BOSTON — Stephen Curry, for the first time in these NBA Finals, was motionless, unsure of what to do. The man who couldn’t be stifled by the league’s best defense was suddenly paralyzed — only to be held up by his father, who made his way through the crowd and absorbed his son’s tears.
Those tears weren’t even of joy, nor relief. But disbelief.
The worst feeling of being a champion once before is knowing you won’t get back there ever again, the thought the league you helped form with your style of play was moving on without you — thanking you for your services along the way, but dismissing the notion of you playing another meaningful game.
Or, of feeling somehow, despite a sterling resume, a career could have questions or doubts.
Curry was already unassailable, his place in history secure. But what about his place in the present, among his peers?
Winning when you’re light-years ahead is one thing, but what happens when the league catches up, adopts your playbook, adapts to you, moving chess pieces across the board and runs past you?
If you’re the “Petty King,” you lick your wounds, you seethe, but you regroup and you recoup every ounce of respect that was due.
“I got three green ‘Ayesha can’t cook’ [shirts] in the locker room that I’m wearing at some point,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “I love it. The fact you’re on this stage. You give and you take it. You embrace it all. I appreciate it.”
Only Magic Johnson was able to quarterback a team to a championship win in Boston, on the parquet floor in front of the same vulgar fans Curry worked his mastery on Thursday night. It was 1985 when the Magic Man did it, and Curry performed with a similar precision in vanquishing a weary Boston Celtics team that vacillated from fatigued upstarts to competitors who had the gall to place themselves in the Golden State Warriors’ luggage back to San Francisco.
But before Curry’s tears, he had to put the haters to sleep. He helped walk down the Celtics into a corner then pelted them with haymaker after haymaker. The team that supposedly had the strongest will, the best sense of identity from the turn of the calendar year, was sent to a TKO by the squad that was unlikely to be here — not just this year, but any year.
Curry, the player teams thought could be worn down by the physicality of the game, was standing stronger as the nights wore on, confident enough to taunt the Celtics by pointing to his ring finger — in the second quarter.
The irony probably isn’t lost on him, the man who admits he hears everything from the calls of being a “system player” to analysts forming a “zero” with their index fingers and thumbs to signify how many titles he’d win after signing a max extension last year.
“You go to these last two years,” Curry said. “And conversations, narratives, we’re ‘too old,’ the parallel timelines of developing young guys and keeping our core together, all those tough decisions that we had to make, that weighs on you for as much time as we’re going through it.
“Then you get to the finish line, and that’s why I think this one is definitely different because of the three years of baggage we carried coming out of that Game 6 in 2019.”
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You could hear the snickers across the NBA world on that exhausting night in 2019. Not only were the Warriors exiting their fabled Oracle Arena, but they were leaving behind all vestiges of a contender.
Kevin Durant, walking out that door.
Klay Thompson, soon to miss two full seasons.
Brand spankin’ new building, home of spankings for the foreseeable future — a fitting end for a so-called haughty organization that was high off its own supply.
But somewhere along the way, in plain sight and in the darkness of daylight, they regrouped. Curry regrouped, unaware he would ever get back here but trusting of the leadership in place. The patience of Curry’s North Star exists so the Petty King can reap all the spoils. The never-ending nature of the business of basketball put Curry on the opposite end in so many conversations — beginning with Durant being more likely to do real winning while Curry was left to parts unknown.
Getting this one, he repeatedly said, “hits different.” Unspoken in it, is doing it without Durant — just as it would if Durant reached this finish line first.
“For sure. You bookend it,” Curry told Yahoo Sports when asked if he wanted to do it without his former teammate. “That’s part of it. But nobody in October thought we’d be here. Now we are. With this group. Not compared to any group before it, so it’s pretty dope.”
Draymond Green, a man whose petty stays on All-Madden, all the time, wasn’t surprised to hear Curry let his guard down, ever-so-slightly.
“Of course,” Green told Yahoo Sports. “There’s always things you want to prove. Ultimately, when Kevin came here, the main person who has to sign off on that is Steph. So to open your door, to open your arms and accept someone with open arms, and it goes great and it’s short-lived, it’s a slap in the face.”
Green corrected himself.
“Not necessarily a slap in the face, when someone chooses to do something else. But a slap in the face like, ‘I opened my home to you. I brought you into this. I made you a part of this. I wanted you to be a part of this until we couldn’t do it no more. Then when you wanna do something else.’ No hard feelings, no ill will, want you to do great no matter what. It’s a brotherhood.
