Stephen Curry should look to other sports for growth

Jun 13, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) reacts to a play during the second quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game five of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 13, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) reacts to a play during the second quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game five of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

Stephen Curry failed in Game 7 of the NBA Finals and faced merciless scrutiny. He can look to other sports’ stars to learn how to grow.

Stephen Curry is one of the biggest superstars, not just in basketball, but in American sports today.

While LeBron James may have swatted Curry’s claim to the title of “world’s best basketball player” out of bounds, he can’t quite create the same narratives that allow the 6’3 point guard to appeal to all the demographics. He’s the league’s most marketable and popular player, attracting droves of fans to watch him warmup hours before tip-off. He’s taken a brand, never considered a serious player in the basketball world, and has it challenging the almighty swoosh.

Over the last few years, Curry has transformed from the Bay Area’s best kept secret to everyone’s favorite underdog to the league’s most hated player. For as many people that want to see him succeed, there are just as many folks that get joy out of his failure. It’s a weird paradox: he’s extremely hated because he’s so loved.

He has had a meteoric rise to the top of the National Basketball Association over the last 24 months. He won two MVPs, becoming the first unanimous selection with his second one. He led his Golden State Warriors to a record 73 regular season wins. He shimmied all over the opposition en route to one of the most spectacular seasons we’ve ever seen. Yet he ultimately fell short of the goal of winning a second NBA title.

And, in doing so, all his accolades and accomplishments were mocked.

The word “unanimous,” once incorrectly interpreted as “greater than Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and James” became synonymous with “fraudulent.” As if Curry’s rare struggles in a few games diminished what he did over the course of nearly one hundred games.

Few athletes can relate to the immense pressure Curry had, both as an individual and as a part of a team. For players that reach the upper echelon of the sports world like he has, winning isn’t enough. In a sport that claims winning is everything, there are unwritten rules for how a player should win in order for his victory to be considered valid. And if he doesn’t somehow surpass these insurmountable expectations, the backlash is merciless.

Perhaps only LeBron James can relate to Curry’s combination pressure, pain, and disappointment in the basketball world. When reflecting on what he did (and didn’t do) in the 2015-16 season and when looking towards the next chapter, the reigning MVP should look to stars in other sports.

Just a few days ago, the world watched the biggest (metaphorically speaking) athlete in the world also fall. Argentinian soccer superstar Lionel Messi lost in the Copa America Finals several years after losing in the World Cup Finals. The diminutive forward has yet to win a championship for his country, all that’s left to add to his incredible resume. He missed a penalty kick over the crossbar and, after Chile celebrated their difficult victory, broke down crying on the field.

Messi isn’t any less great because of his losses one the world’s biggest stages. Sometimes you miss. Curry had an opportunity to tie the game after Kyrie Irving‘s huge three-pointer with less than a minute left and he missed. It happens. Greatness is not lost in a moment. Despite the questions surrounding his ability to hold up to physicality and his style of play,

Curry is a well-known Carolina Panthers fan and friend to the reigning NFL MVP Cam Newton. But he doesn’t have much to learn from Newton, who is a terrific player. There are two future Hall of Famers that Curry should study and learn how they bounce back after adversity.

Peyton Manning is one of the greatest to ever step on a football field. He holds more records than you can count, a lot of them in the regular season. Until his last season, Manning had just one Super Bowl victory, struggling to get over the hump as a member of both the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos. Compared to his touchdown records, passing marks, and MVPs, the one ring seemed underwhelming. Many qualified his name and his legacy by calling him the “greatest regular season quarterback.”

Curry struggled in the 2016 playoffs as injuries to his knee, ankle, and elbow didn’t allow him to get into any kind of a rhythm. He had just 17 points in Game 7 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He had two poor shooting performances in last year’s Finals as well, before going on a tear to finish the series and claim the championship. But because narratives snowball, Curry is considered a poor postseason performer. A regular season warrior that can’t adjust to the physicality and style of the playoffs just like Manning.

The now-retired quarterback dealt with the ridicule after his record-setting offense was blown out by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2013 Super Bowl, dropping Manning to a 1-2 record with the Lombardi trophy on the line. Experts and fans concluded that he was just a regular season performer, unable to take his rightful place alongside the Joe Montana‘s and Terry Bradshaw‘s of the world. Just two years later, he was being hailed as one of the top quarterbacks of all-time after winning his second championship.

The lesson for Curry here is: bounce back and everyone forgets what happened before. Narratives can be changed. It’s hard, but doable.

The pain of winning 73 games and not securing the title may never go away. Their historic season will unfortunately be given an asterisk. It was just nine years ago that Tom Brady and the New England Patriots lost their bid for a perfect season and their championship to the New York Giants.  They went 16-0 in the regular season, losing a heartbreaking Super Bowl. It was the worst possible ending to what almost was (quite literally) a perfect season.

Those Patriots are lucky that they didn’t exist at the peak of the Twitter era of humanity or else the Crying Jordan memes would have been off the charts. But the fact of the matter is, one loss completely changed NFL history and the legacy of that historic team. Brady could have rested on his laurels. Instead, he spent the better part of the next decade, consistently proving his greatness. Showing that their incredible success wasn’t just lightning in a bottle, but rather just one chapter in the amazing book of one of the greatest dynasties in American sports.

The disappointment probably will haunt these Warriors for the rest of their lives just like how the idea of a perfect season eats away at the Patriots and their fans. But it’s not impossible to overcome it. Again, winning cures everything.

Similar to Manning and his regular season success, baseball’s Clayton Kershaw is considered a choker once October rolls around. He has yet to lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to even one World Series appearance, failing to bring his Cy Young dominance to playoff baseball. Despite this, there’s a growing acceptance that we may be witnessing one of the best pitchers to ever take the mound. There’s an understanding that he’s held to a different standard. That his shortcomings are oftentimes a result of over-exertion, a need to take a larger workload because of the deficiencies of the team around him.

Curry can do this. Even if he doesn’t ever win another ring, he still has more than guys like Steve Nash, Gary Payton, and John Stockton. No player in league history has ever had to face the defense that Curry does as two guys try to trap him at half court nearly every possession. He has to endure more, like how the Dodgers’ star has to pitch more innings because he hasn’t had a competent bullpen or manager to support him. But the crux of Kershaw’s experience that Curry can take away is that he is still great, regardless of what people want to say.

None of these greats have dwelled on their failures for too long. They got right back up on the horse and tried again. And all of them have found success, carving out legacies that people can only dream of. Messi will be blamed for his team’s failures but he’s still one of the greatest soccer players to kick a ball. Manning and Brady have overcome losing on the world’s biggest stage, beating embarrassment and qualifiers en route to being some of the best to ever throw the pigskin. Kershaw has shown that consistent greatness, even if it is in the regular season, can propel you to the top of league history.

Curry and the Warriors failed. There’s no excuse for it. They were up 3-1 on an inferior team, they messed around, and they cracked under pressure. But they can’t let their loss consume them. They still had a special season one year after winning an NBA championship. They need to regroup and re-tool and make another run at it next year. It starts with their best player, Steph Curry.

Following their Game 7 loss, he sat in the locker room alone with his head in his hands. He is in uncharted waters for any NBA player. But he’s not completely alone. He can learn from other sports. Different ball, same struggle.

Now it’s his turn to bounce back in a major way.