It's one of Jeff Van Gundy's main lessons - most of the time when guys say they "just want to win", what they actually mean is they want to win on their terms. But when the time comes to sacrifice possessions, hustle on defense, maybe stay on the bench when someone else is hot - you know, putting the team above themselves - a lot of guys forget about the "just want to win" part.
To reach the superstar level, you can't just dominate the game - you have to be able to do it in a way that brings out the best in your teammates. In that category, there's no better player than Steph Curry. On and off the court, Curry is one of the most accomodating superstars in the history of the game. He won two MVPs, was the first unanimous MVP in NBA history, and was so popular there was a moment in which people legitimately talked about Under Armor challenging Nike's status as the dominant basketball shoe company. At the peak of his power, Curry did what no other player would.
“I mean, two-time MVP and then lets in a guy who is essentially one of the best basketball players in the world and then would share the spotlight of being one of the best guys on the team. He rolled with it. He took on a lesser role to an extent. He knew he would take less shots, he wouldn’t have the ball in his hands as much, and to go from that to back to where he is now, to flip that switch of I’m the guy again, I need to be a 30-point plus scorer, that’s hard to do.”
Andrew Bogut, NBC Sports
Can you think of a single guy in the modern era of basketball that would do such a thing? I can't either. Steph wasn't just OK with Durant coming on. He actively pursued him and openly told Durant during the Warriors pitch that he is more than happy to take fewer shots and let KD be the man in the final minutes of the game. Don't think Curry didn't know that would result in all the talk about him not being clutch and similar nonsense. It would also be a mistake to think Steph just doesn't care - it has to bother him as well. But that's the moment where true love of the game is proven. Despite the fact, your ego is hurting and the narrative around your career will be impacted, is your decision ultimately based on an answer to a simple question - will this win the team more games?
“The fact that Steph has been able to still play at an elite level within different roles, it’s a credit to him not only as a player but as a person. I can say that no matter how much guys in the NBA talk about ‘We want to win a championship’ and all that stuff, all of the sudden if it’s not you on the billboard all of the time when you’re supposed to be the franchise guy, 99 percent of the guys don’t like that. As much as they’ll lie to the media, they don’t. He genuinely was one guy that was like 'Hey, it’s going to win us more games.'”
Andrew Bogut, NBC Sports
The reason we always undervalue this quality is that it's the most difficult thing to measure and project. You won't find mock drafts with "Curry/Duncan-level teammate." So naturally, it gets left outside of the conversation. I believe that in the age of social media, it has become even more important and impressive when someone can tune out all the noise and do what's best for the team. When an MVP does it, it makes all the difference in the world.
So if you do want to engage in "who's better" comparisons, the fact Steph Curry is universally considered to be one of the best teammates in the game, someone who truly only cares about winning - that's a notch on his belt as impressive as an MVP award, or a memorable clutch shot. Some guys burn out the organization and go to Cleveland or LA. Others stay and find a way.