People say Michael Jordan is the most competitive person who ever lived. It's a nice way of saying he's a lunatic.
The secret being that if you win, all is forgiven. The madness is spun into method. Michael cheated an old lady at cards because he was the game's greatest winner, not because he's a borderline psychopath. He belittled teammates into sobbing piles of goo not out of bullying or malice, but because he was teaching them the path to success.
Of course, these are just the stories we know of. Perhaps in a future documentary, a grinning Charles Oakley will stare into the camera and wax poetic about the time Michael beat the shit out of twelve orphans and stomped a puppy in order to win a game of Omaha High-Low. Why kill a poor, helpless puppy, you ask? Because Michael was the ULTIMATE COMPETITOR, that's why.
He did whatever it took to win.
And win he did. Not only that, he won in ways that were so dramatic they defied belief. Flu game, last shot, shot over Ehlo GOOD. Did it matter that he pushed off on Bryon Russell? That depends, would you care if Batman pushed off on the Joker to clang a batarang off Mr. Freeze?
Because Michael Jordan was the comic book hero of his time. And like many comic book heroes, his powers had a source. When Superman needs strength, he bathes in the healing power of the sun. When Goku needs to recover, he eats a magical Senzu bean. When Michael needs to play his A game, he thinks about his high school coach - the one who didn't let him play varsity - before punching Steve Kerr in the face.
That is the source of his power, the anger and drive to prove others wrong and smother them with oversized dad jeans. That is what made Michael great. No, not just great, but the GREATEST OF ALL TIME.
So it's easy to think that if one wanted to soar to such heights, to collect rings and slam dunks and sell sneakers to young Republicans, one needed to follow the same blueprint. Channel your inner asshole and just do it.
Except Steph Curry doesn't do any of that shit.
There's no doubt the man is extremely competitive. The hardware will tell you as much. But Steph Curry is also the kind of dude who throws a behind the back pass out of bounds in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. He's the kind of carefree soul who chucks a 40-foot three at the buzzer, and makes Mike Breen bust out the double bang. He laughs with his brother when he misses a critical free throw, and smiles with State Farm actors when they mock his shimmy. Even in the most tense, pressure packed moments, he never loses sight of the fact that this is supposed to be fun.
Oh and by the way, he wins too.
As the face of this era, Steph has broken the wheel of assholism that Jordan forged, Kobe tried to emulate and LeBron reluctantly followed. He's won chips and MVPs, sometimes unanimously, while balancing what is ostensibly a ying and yang - being both ultra-competitive and completely unserious.
And while there's the occasional thrown mouthpiece, or the mocking point at a referee that totally deserved it, there is never a moment where I think Steph will walk over to the sideline and punch Steve Kerr in the face.
Draymond, yes. But Steph? He doesn't need to. He's proof there's another way.
Think about how many old ladies Michael would have to cheat at cards to average 36.5 points on 66.3 TS% in a playoff sweep. How many made up slights he'd have to invent just to muster up the RAGE to splash 81 straight free throws in the clutch. He could do it - I wouldn't doubt MJ could do anything, really - but I also don't doubt the absolute carnage he would leave in his wake to accomplish said feat; the kind of basketball hell teammates would talk about years later with cold sweats and nervous laughter, occasionally glancing behind them to make sure Michael wasn't there cutting his cigars with a hatchet.
Yet fifty years from now, when we pop open our holographic Green-Ray player, turn on Neo-Netflix and stream this Warrior era into our digital brainscapes, I imagine the documentary will have an entirely different tone. Dogs will be pet (Rocco two times). Moms will dance. The popcorn will pop and so will the champagne. Steve Kerr will get a hug.
And one by one, teammates will talk in front of the camera, smiling not out of fear, but joy, even if the word has been repeated so much it has lost all meaning.
Steph Curry will remind them.