The most famous mouthpiece in the NBA — maybe in league history — went flying in frustration. It inadvertently hit a fan near the scorer’s table. A referee assessed a technical foul and pointed his finger toward the locker room, inciting roaring jeers from the crowd of 20,562.
With that, Stephen Curry’s night was over and, with it, so were the Golden State Warriors’ already slim chances to claw back into a nightmarish Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Cleveland on Friday night. The Cavaliers went on to win, 115–101, and tie the series at 3–3 after looking virtually done only six days earlier.
In a season of soaring achievements, this might have been the lowest point for Curry and the Warriors. At least that’s what they’re hoping as the series heads back to Oakland, for a momentous Game 7 on Sunday night. No team has ever lost a 3–1 NBA Finals lead as the Warriors are in danger of doing. Golden State’s dream season — and its chance to build a true dynasty with consecutive championships — comes down to one final game.
Curry, the most electrifying player in basketball today, has never been ejected from a game before. He is both an unashamed Christian and an extreme competitor. And like any Christian, he’s shown that he’s not perfect.
In a moment of anger, he made a very public mistake and paid for it. To his credit, he immediately apologized to the fan he hit with his mouthpiece. As Christians, we want to expect better from him. We don’t make excuses for his mistakes. And we are not surprised to discover chinks in the armor of any fellow sinner. We can acknowledge the enormous pressure he’s facing — highest level of basketball in the world, first unanimous NBA Most Valuable Player, first team to win 73 games, potentially first team to lose a 3–1 lead in the Finals — and extend the grace we would hope to receive under similar circumstances.
I profiled Curry for FCA Magazine’s May/June edition. He seems to have a good, biblically based perspective on life and his career — and the wild swings of success and failure that come with it. For every huge shot or Game 7 win, there are gut-punch losses (and occasional self-induced trials) to swallow. NBA scoreboards, he says, don’t ultimately define him. He knows there’s a bigger picture involved. By rooting himself in Scripture and acknowledging God’s larger plan, he’s been preparing for these kinds of moments — both glorious highs and frustrating lows — his whole life. These things will surely be on his mind as Sunday night approaches.
Laying the Foundation
In the fall of 2006 — long before Curry became a household name, won consecutive MVP awards, or revolutionized the league — he needed a pep talk from his mom.
At the time, Curry was a college freshman at Davidson, a nondescript outpost on the NCAA Division I frontier. After starring at Charlotte Christian School, he had hoped to follow in the footsteps of his father, Dell, a 16-year NBA veteran, and play at Virginia Tech, or even at one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s bluebloods. Instead, major college programs looked at Curry’s diminutive stature — about 6 feet and 160 pounds then — and demurred. Only longtime Wildcats coach Bob McKillop believed. So the future basketball supernova who would one day torch NBA record books hopped on Interstate 77 and traveled 30 miles north to Davidson, a small liberal arts school that hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1969.
Needless to say, as he prepared for his first preseason practice, Curry was anxious. Suddenly, a text message from Sonya Curry appeared on his phone. “Stay faithful and work hard,” she implored. Then she reminded him of Romans 8:28:
“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
The apostle Paul’s words reassured Curry, so much so he scribbled that Scripture reference — along with his other life verse, Philippians 4:13 — on every pair of game shoes he wore during his illustrious Davidson career. To this day, Curry’s game shoes always bear some nod to Philippians 4:13:
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
“Those are just two reminders of who I’m playing for and where my talents and my strength come from and if I seek him, then everything will take care of itself,” Curry said, now 28 years old and finishing his seventh season with Golden State. “So those are two ways that I stayed humble throughout the experience [at Davidson] knowing that the Lord was just preparing me for hopefully a bigger stage to represent Him and share and be a witness on the basketball court.”
What Curry Can Do
On January 8, 2015, Under Armour introduced the first of Curry’s new signature shoe line, the Curry One. The lace loop encircling the shoe tongue featured “4:13,” referencing Curry’s favorite verse, while a portion of the famous Philippians quotation was inscribed on the inside tongue: “I can do all things.”
Curry, it seems, can do anything on a basketball court. Using both traditional statistics and advanced metrics, you can make a strong case that he is currently the greatest basketball player in the world. During his 2014–15 MVP season, he averaged 23.8 points per game, broke his own NBA record for three-pointers made in a season (286), and led the Warriors to their first NBA championship in 40 years.
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