Stephen Curry is one of the best, most well-respected, and most popular players in the NBA, but his quick rise in the league reportedly rubbed some of his peers the wrong way.
In 2017, Marcus Thompson of The Athletic, author of the book “Golden: The Miraculous Rise of Steph Curry,” explained to “The Big Lead with Jason McIntyre” that Curry is not all that popular with some of the league’s biggest stars, including LeBron James.
“There’s this thing there with he and LeBron that’s a little weird,” Thompson said.
According to Thompson, James and Curry were close from Curry’s days at Davidson to his early years in the league. Thompson said James was “like a mentor” to Curry, but as Curry’s game improved, coinciding with the Warriors’ rise, he “challenged LeBron’s status.” Since then, the two haven’t been as close, and it bothers Curry.
“The part that’s odd for Steph, like why does that mean there has to be some beef between us? He loves LeBron, he respects LeBron, and he’s like … ‘Because the outside world is pitting us together, why do you and I have to now have this disdain between us? I thought we were cool.’
“That’s the question that’s in Curry’s mind and Curry’s camp: ‘Why do you not like me when all I did was basically respect everything you did and kind of follow the model you carried out?’ So there’s an interesting dynamic there, and it’s not just with LeBron.
“Steph wants to be accepted by all these guys. This is what he worked for — for you to say, ‘Man, you’re one of us.’ It seems like they don’t want to give that to him. Not yet, anyway.”
During the 2016 Finals, the second rematch between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, things got noticeably heated between James and Curry as James’ Cavs came roaring back to eventually win the series.
In Game 6, James swatted one of Curry’s shots and trash-talked him afterward. The two had bumped each other a few times and exchanged words. Finally, Curry was called for a foul, lost his cool, chucked his mouthguard, which hit a fan, and was ejected. From there, the “beef” seemed real.
It resurfaced on Thursday in Game 1 of the 2018 Finals, when James blocked a shot by Curry and the two exchanged more words. James eventually pushed Curry out of the way, rankling Klay Thompson, who exchanged some words with James afterward.
Thompson said that the root of this disdain for Curry came from him leapfrogging so many players so quickly in the NBA’s elite and receiving adoration for it.
McIntyre brought up an incident in which Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook laughed when they were asked about Curry’s defense in 2016. Thompson said it was another example of the chasm between Curry and some of the NBA’s stars:
“I think if you ask them and they were being honest, they don’t like all the hype he gets, and they have to direct it that way. I think out of all of them, if somebody doesn’t like Steph Curry, I think it’s probably Westbrook. He just shows no sign of — this really ain’t about Steph. It’s bigger. His seems to be, ‘I don’t like that dude.’
“But LeBron and them, I think they will say: ‘Man, I like Steph. We can have a conversation.’ But there’s something that burns them about the fact that Steph is the one that is exalted, and because of that, they want to go at him and, in fact, kind of demean his hype. They want to take him down.”
According to Thompson, Curry is aware of this and plays with the mindset that if he dominates the competition enough, players will be left with no choice but to respect him.
Curry already has Hall of Fame-worthy accolades. He’s perhaps the greatest shooter the NBA has ever seen, a two-time MVP, two-time champion, and perennial All-Star. Clearly, this feeling wasn’t enough to dissuade Kevin Durant from joining the Warriors in 2016, and Curry is still close with several stars in the league. Respect isn’t the issue.
Players may have outgrown these feelings as Curry has continued to prove himself, but it was obviously a well-known sentiment among some of the league’s biggest stars — one that even Curry was aware of.