In life there are things we inevitably can’t control. Coming out of Davidson College, Stephen Curry had no control over which team drafted him or when he would get drafted. Seven draft picks and six years later, Curry is now a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, having won the award most recently by unanimous vote, making him the first player in NBA history to accomplish that milestone.
But according to former Houston Rockets great Tracy McGrady, the only reason Curry won back-to-back awards is because the league is “watered down.”
Here’s what the former seven-time all-star guard said on ESPN’s “The Jump”:
“For him to be that first player to get this unanimously, I think it just tells you how watered down our league is. Think about when MJ played, Shaq…I mean, those guys really played against top-notch competition…more superstars, I think, on more teams, than it is in our league today. But it’s well deserved. He had a hell of a season.”
Instead of marveling at Curry’s second straight MVP award, I find myself trying to figure out if McGrady’s comments were oxymoronic or just moronic?
I raise the question of it being oxymoronic because how can you criticize and applaud someone in the same breath? On one hand he makes it seem Curry was given the award as a result of a weak NBA, then on the other hand he makes it seem as if Curry worked tremendously hard, ultimately earning the award, which he did.
I also find it oxymoronic that McGrady would criticize the same individual who his employer praises, albeit well deserved, on a nightly basis. ESPN, McGrady’s current employer, is a living, breathing Curry highlight reel.
When I read his comments, I was puzzled because based on statistical merit alone Curry deserved the award more than any other player. Not up for debate. Curry finished the 2015-2016 season averaging 30.1 ppg, 6.7 apg and 5.4 rebounds a game. He shot 90% from the free throw line, 40 percent from three-point range and 50 percent from the field. He also shattered the three-point record he set last season by hitting an unprecedented 400 three-pointers. If that wasn’t enough, the Warriors finished the season with an astonishing record of 73-9, setting the record for most wins in a regular season by an NBA team; a record once held by the 95-96′ Bulls (72-10). He was consistently the best player on the best team all season long.
Somehow McGrady used Curry winning the award as an indictment on the level of play, or lack thereof, in the NBA, as opposed to using it as further evidence to support the claim that Curry has arrived and is here to stay.
It seems sacrilegious to use the words ‘watered down’ and NBA in the same sentence, especially when you have a league in which LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis are all viable MVP contenders and cornerstones of franchises.
(Despite giving Curry credit, James himself questioned the definition when speaking to reporters at the Cleveland Cavaliers’ practice facility: “I think sometimes the word ‘valuable’ or best player of the year, you can have different results.”)
Even though they all play on different teams, the one thing those superstars have in common is that they all got beat out for the MVP award by a slender 6’3 kid from who has grown into a man before our eyes and now owns the league. They didn’t let Curry have the award. He took it.
McGrady’s comments seemed like they were directed towards the 131 voters who unanimously voted Curry MVP, but I viewed it as more insulting to the 450-plus players currently in the NBA than to Curry.
On any given night Curry can’t control what team he faces, how those individuals perform or how they look. The only thing Curry can control is how he performs.
For a second consecutive season he has performed at the highest level, adding to what he started last year when he won his first MVP award. (He received 100 of 130 first place votes in 2014-15)
The sad truth is that if Curry had amazing athletic ability, or resembled a LeBron James or had the stature of a Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, people would view his spectacular performances as common.
It’s as if because some people can’t fathom how he’s able to achieve the things he does at his size, they have to quantify his success somehow. Some feel he’s the beneficiary of rule changes. “The league is less physical; it’s a different era, the league is ‘watered down.’” We’ve heard it all.
It is a different era, but there comes a point in time where you have to acknowledge some players transcend eras: the Jordans, the Bryants, the Jameses of the world. Add Curry’s name to that list. Curry would be having the same caliber seasons he’s having now if he was playing 10, 20 or even 30 years ago.
A few more seasons such as this one, coupled with a few more championships and Curry will elevate himself into the upper echelon of NBA greats. Curry is not able to control what era he plays in, but he certainly is proving to have control of the era he plays in.
Pound for pound, dribble for dribble, shot for shot, he’s one of, if not, the best basketball player in the world.
Marcus Lamar is a New York-based sports journalist. You can check out his podcast “Marc My Words” on Soundcloud, YouTube and coming to iTunes soon. Follow him on Twitter @iam_marcuslamar.