Stephen Curry has experienced a rise to superstardom in the NBA as quick as any player that we’ve seen. In a little over four years, Curry went from injury-prone, undersized point guard for a bad Warriors team to the pinnacle of the NBA, winning back-to-back MVPs and appearing in consecutive NBA Finals while winning one. Along the way, Curry has gone from beloved hero of the NBA insider crew, to a “villain” whom both players and fans alike seek to discredit at any opportunity they get.
Bay Area News Group columnist Marcus Thompson has covered Curry throughout this meteoric ascent to the top of the NBA and recently wrote a book detailing the Warriors guard’s rise to the NBA elite. Golden: The Miraculous Rise of Stephen Curry, written by Thompson and published by Simon and Schuster, gives fans a chance to look behind the curtain at what made Curry into the player capable of accomplishing these myriad feats. Prior to the start of the Warriors second round series with the Utah Jazz, I caught up via phone with Thompson to discuss the book, the hate sent Curry’s way, and why current players seem to undervalue what he brings to the table.
Editor’s Note: This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
CBS Local Sports: Why did you decide to write the book?
Marcus Thompson: Do you want the intellectual/inspirational answer? Or the real answer? (laughing).
CBS Local Sports: How about both?
The intellectual answer would be I was watching a game and this realization came over me as Steph dribbled up the court and hit a ridiculous shot and I thought, ‘man, you know how many kids could change their lives by reading this?’ That’s probably the inspirational answer.
The truth is, an agent called me and said ‘hey, we have some publishers who want to pay you to write a book,’ and I was like, ‘let’s do it.’ (Laughing). To be honest though, at the time, the Warriors were coming off of winning a championship, so it was already crazy for me as a columnist in the Bay Area. The next season was starting and they were already 16-0 or 17-0 when I got the call asking about the book.
It was just wild because it wasn’t even in my mind to write a book. I was just trying to keep up with my columns and the podcast and video. At first, when the agent called me, I was like ‘Are you crazy? Do you know what’s happening right now?’ I was just trying to keep up with my day job.
CBS Local Sports: Reading the book, one of the things that fascinates me is how quickly Curry went from superstar and hero to becoming a “villain” in the NBA. Did that surprise you at all watching that play out?
Thompson: I was surprised, but then when I thought about it, I was surprised that I was surprised. Part of it is that, admittedly, I know Steph pretty well. Steph is one of those guys where, if you don’t like him, then there’s something wrong with you. Or, if you don’t like him, then that means you don’t really know him and are operating off of assumptions, speculation and innuendo about him. He’s a really hard guy not to like if you know him, so part of my surprise was just “how do you not like Steph?”
On the other hand, when you pull back a little bit, of course this would happen, right? You get so high, there’s nowhere to go but down. This is what we do. We build people up to tear them down. We love the great underdog stories that come from nothing, the dramatic rise, but we also like the dramatic fall.
I remember when he threw his mouth guard in Game 6 of the Finals and got ejected followed by his wife sending out that tweet; the joy, that he had this moment, was weird. That’s when I realized, ‘wow, people are really happy that he’s having a bad day.’ People were waiting for this moment and that’s when I stepped back and went ‘wow, we’ve really done this again.’ I’m not saying he’s not deserving of criticism… he is, especially for throwing his mouthpiece and hitting a fan. But there was just a lot of joy around that moment where people were happy to see him fail and that was weird. Because, Steph is a guy where, if you know him, you really don’t want him to fail.
CBS Local Sports: Another thing you mentioned in the book is Steph having this “I’ll show you” mindset for responding to sleights. How surprised are you that he’s been able to keep that mindset despite all that he’s accomplished?
Thompson: That’s the part that’s unique. He’s a two-time MVP with a chip on his shoulder. For me, the part that was pretty revelatory was that Steph doesn’t have that reputation as having that killer instinct. Steph’s whole reputation is: good guy, nice guy, great shooter. I don’t think people understand that he does have that “Black Mamba” mentality. The players understand that, even LeBron said ‘Don’t let that smile fool you’. But, Steph is so… for lack of a better word, cute, that you don’t see him as venomous, right? That’s the kind of perception that Steph has.
So, what I tried to do in the book is break that down so that people understand this dude is… he has an all-time edge. When we think of aggressive, killer instinct, ‘I’ll show you’ point guards, we think of Westbrook or Chris Paul or maybe even Kyrie. We just don’t think of Steph in the same way. He’s just as ‘I’m going to show you’ as Westbrook or Paul. The crazy part is, how do you have it after all that he’s accomplished?
He’s been on late night shows, he’s hanging out with Drake, he’s a two-time MVP, he’s won a championship and he still feels like these people don’t believe in him. That’s a level of maniacal behavior that we attribute to all-time greats.
CBS Local Sports: You’ve talked in interviews about other players, like Westbrook or LeBron, not liking Steph with some of it having to do with his meteoric rise to popularity. How does Steph feel about the fact that some of these guys, his contemporaries, are basically like ‘nah, you’re not one of us yet?’
