After a long summer of topless championship parades, free-agency meetings in the Hamptons, Snapchat mishaps, and gold medals, the NBA is finally, truly, really, almost back. The start of training camp marks the beginning of our NBA Preview.
We kick things off with Warriors Week, an in-depth look at one of the most interesting assemblages of basketball talent ever. We’ll have a different theme each week, as well as the usual league coverage. So check back often. Basketball never sleeps, and neither do we.
Warriors camp opened this week. Perhaps you heard. Draymond Green invited opposing fans to boo him. Kevin Durant got accustomed to a new jersey and new levels of big-city traffic. Steve Kerr took stock of his team on the first day of practice, surveying perhaps the greatest assemblage of talent in the history of his league, and declared them, with earnestness and enthusiasm, to be “pretty.” Also: Stephen Curry was there.
Sure, Curry got his share of attention. He made international headlines by saying, “Uh, yes,” when asked if he was confident about re-signing next summer. He went viral when the team tweeted out a video of him showing off a new behind-the-back move while going one-on-one against training camp invitee Cameron Jones. He spent much of media day wandering around the practice facility with a trail of iPhone photographers in his wake.
But for at least these first few days, Curry seemed like just another superstar on a team full of superstars. He’s still arguably the best player in the world, sure, but now that the Warriors have added Durant, there’s more hype surrounding Golden State’s collective than there is around its two-time reigning MVP. After a season in which Curry seemed to redefine the limits of an athlete’s popularity — a season in which his jersey sales rose by 600 percent and opposing fans sometimes seemed more excited to watch him warm up than to watch their own teams play the actual games — he now has another mid-prime future Hall of Famer with whom to share the hype.
On Tuesday, Curry was asked whether he thought the team’s additions would ease the pressure on himself. “I haven’t really thought about it like that,” he said. “That really would cheat my process. I have the same mentality. I don’t think about any expectations. I want to be the same regardless of whether KD was here or not. You would think there’s less of a pressure or whatever, but that’s not how I think because I still have to do my job. I have to do it at a very high level for us to be as good as we want to be.”
In June, of course, Curry never reached that level. Playing on a sprained knee that had only partially healed, Curry shot 40 percent and averaged fewer than four assists, never approaching the standard he’d set in the regular season. This week he spoke about whether he’d ever wondered how that series might have gone if not for that wet spot he slipped on in Houston earlier in the playoffs. “I hate that I was asked about it so much,” he said, “because at the end of the day, I was on the court. I was playing. And if we would have won … the questions would have been different. ‘How did you overcome a catastrophic injury to win the championship?’” (Perhaps it’s a reach to call a sprained knee a catastrophe, but his point stands.)
After the Finals loss, Curry faded from view. He worked to recover from his injury, skipping the trip to Rio with Team USA and three of his Warriors teammates. He went on a book tour with his wife, Ayesha, joining her for interviews but making sure most of the attention remained on her work and not his own. “It’s different being on the other side,” Curry said at media day. “I enjoyed that part of it. Just watching.”
Throughout the week, he continued to watch as reporters swarmed Durant, as the balance of attention shifted, ever so slightly, away from himself. It won’t always be that way, of course. Curry will do things on the court this season that will stun us, that will remind us of the heights he reached a year ago. Pregame crowds will still assemble. Millions of jerseys will continue to be sold. But there will be moments, from now until a champion is crowned next June, when Curry may be able to inhale a little more deeply.
With the Warriors’ daily press corps continuing to balloon, the team has instituted a new policy. Now, after practice, they put 30 minutes on the clock from the moment the players start talking to reporters. When the buzzer sounds, the media leaves. The gym empties. And then, with everyone gone, Curry returns to the floor to continue shooting, all alone.
Well, almost all alone. Some teammates linger to shoot alongside Steph or just to observe. New Warrior David West has already found himself sitting and watching Curry work, turned, for a moment, from a multimillionaire athlete into just another observer of the two-time MVP’s solitary genius.
After practice one day this week, West’s eyes went wide as he considered how to describe what it’s like to watch Curry work. “I don’t know, man,” he said. He shook his head.
“That shit,” he said, “is real.”