Suddenly Stephen Curry is everywhere. Not in the sense that at one moment he's zipping a pass to Andrew Bogut for a dunk, then hitting a jumper from the wing, then drilling a three-pointer from the corner with just a second left, as he did in a Golden State Warriors' insane comeback last week versus the New Orleans Pelicans — a comeback that was just one point away from the best in NBA playoff history.
Curry is everywhere — as in on YouTube dropping 77 threes in a row; on the cover of ESPN The Magazine; and on TV spots repping Degree deodorant, "Sports Center," State Farm Insurance, and Under Armour. He's gotten so popular that Matt Barnes, of the Dubs' rival LA Clippers, saw one of his sons suit up as Curry for "Dress-Up Day" at school. Curry will soon win the ultimate popularity contest, taking his place at the top of MVP voting this year.
With apologies to King James, Chef Curry is probably the most popular player in the league right now. He also comes from basketball royalty: His dad is three-point-shooting legend Dell Curry, career-scoring leader for the Charlotte Hornets (now Bobcats). He is soft-spoken and perpetually poker-faced. And he's a scratch golfer.
But Curry's pop-star status, enviable privilege, quiet demeanor, calm instincts, and country club tendencies don't exactly scream Oakland, a famously unflashy city in which the main dish is grit, served with a side of determination. No, the role of vocal leader better suits someone who epitomizes the city.
Anthony Davis of the Pelicans will one day be the best player on the planet. For now, he'll have to settle for being a freakishly talented 22-year-old, All-NBA power forward who became the first player in 40 years to average 30 points and 10 rebounds in his first playoff series. And, at 6-feet-10-inches, with a pterodactyl wingspan and Olympian leaping ability, Davis is a nightmare matchup for anyone, Golden State included.
Only the Warriors have their own nightmare: As one Golden State season ticket holder put it, "Draymond Green is the guy the other team just has to hate."
You wouldn't think it: At 6-feet-7-inches, he's shorter than most small forwards and the size of many two guards, including Klay Thompson. Unlike Davis, who led Kentucky to a national title as a freshman, Green didn't start until his junior year at Michigan State. On top of that, cameras captured him yelling at coach Tom Izzo.
"The knock was he's not really a 3," recalled Golden State Director of Player Personnel Travis Schlenk, who scouted Green. "And he's too small to play 4."
But Warriors brass also saw something they liked. Something like a fire. Something like a swagger. Something Oaklandish. The yelling, it turns out, came when he wanted to stay in the game. Green was an Izzo favorite, a team captain.
"The biggest thing is his passion," Schlenk said. "He's an unbelievably competitive person. That's the thing. To win at all costs."
Izzo was even prepping Green to play every spot on the floor. "Coach told me, 'You have to be able to guard multiple positions,'" Green recalled. "He ingrained it in me, if I was going to make it, that was a [must]."
Green took a rare pause, then added, "Boy, was he right."
Warriors General Manager Bob Myers ultimately made the decision to take Green in the second round. "We saw a winning player," Myers said. "And we believe winning is a skill."
Only winning wasn't to be in last week's Game 3 against the Pelicans — if history had anything to do with it. The Warriors were down 20 entering the fourth quarter. The previous 356 times that happened, they lost.
But they went to a smaller lineup as they have many times this season, with the undersized Green as their center. They made a stop, then another. Shots started falling. Most importantly they rebounded. In the fourth quarter alone, the Ws grabbed ten offensive boards and scored sixteen second-chance points, none bigger than two flying putbacks by Green.
On the floor he was loud, at one point jawing at Pelicans big man Ryan Anderson. And he was loud in the locker room after 12 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals on the way to a Warriors sweep (he added 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists in Game 4).
"That's how we do," Green told Bleacher Report after Game 3. "Everything against us. Never give up. Continue to fight. This team has a hustler's mentality. When you got a hustler's mentality, anything is possible."
Schlenk said that was the case from the start. "From the first day in summer league he made an impact," Schlenk said. "He's vocal, he'll get on guys, but he'll also point the finger at himself.'"
That said, few predicted Green, coming into his third season, would seize the opportunity opened by David Lee's preseason injury with such authority. Nobody bet he'd earn the most first-place votes for Defensive Player of the Year. Not many predicted Golden State would top the league in defensive efficiency.
But that's the thing about Green and, by extension, Oakland. Don't bother telling them what they can't accomplish.
"You learn to never doubt Draymond Green," Warriors beat writer Rusty Simmons told KNBR 680. "Say something he can't do and he will probably go out and do it."
Head Coach Steve Kerr felt that fire when he told Green to take a rest in Game 2 and caught an earful. But coach is fine with that. "I love the edge," Kerr said. "We both know we're in the same fight together...and when I put him back in, he looked refreshed."
When he did, the game changed. Davis had quieted the crowd and pulled the Pelicans within a point. Green challenged a Davis hook, grabbed the board, and set up Thompson for an easy bucket. Soon came a steal and a huge three to put the Warriors up four and awaken Oracle. Half a minute later Green came up with another steal, led the fast break and alley-ooped it to Andre Iguodala. Running back on defense, Green pushed out his jaw and swung his arms. Suddenly, the Warriors were ahead eight.
"Everybody has a role on the team," Green said. "When we need something emotionally, it's my job to step up."
Davis finished with zero points in the fourth in Game 2. Unofficial numbers had him shooting 3 of 12 with Green on him, 5 of 9 otherwise. Green finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals.
"Bringing toughness to the floor, bringing that vocal leader, emotional leader, that's my role," Green said. "It's winning time. I love the big moments."
There will soon be more at Oracle, where the Warriors have won 20 straight and are 41-2.
Draymond Green wasn't made in Oakland. But he's made his name here, and he has come to define this city perhaps more than any other athlete.