Perspective | What happens when Stephen Curry shows up in your town? Enchantment.


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Being Stephen Curry never stops. On Monday afternoon, he’s leisurely swaggering out of a crowded room — without a trace of cockiness, more like a person who has been working hard all day and needs to put his feet up for a second — and into a Capital One Arena hallway. More than an hour has passed since he scored 41 points and led his Golden State Warriors to a 127-118 victory over the Washington Wizards. This space should be clear of ticket-buying fans. And Curry should be off the clock.

But there’s one fan, possibly a dad, and he’s holding a pair of blue-and-gold Warriors jerseys, small enough for a child. The man pushes up behind Curry’s right shoulder and requests an autograph. The boldness of this stranger might have alarmed any other human being. And the bodyguard, who stays attached to Curry everywhere he goes except when he’s performing as Stephen Curry on a basketball court, reactively extends an open hand — the international symbol for No! Yet Curry pauses and reaches for the Sharpie.

Even when few are watching and he could get away with being normal, Curry stays on. But when thousands of eyes are following him — fans of all ages waiting to be entertained and inspired — that’s when he operates as the center of the basketball universe.

Wizards, Warriors trade blows early — then champs leave hosts on canvas

The greatness of Curry can best be seen here, in a January game in the nation’s capital. Even though the regular season has reached its doldrums and playing the Wizards has an off-Broadway feel, a place like this can distinguish a basketball star from a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.

On the national holiday to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., the sold-out arena responded to every flick of Curry’s wrist. Every shot he took, then turned away from, knowing the ball was falling through. Every time he jutted his mouthpiece after scoring a bucket while causing some poor Wizards player to foul him, too.

All-stars shine. Curry tilts the room.

“He’s a modern MJ,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said, referring to Michael Jordan. “I used to see this playing with the Bulls. Half the crowd’s got red 23 jerseys on. Now half the crowd’s got blue-and-yellow 30 jerseys. Steph is — he transcends the game.”

Anywhere he travels, he’s on. When he comes to a basketball city like Washington, crowded with transplants, bandwagoners and people who have so much money that they can afford courtside tickets, he plays as the main attraction. On Monday, he was the megaphone arousing one of the league’s listless grounds awake. Picture Miles Davis showing up to a house party, but the hosts make the mistake of telling all their friends, who tell all their friends, and now there are 20,476 people crowding around grandma’s curio cabinet, rubbernecking in awe.

Ever seen an entire building bend? Its steel and frames, the fixed chairs and barriers between them, serving no match for the gravitational pull of one man? Just more than an hour before tip-off, as a hooded Curry dribbled two basketballs on the baseline to start his pregame warmup, every fan in the lower bowl moved toward his direction. Those kids crowding around the railing near the home railing? They abandoned their mission for autographs from Wizards players and instead went to watch Steph.

Every other night, Capital One Arena ranks as the building with the sixth-lowest home attendance in the NBA. On Monday afternoon, it beat with fresh energy as the heart of culture and entertainment. In the first quarter, Oakland rapper E-40, double-fisting some kind of drinks, walked the perimeter of the court to locate his seat. Before halftime, the teams honored King’s descendants with custom jerseys. J. Cole, the Grammy-winning rapper-turned-pro basketball player, chatted with Warriors GM Bob Myers. The regular fans who showed up in Chinatown barely acknowledged these entertainers among them. Instead, their devotion and attention belonged to the game’s greatest shooter.

“He got MVP chants on the road today,” said Ty Jerome, who’s in his first season with the Warriors — and witnessing Stephmania.

In the Warriors’ locker room after the game, I waited for Jerome to show up. I wanted his particular perspective. He’s a former champion in college who played on a popular Virginia team and is now a four-year pro. But he told me he never experienced road games like this in college, nor in his previous stops in the NBA. And, really, few players in the history of the game have.

“You got to understand what’s going on,” Jerome said. “He’s one of the greatest players ever. The greatest shooter ever, and he’s doing it in a way that nobody has ever seen before. Nobody has ever seen someone shoot over 10 threes a game and sustain that level of efficiency and that level of difficulty on his shots, the flair that he has off the bounce. So he’s not only one of the greatest players ever, but he’s also doing it in a way that nobody has ever seen before, and everybody wants to come watch him play. It’s just pretty cool to be a part of. It’s pretty cool to see it off the court. He’s as big of a star as it gets — best player in the world.”

Taking all this into account, as crazy as it sounds, could Curry be bigger than Tom Brady?

“Oh, he’s bigger than Brady,” Jerome responded. “He’s probably bigger than Brady.”

Kyle Kuzma, in the all-star conversation, is learning on the fly

Jerome walked that back a little when I made the case for the NFL as America’s sport. “Both of them have had such great playoff success. It’s probably closer than what I made it seem,” Jerome said, laughing. “But I’m going to go with my teammate.”

And I’m going with Jerome. Curry is that big.

“He elicits an emotion from people because he’s so awe-inspiring with his play that, no matter where we go, there are people who are cheering for him and can’t wait to see him perform because we’ve never seen anything like him,” Kerr said. “And I think people can relate to him because he’s not just superhero, in terms of his size and strength. He’s 6-3, 185. There are a lot of people out there that size, but none who can do what he can do. He’s incredibly inspiring, and as a result we get a ton of support on the road.”

And now, a few words on the team that usually plays in this building. With these Wizards safely past the halfway mark of the season, with an 18-26 record to show for it, what does Monday teach us about them? That they’re competitive, for one thing. Despite the Warriors sleepwalking through the first half of their season, the Wizards were still playing the team that has a special invitation to the White House on Tuesday. The 12th-seeded Wizards and the defending champs entered the fourth quarter on the same level: tied at 93.

While aspiring all-star Kyle Kuzma was off the mark most of the day — save for a couple of threes in the fourth — Kristaps Porzingis led Washington with 32 points on 9-for-15 shooting. His scoring surge continued a season-long trend. In 17 games without Bradley Beal, Porzingis has averaged 23.3 points, which would be higher than his scoring pace during his lone all-star season in 2017-18.

But Washington still needs a consistent defensive identity — and someone willing to donate their healthy left and right hamstrings to Beal, who did not play again.

Beal’s presence might have mattered in the fourth quarter, when the Warriors outscored Washington, 34-25. But the fans still left fulfilled. They came to see the day’s showman: Curry, in all his glory. His greatness never stopped.



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