Thompson: I think initially there was some surprise there. I think it actually started a little earlier with the whole Warriors-Clippers rivalry. He and Chris Paul’s relationship started to change. I think on Steph’s part there was some feeling of ‘Oh, I guess we’re not cool like that anymore.’ That’s where it began. It made a lot of sense with Paul though because they were involved in a heated rivalry.
But, really, in the book, the part that was most jarring was the former players and how they were so reticent to embrace Steph. The current players, their mindset is a lot more of ‘Why him?’ We’re as good as him, but he gets this extra love and he doesn’t deserve it. I get why LeBron would want to diminish Curry, because Curry is in essence the message to him from everybody else that he’s no longer at the top. My only surprise with LeBron is I feel like he’s a good guy too. I would have liked, personally, to have seen LeBron embrace Steph because they’re two good guys who are really great at basketball and I just personally think it’s good to have good guys representing the sport. That said, I understand because of what Steph represents. People saying Curry is the best in the game means that LeBron is not, so I get it from his standpoint.
I even get Westbrook. I don’t think Westbrook likes anybody for the record. It’s not like he likes all these other people and hates Steph. But, I do see that he’s got commercials taking little veiled shots at Steph. He probably had designs on having a similar rise. He signed with Jordan brand, he’s got commercials and everything and then here comes this dude at Under Armour taking all the shine. So, I kind of get it, but I don’t get the former players.
I don’t get Oscar Robertson. I don’t get some of these other players who behind the scenes were saying that he’s not worthy of this. My question was, well, how are we determining that? There’s just something about Steph that they haven’t said he’s just like us. Even this year, I was watching one of the “players only” broadcasts that the Warriors were playing in. They put a graphic on the screen with five point guards: Curry, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving — maybe another guy. The guys on the broadcast were all asked, of these five point guards, which one would you choose to start a franchise. None of them said the two-time MVP that actually has a championship. That’s when I was like wow, they just really don’t like this dude.
CBS Local Sports: That’s interesting. How much of that do you think has to do with the fact that Steph isn’t that outwardly crazy athletic prototype point guard? You illustrated in the book how he’s athletic in other ways, but how much of the dismissal of him do you think comes from the fact that he’s not the same kind of imposing athlete?
Thompson: I think that’s definitely part of it. I have these conversations with players all the time. I tell them all the time that you guys are just so infatuated with athleticism. I still have players telling me that peak Derrick Rose is better than peak Steph Curry. I do think that there’s something that, they are impressed by physicality. That’s not even just in the NBA. It’s been that way since they were kids. When you’re in the seventh grade and there’s that one dude who can dunk and the others can’t, that’s what wows you.
For players, I think it doesn’t burn as much getting owned by LeBron because he’s a physical specimen. That makes sense. I think part of Steph doesn’t make sense to them because, he’s just shooting, in their minds. It’s not like he’s physically superior, he’s just shooting. So, I think that is part of the disrespect towards Steph, because they are inherently impressed with superior athleticism, which is why they love guys like Westbrook or Derrick Rose before the injuries. I think that they look at Steph as like he’s kind of cheating. He’s not as good as us, but he’s got this cheat code where he can hit these threes and it warps everything. I just think they’re really impressed with athleticism and physical prowess. That’s how the game was presented to them growing up, with athleticism and physical dominance and Steph just doesn’t do that for them.
CBS Local Sports: Final question for you, what surprised you the most as you were going through the process of writing this book?
Thompson: Part of it was just grasping how big he got, or rather, how big he is. Sometimes, you’re so far into the forest that you don’t see the trees. Steph is just Steph to us out here. He doesn’t have the entourage that prevents you from getting to him. But, when you pull back and view it from a satellite level, you realize that this dude really is big. Part of it is that in the Bay Area, we’re used to the Warriors being underwhelming. So, to see a Warriors player at this height, it’s still kind of odd.
When you go to other arenas and you realize that there are a third of the people in the stadium wearing Curry jerseys, you go ‘wow, this guy is huge.’
The other pleasant surprise for me — or the thing that I didn’t expect but it was a pleasure to find out — was how integral his mom has been to his career. I was ready to write the heartwarming father-son chapter, because all you hear about is Dell and Steph. Not to say Dell wasn’t integral to his career, he absolutely was. He taught Steph how to shoot. But, I didn’t know how important his mother was to his career.
When I set out to write the book, I set out to answer, ‘well, how did this happen?’ What has gone into this to make this happen? A lot of the traits that have gone into it have come from his mother including that competitive drive that we talked about. That maniacal intensity, that comes from Sonya because she’s a fiery woman. Revealing that story was cool, because I didn’t know that and that was fun to write.
Marcus’ book, Golden: The Miraculous Rise Of Steph Curry, is available in bookstores and online everywhere. The Warriors open the second round of the Western Conference playoffs on Tuesday night at home against the Utah Jazz.