OAKLAND, Calif. – Stephen Curry, with his youngest daughter in his arms, ran onto the championship podium. Screaming into the sea of yellow, bouncing with joy.
This is what validation looks like.
For nearly a calendar year, he has had to swallow the slights, the questions about his eliteness. He’s been called overrated, classless, weak, soft, unclutch, unworthy. And he just had to eat it.
It’s the price of admission into the club of superstardom. You must be doubted. You must be prodded. You must digest the hate and be better because of it. That’s what the great ones do. You answer on the court.
And in the clincher, Curry had 34 points, 10 assists, six rebounds, and enough moments to silence his loudest critics. The reasonable ones, anyway. He led the way to a 129-120 win over the Cavaliers, clinching the Warriors’ second title in three years, completing their vengeance from last year’s epic collapse.
This is how you earn superstardom. Curry wasn’t the Finals MVP. But he vindicated himself by averaging 26.8 points, 9.4 assists and 8.0 rebounds in an NBA Finals.
Curry’s fingerprints were all over this game. He overcame early turnovers and struggles with his shooting. He controlled the game.
Curry made a rare sacrifice, inviting Kevin Durant to the Warriors. Outside of the Bay Area, Durant is almost unanimously deemed the Warriors’ best player.
But Curry built this whole thing. From the time the franchise was placed in his hands, he’s carried these Warriors. And even with an amazing player next to him like Durant, it was still clear Curry has to run this show. It looks different. He is not the dominant star who gets all the shots and the huge numbers. But his game and leadership are still integral to the Warriors.
But even that nuance wasn’t enough. Curry needed to do what superstars do. And he did that this series, and in this closeout game.
And he sealed the performance in a fashion fit for a run marked by revenge – alone, on the left wing, against Kyrie Irving.
Curry danced through a series of crossovers, avoiding Irving’s swipes, as Oracle Arena lathered up in a frenzy. Curry then stepped back and rose up over Irving – the very player who set Curry off on this journey of reclaiming his name – and drilled the dagger 3-pointer. And Curry’s answer was complete, his retort punctuated.
Moments later, even though there was still time on the clock, Curry couldn’t contain his glee. He was jumping and screaming when he should have been bringing the ball up. This feeling was a long time coming for him.
It wasn’t enough to just play well. Curry has done that in these Finals. It’s playing well when all the marbles are on the line. When the world is waiting for you to produce, expecting magic from you.
People want to see his no-look pass to Andre Iguodala during a critical fourth-quarter stretch. They want to see three straight driving layups with the game on the line, answering the desperation of the best player in the game.
They want to see him come up with a timely interception in the fourth quarter during the game-ending run.
They want to see him have a counter when the Cavaliers take away his 3-pointer and his stroke isn’t feeling the greatest. Instead of chucking away from deep like he did last year, Curry lived in the middle of the Cavaliers’ defense. He was 8 for 11 inside the arc with 12 free throws.
On the biggest stage, and healthy, Curry proved he wasn’t a flash in the pan. That his two MVPs and 2015 championship wasn’t a fluke. Despite not having the freakish size of the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, he proved he belongs. LeBron made it clear there is nobody in the NBA better than he. But there should be no more doubt Curry is in the mix with the game’s elite.
Perhaps it was just a matter of time before he got here. Or maybe he needed to go through that collapse, feel the sting of not showing up, hear the jabs at his worth from across the nation, to become even better. Either way, the end result from this three-year run: two MVPs, 207 regular-season wins, and two championships he’s here now.
This is what validation looks like.
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