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Counting Will Get You Nowhere With Steph Curry

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 03: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in action against the Phoenix Suns at Chase Center on December 03, 2021 in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Having failed to achieve full orbit on Stephen Curry’s inexorable march toward the NBA record for most three-point shots made in one career, your humble typist has been forced to consider the possibility that he might simply be impervious to joy.

And having considered that, he has rejected it in favor of a more reasoned approach: namely, that statistics of accumulation are kind of a bore.

The buildup to the record, currently 2,973 held by Ray Allen, has around here been long and arduous and overwrought and in the end has revealed only something we already agreed upon on long ago: that Curry is the finest long-distance marksman since the value of such a thing first attained potential in 1961. There is no debate here, no “Yeah, but what about…?” This argument has long been done and dusted in the same way that the debate about the best quarterback ever has been murdered in cold blood by The Brady.

Thus, when Curry breaks the record, possibly on Saturday in Philadelphia before a shower of boos because it will trigger the crowd into thinking of Ben Simmons, but more likely on Monday in Indiana before relative silence because the rebuilding Pacers are last in attendance, it will tell us nothing new about the man. Nothing, that is, except that we can now move on to the next thing he does, which will almost certainly be something more in context with the game or his innate entertainment sense. His greatest moment so far this season, in fact, was his technical foul November 28 against the Los Angeles Clippers—not the one he received from referee Gediminas Petraitis, but the one he gave back to Petraitis three minutes later. Some folks get mad, but the great get even, and the greatest of all get even in kind.

That is Curry’s greatest individual gift—spontaneous invention—and its realization is not after a tedious and monetizable build-up of “He’s X away from Y,” but the jaw-slackening audacity that comes not from a list of other people’s names and numbers but from his own impulsive brow.

Golden State plays Portland tonight in a nothing game made significantly more nothing-y by the absences of both Damian Lillard (torn tummy) and CJ McCollum (collapsed lung), and Curry is unlikely to go 16-for-whatever from three in game in which he may not play in the second half at all because of score considerations. He may flip in a half-courter as a send-off piece before the Warriors’ upcoming road trip, but he does that routinely now, and in a rout such as the one likely to happen tonight, that would just be gratuitous and maybe even a bit deflating, like pulling a rabbit out of a top hat after you’ve spent the rest of the act pulling bears out of derbies and rhinos out of bonnets.

To mark the occasion in proper Curryesque style, maybe it should come in Philadelphia in a close game in which a late-game three is needed and is delivered over the outstretched hand of brother Seth. Now that would be a moment that if nothing else ruins family dinners for a while, and who can’t see the glee in that?

Or maybe if it happens in Indiana, he could somehow slip in a red-white-and-blue ABA ball while kissing Reggie Miller on the forehead—or more mundanely, he could simply sell out the opponent’s building as he has done more frequently than anyone other than LeBron James and then go 50-burger as part of a 137-94 beatdown.

Or maybe he does it in New York, where he once did this en route to this. If panic sets in, maybe in Boston, where Larry Bird just turned 65. And if an actual shooting slump happens because he’s trying too hard, maybe he does it in Toronto, where the topic du jour will still be whether Mitch Marner is speaking to Jake Muzzin yet and Curry will probably be ignored entirely because the Leafs will be in Vancouver and there are changes on the fourth line for Chris Cuthbert and Ray Ferraro to exhaust.

The point is simply that at this stage Curry is beyond lists or the petty concerns of home-vs.-road. He does what he does when he does it because he is the master of his own time and space, and you’re either there when he does it or you catch the highlights 40 minutes later or, if you’re cursed for your sins to live on the East Coast, the next morning. He doesn’t need to do anything on the home floor in pursuit of a static record that defines nothing about him that 10 Youtube clips can’t do much better. He has reached that nexus in which he has exhausted what few critics he ever had (and trust me, he has had almost none in his career no matter what that annoying pity-machine of a Warrior fan at the end of the bar will tell you). After a 2020–21 season spent redefining why his admirers tsunami-drool over him in what was an otherwise lost season for the Golden States, he sort of belongs to the nation.

If you do for some god-forsaken reason need a counting stat, wait until he gets to the record of 1,029 attempts this year, which he can do at season’s end in either San Antonio (falling backwards into Gregg Popovich’s lap) or New Orleans (circumnavigating Zion Williamson three times before letting fly off one foot from the pelican’s head in the backcourt). That’s a level of trust in the process that defies even Steve Kerr’s feathered patience.

Just as long as whatever happens is within whatever Curry decides is the flow of the game, because on this one item, he is more trustworthy than Basketballreference.com. They do numbers. He does moments, and one does well not to try to quantify the work of a true mother of invention.