It’s a staple of sports talk radio, bar arguments and the comments section online.
Who’s the greatest basketball player of all time? The debate invariably comes down to Michael Jordan (six NBA Finals, six titles) vs. LeBron James (10 NBA Finals, four titles), with fans of the vintage game calling from Memorial to throw Bill Russell (11 NBA titles in 13 years) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six MVP awards, six titles, career scoring leader) into the mix.
With Jordan usually coming out on top.
But let me toss another name into the debate, my favorite player ever, and should be fresh in fans’ minds: Wardell Stephen Curry II, who just led his Golden State Warriors to fourth their NBA championship in eight years. At 34, Curry is still going strong, although he looks like he should be trying out for his high school team… the junior varsity. They don’t call him the “Baby Faced Assassin” for nothing.
If it pleases the basketball court, I’m going to present the case for Steph Curry as the best player today, which in practically every measurable, quantitative sport, would mean the best player ever. Of course I’m going to cherry pick statistics and accolades, but there’s no denying his feats from him. Facts is facts.
Much like baseball has become a tedious sport of home runs, walks and strikeouts, the modern NBA game has evolved into a contest of dunks, 3-pointers and free throw shooting.
I submit to you that Curry is undeniably the greatest ever in two of those categories: 3-pointers and free throws. Curry has made 3,117 (and counting) from behind the arc over his 13 years in the NBA. His career percentage from long range is .428. He won the 3-point contest twice during All-Star Week. For comparison, Jordan wasn’t really a 3-point shooter, averaging 33 percent. Strange fact: his first four years in the NBA, Jordan never shot better than 20 percent on 3-pointers. He did get better and was clicking on more than 35 percent the second half of his career. King James who does attempt them, only 34 percent for his career.
Curry’s percentage at the free throw line is .908, the all-time best. Jordan, .835. James is not so impressive at the line, only .734, and in three of the last four seasons he’s dipped below 70 percent.
Jordan’s Bulls went to the NBA Finals six times and won all six. James has gone to the Finals a total of 10 times, with three different teams, and has four titles. Curry’s Warriors are 4-1 in Finals, they’re the current champs, and Vegas has the Warriors as one of the favorites to win next year.
There is no disputing the supreme greatness of Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Both have dominated their generation of basketball. But did they change how the game is played? Steph Curry has.
In 2015-16, only six teams took more than one-third of their field goal attempts from 3-point land. Five years later, 28 of the NBA’s 30 teams were jocking it up from beyond the arc better than one-third the time. Thank you, Steph Curry. In 2017-18 the Houston Rockets became the one and only team to attempt more than half its shots from 3-point land. Thank you, Coach Mike D’Antoni.
During the 1989-90 season, the heart of Jordan’s career, NBA teams attempted 6.6 shots from behind the arc per game, connecting on about 33 percent of them. Last year, NBA teams attempted 35 3-pointers. While teams have increased the number of 3-point attempts, their accuracy hasn’t improved very much. Last year, the league hit about 35 percent.
Curry’s career average from distance is .428. He is recognized as the greatest shooter in basketball history.
Curry’s team has met James’ team four times in the NBA Finals. Curry has a 3-1 advantage.
Here’s important evidence in Curry’s favor. Much like Babe Ruth set all of his home run records without having to face black pitchers, Jordan played most of his career when international players were a rarity. In 1993, the year Jordan’s Bulls won their third title, there were only 23 international players on NBA rosters.
In 2021-22, when Curry’s Warriors won their fourth title, there were 121 foreign-born players representing 40 different countries in the NBA. Think these international players don’t make a difference? Since 2017-18, all four Most Valuable Player awards went to a player born and raised outside the US (Giannis Antetokounmpo won twice, Nikola Jokić the most recent two honors). I’ll go one year better, an international big man has been named Defensive Player of the Year the last five seasons (Rudy Gobert three times, the Greek Freak twice). Last year, three of the five All-NBA First Team members were foreign-born (Jokic, Antetokounmpo and Luka Dončić.
More Curry: In 2015-16, Curry led the NBA in scoring, the Warriors won a record 73 games and Curry became the first – and still only – unanimous Most Valuable Player. He also joined the 50-40-90 club, meaning he shot 50-percent from the field, 40-percent from 3-point land, and 90-percent from the free throw line. Only 11 players have accomplished the 50-40-90 feat. Jordan and James are not on the list.
Jordan has 10 scoring titles, Curry has two, curiously James only one.
Curry has plenty of intangibles, which really don’t count on the floor, but they’re noteworthy. Curry’s teammates apparently love him. Jordan’s teammates feared him. James doesn’t stick around with a team long enough for his teammates to form an opinion.
Curry appeared on sesame street this week. The lesson was the letter C. Curry hosted the ESPY’s last week. Can you imagine Jordan hosting the ESPY’s? If someone else won NBA Player of the Year, Jordan might punch him and go on for 15 minutes how he’s better than that bum.
While Jordan and James are physical forces who out-muscled and overpowered their opponents, Curry wins with incredible shot-making and ball-handling wizardry. He’s fearless and cocky, dazzling and entertaining. Above everything, he’s a winner. Kids in the playground can dribble behind their back like Curry and attempt long-distance shots from the water fountain. Kids can’t do what Jordan did and James does. They can’t do what Curry does, either, but it’s more fun to pretend. I’m not saying that Curry is the greatest player ever. I’m just saying he deserves to be in the discussion.
My final ranking: James is the greatest, followed by Jordan, Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, Magic, Bird, Chamberlain, then a little guy with a mouthguard hanging from his mouth named Curry.
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