On Christmas day, The New York Times published an editorial in which it asked some of its sportswriters who the NBA’s best player of the decade was and the nod went to Stephen Curry.
While the Times conceded the only other possibility was LeBron James, Curry won “in a landslide.”
Nine of the decade’s N.B.A. finals featured at least one of them
Yeah, and eight of them featured LeBron.
Curry is great, but he wasn’t even the best player on his team for two of his three championships — that honor belongs to Kevin Durant.
LeBron James, meanwhile, won three championships, three MVPs (and deserved more), three Finals MVPs (and nearly won a fourth), eight consecutive Eastern Conference championships, nine first-team All-NBA honors (and a lone third-team choice) and finished the decade first in total points, tenth in rebounds, and fourth in assists.
Virtually everyone agrees that James was undoubtedly the best player of the 2010s.
Even those that chose Curry, like Kevin Draper (“LeBron James was undoubtedly the best player of the decade, but Stephen Curry defined it.”) and Shauntel Lowe (“It feels weird not to pick LeBron James here, what with him being the best player in the world and all, but Stephen Curry was the defining player of this decade.”) admit as much, so how did Steph win?
The argument those at the Times is making that while James was the best, Curry was its most impactful, that he changed the game the most.
While that’s true, the logic to get there is flawed.
For example, Harvey Araton lays out Curry’s case thusly:
Just for the record, Curry was a two-time M.V.P., won as many titles (three) as James — all against James’s team — and was the most dynamic talent for a Warriors team that set the record (73) for most games won in a season.
I think that last part is missing something. How did that team’s season end? Losing a Game 7 at home to LeBron, who put up a triple double in that game and led both teams in all five major statistical categories.
Curry is great, the greatest shooter ever, but he doesn’t control the game the way James does.
The combination of his poise, vision, athleticism, and basketball IQ enables him to survey the court as if it were a chessboard. It’s this ability that separates him from “pure scorers” like Carmelo Anthony. He is more Kasparov than Kobe. Even the people closest to him see him as a chess player: “All my family members have been saying, ‘Listen, you need to learn how to play chess, because that will be your game.’” But James already has a game, and he is already its grand master.
Plus, he has the ability to dominate on both ends of the court — as Curry knows all too well.
Anyone saying Curry is a better overall player than James — something that has been happening since 2015 — conveniently overlook Curry’s play on the defensive end. They ignore how teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, and Toronto Raptors have hunted Curry every single time down the floor, to the point where he becomes “demoralized.”
In the decade alone, LeBron made the NBA All-Defensive first-team four times and the second-team once.
Curry received zero.
Which brings us to the crux of the matter.
In the final line of that Times piece, Benjamin Hoffman writes, “his size and smile helped him become the face of the N.B.A. for a new generation of fans.”
He’s 6-foot-3, 190 pounds of chiseled muscle, but in doing research for this piece, I found Curry repeatedly referred to as “twiggy” or “slight” or “scrawny,” with Araton (again) writing that “Curry and his skinny bones seem held together by clips and glue.”
I’ve long believed that sportswriters slobber all over Curry because while they can’t imagine being LeBron — that gifted, both physically and mentally — they can certainly envision themselves as Steph, the small guy who can dominate thirty feet from the basket.
Criticizing Steph feels as if they’re picking on someone small and helpless, so Curry is often given a free pass by those in the media, despite doing what they so often criticize others for, something that hasn’t been lost on other players.
It’s only natural for the contributors to The New York Times to continue advancing the narrative of the decade: LeBron is the certainly the greatest, but Steph is small and his shots are pretty, so we’ll pick him.
At least the Associated Press got it right, naming James as the male athlete (not simply NBA player) of the decade.
Christopher Pierznik’s is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.