-down block. James’ career is the best NBA example. He was loved, reviled, loved again and may be re-reviled if he wins back-to-back titles in Cleveland this June. But while some of the hatred directed Curry’s way is unfair, he is by no means completely innocent either. The guy has increasingly shown that, in strictly basketball matters, he can be a real ass et to the NBA.

He shoves. He talks trash. He willingly wades into the NBA MVP debate, the touchiest of all NBA topics. He grimaces, sulks and complains to refs. He recruits superstars to a 73-9 Golden State team. He sneers through the mouthpiece that hangs out of his mouth. He (reportedly) joins in the Warriors whining about how Durant was treated in his return to Oklahoma City. He shimmies.

Curry is embracing the new image (and likely wouldn’t even mind being called the a-word by some random person online). He joined Green in proudly sporting a cupcake t-shirt to troll Thunder fans who mocked Durant. He even conceived of and hosted a “Super Villains” costume party at his California estate back in November.

None of these are mortal basketball sins or anything particularly unique to Curry. But together they’re more than enough to build a growing anti-Curry movement, especially when they’re displayed on national TV throughout the endless NBA season. The sum of all these annoying parts give Curry the look of a player who was bred at a different, small North Carolina college than Davidson. He has the air of a Duke man, and good luck finding anyone who likes them.

In this year’s NBA drama, Curry’s role was set from the start: he was the bad guy and day after day he is giving an award-winning performance on par with the other-worldly basketball he produced a season ago. Basketball fans will probably demand that he suffer another postseason humiliation before they’re ready to root for him again. But in the meantime it would probably help if he left the villain behavior to Draymond Green.

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