The Pioneer

Steph Curry: The next face on Mt. Rushmore of Bay Area athletes?

Local legends define region

Illustration by Crystal Jeffers/The Pioneer

Illustration by Crystal Jeffers/The Pioneer

Shomari Block,
Contributor

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The Mount Rushmore of Bay Area sports — let’s call it Mount Baymore — would feature the greatest of the greats who have played professionally on Bay Area pro teams. Former 49er quarterback Joe Montana belongs there. Former Giants centerfielder Willie Mays would sit front and center, and former 49ers receiver Jerry Rice would flank Mays’ right cheek.

No professional Bay Area basketball player has ever belonged on this imaginary monument, until one Wardell Stephen Curry began sinking three pointers at twice the rate of great shooters before him.

Many basketball greats have played in the Bay Area. Warrior legend Wilt Chamberlain played only three seasons in San Francisco. Other Warrior Hall of Famers like Chris Mullin, Rick Barry and Nate Thurmond haven’t had the impact of Mays, Montana or Rice. They represent more of an Andrew Jackson. They could appear on the $20 bill, but Curry’s face belongs on the mountain.

Like Montana, Curry entered the professional sports scene as a question mark. Both were called “undersized.” Scouts questioned if Curry’s style of play — he creates his own shots on the perimeter, not on the inside — could succeed in the NBA. NFL scouts had the same questions about Montana, who won four Super Bowls with anticipation and accuracy, not brute strength. Curry is known for long distance shots. Montana was known for his game-winning drives. Most importantly, both players changed the idea of what an NFL quarterback or a NBA guard is.

Like Rice, Curry has set records that seem as if they will last forever. Curry’s record of 402 three-pointers this season eclipses his own record by 116. Klay Thompson’s 276 three-pointers ranks third. And Curry owns three of the top four totals on the list. Rice’s career receiving-yards total nearly 23,000 yards: No other player has even reached 16,000. Randy Moss broke Rice’s single season touchdown record, by one touchdown, in 16 games. Rice set the record in 12 games. Both Rice and Curry produce at a rate no one thought possible.

Like Mays, Curry’s game is well-rounded. Curry dominates with a combination of shooting, ball handling, and basketball IQ that exceeds any player before him. Mays’ brilliance stemmed from his ability to excel in all five areas of baseball. He hit for average and power. He had great speed, sound defense and excellent base running skills. An encyclopedia article defining a “five tool” baseball player should include a picture of Willie Mays. Curry may represent the most complete offensive weapon in NBA history.

In order to earn to earn his place on the mountain, Curry must maintain this level of excellence over time. Mays played in 24 All-Star games when very few players even play 24 years. At 39, Rice gained over 1,200 receiving yards in a season. Montana’s career featured four Super Bowl wins and countless game winning drives. Curry will likely earn his second MVP award this year and his Warriors are favored to win their second straight championship. But two seasons does not make a career.

The others on Mount Baymore elevated themselves into another category of athlete over time. They did not just play the game better than anyone before them. They created a new model for future athletes to emulate. NBA scouts now seek the next Stephen Curry. Like “The One” of the Matrix films, we seek these athletes each generation to show us what is possible in the field or court of play. Curry has reached this height. If he stays there carve him in, staring majestically over the Bay Bridge.

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Steph Curry: The next face on Mt. Rushmore of Bay Area athletes?