SAN FRANCISCO – Most of the sports world sees Stephen Curry as a family man who doubles as the highly skilled basketball technician that has revolutionized the offensive principles of the game with incredible 3-point shooting. The sorcery is, after all, spellbinding.
But the alchemy at the root of Curry’s magic is elementary. Curry is a maniac.
The greatest evidence of that is in his insane drive to wring every single ounce of talent from a physique that once impressed no one. Four championships, two MVP awards and 12 NBA All-Star games have not silenced the voices of disparagement ringing about his head since he was a teenager.
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Curry’s individual workouts, mostly organized by trainer Brandon Payne of Accelerate Basketball, have brought many other NBA players to their knees, if not flat on their back. Steph’s work before, during and after practice sessions have left teammates second guessing their habits.
“Watching Steph put in work makes you have to question: Am I doing enough?” center Kevon Looney said at Warriors Media Day on Monday.
For all the exploits of Curry’s teammates, all the tremendous coaching and training behind the Warriors, nothing prods them more than Steph’s presence. His example is the launchpad. It’s a bit like Michael Jordan’s impact on the once-great Chicago Bulls -- you’ve heard the stories -- but without the hostility that could annoy teammates.
At 35, Curry maintains determination to test the limits of his skills and endurance. No red light in sight. Having developed his body from scrawny to sculpted during his 14-year NBA career, he is to basketball fitness what the equally maniacal Jerry Rice was to football fitness. Like Rice, Steph internalized adolescent criticisms that led to a furious devotion to the work that evolved into a twisted love for the grind that makes him extraordinary.
Golden State Warriors
One year after Mavericks coach Jason said Curry was “the best conditioned athlete in this game,” Steph is bolting down the fairway of a Lake Tahoe golf course after a hole-in-one that helped him win the tournament. Two months after that, he is running sand dunes in the Dubai desert. Throughout, Curry is in the gym leading basketball workouts that steal the legs from everyone else.
Maniac. And grinning at the failure of those trying and failing to keep up.
“Experience helps, just because you know how to listen to your body,” Curry said Monday. “First thing is you need a strategy going in, and it's not just me looking at a piece of paper looking at the calendar saying, ‘This is what I need to do.’ I have some experts in the field that can kind of guide you in terms of what boxes need to be checked throughout the offseason so that you do exactly what you said. Know you're prepared. But you don't need to feel like you're in the gym for eight hours a day, which might have some diminished returns.”
Players around the league have said for years that Curry is a nightmare to guard partly because of his limitless shot but mostly because of the endurance required to have a chance on defense. His motor revs higher for longer than anybody else on the court.
Curry is, in that way, a prisoner of ancient insecurities. Even now, every competition is an opportunity to disprove the assessments of 20 years ago, when he was ignored by power-conference coaches. When even Virginia Tech, which his parents attended and where his father, Dell was a star, offered no more than a walk-on opportunity.
All that negativity created maniacal dedication to the task that likely will be in place for years to come.
Curry sought advice from the late Kobe Bryant, seeking anything for an advantage. Reached out to Tom Brady seeking inside information on the approach that kept him an elite quarterback well into his 40s.
Longtime Warriors wing Andre Iguodala, who knows Curry as well as any teammate, recently described Steph’s commitment and perseverance to the Christian Wolff character, played by Ben Affleck, in “The Accountant.”
“I wasn’t surprised when Steph won that tournament in Tahoe,” Iguodala said last month, standing 30 yards from Curry at Lake Merced Golf Club. “I told people that one of these years he was going to win. Like that dude in ‘The Accountant,’ he’s just good at everything he sets his mind to.
“Some of the stuff he does is weird to believe. It’s like, ‘Did he really do that?’ But it happens too much -- and not only in basketball -- that you just have to accept that it’s who he is.”
Without Curry and his single-minded pursuit of validation, the Warriors don’t win four championships in nine seasons. Golden State is not a global brand whose franchise value grows tenfold in 10 years. Coach Steve Kerr doesn’t have four more rings. Teammates Klay Thompson and Draymond Green don’t have a combined eight All-Star Game appearances.
“All I know is Steph is my point guard,” Thompson said. “And I've been lucky enough to see his work ethic.”
Curry’s leadership is effective because it’s consistent. He raises the bar simply by being himself. Taking note of his labor is both overwhelming and inspirational -- and the secret ingredient behind all the Warriors have become.