“But … you’re a competitor and the competitor in you is going to want to prove you wrong, want to show you that you made a mistake.”
It’s not a race to a ring, nor was Curry’s Finals MVP some form of validation he truly needed. The conversation needed that final check mark more than he did. But you’d better believe it meant something to him, in this moment.
“I think the thing with Steph is, you know, without him, none of this happens,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I’m happy for everybody, but I’m thrilled for Steph. To me, this is his crowning achievement in what’s already been an incredible career.”
Curry, seeing his father, the man who made him change his shooting form as a youngster so it could be the lethal weapon it is today, brought on all those emotions.
“It was surreal because you know how much you went through to get back to this stage, and nobody, unless you’ve been on that floor … ,” Curry said. “Out there on the floor, I didn’t even know he was down there, to be honest with you. I saw him, and I lost it. I just wanted to take in the moment because it was that special.”
He remembers it to the day: One year and six days ago, he started his offseason training for this season. Curry carried last year’s Warriors to a 15-5 finish before losing to the Lakers in the play-in tournament.
Think of how quick the NBA moves. Continuity only exists in the form of rookie contracts and unmovable ones. The squad the Warriors put away, the Boston Celtics, had to endure chants of breaking up their under-25 duo that seemingly gets better together every year.
LeBron James has changed teams twice since Kerr was hired to coach the Warriors, Durant has come and gone, Kawhi Leonard has played for three teams in that span, and in the last three NBA Finals, there have been six franchises in it — the first time that’s happened since 2006-08, when the league was in a much different place.
Yet, the last two champions are notable because the leaders — Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo — had the gall to trust the organizations as opposed to being shadow general managers. Influential, yes, but not controlling.
There’s a difference in understanding how responsible you have to be for setting the course and being invested in how an organization moves compared to wanting to pull all the strings, yet hiding your hands when things go awry.
“I can say it now, I don’t know how many teams could carry that as long as we have with the expectations of comparing us now to teams of past and make it to the mountaintop again,” Curry confessed.
The Petty King stands atop again, disappearing in the throng of Warriors supporters as only the golden shine of the Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy signaling his path to the locker room. He’s reasserted himself among his peers, or rather, regally looking down.
Damn straight that meant something.
“That’s part of it. Not the motivation of it,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “You owe it to your core guys, Klay, Draymond and Andre. The front office put us in a position to be successful. We owe it to them first and foremost.”
At this point, basketball owes Stephen Curry.
2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed: Saturday livestream
What should have been the 30th edition of the hillclimb had it not been for the COVID cancellation in 2020, an array of racing and road machinery ranging from Formula 1, to MotoGP, to sportscars and electric vehicles, will either tackle the course at speed or parade up the concourse for fans to admire.
Current Mercedes Formula 1 star George Russell will take one of the marque’s racers up the hill this weekend, while Nigel Mansell’s 1992 world title will be celebrated by a display from the man himself in some of his most iconic machines.
Elsewhere, three-time MotoGP world champion Wayne Rainey will make an emotional debut at the Festival of Speed, as the American – who was paralysed in an incident in 1993 – will ride a specially adapted Yamaha YZR500 he took to his last world title in 1992 this weekend.
You can watch all of the live action from the hill on Motorsport.com and Motorsport.tv throughout the weekend.
Mercedes: Zero complacency over F1 2022 100% finishing record
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell have finished every race so far in 2022 to ensure that Mercedes is the only squad without a retirement.
On the other hand, championship contenders Red Bull and Ferrari have endured their fair share of mechanical problems in the opening phase of the campaign.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen retired from the grands prix in Bahrain (fuel pump) and Australia (fuel leak), while Sergio Perez also failed to finish in Bahrain (fuel pump) and was forced out in Canada last week with a gearbox problem.
Ferrari has also had race-stopping car problems beyond the incidents that put Carlos Sainz out in Australia and Imola.
The Spaniard suffered an hydraulics failure in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, while teammate Charles Leclerc had engine failures in Baku and Spain.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff welcomed the finishing record of his squad but did not believe that it had created an invincible car.
“It’s funny that both teams keep having their cars stop,” he said. “But you can’t be complacent about that because it can swing in the other direction very quickly.
“We’re happy about our reliability. Last year, when we look at how we went with the engine, we had the other phenomenon [and lots of problems]. That’s why I don’t want to get too excited too soon.”
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, limps back to the pit trailing smoke Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, limps back to the pit trailing smoke
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
While Ferrari’s reliability failures have been very costly in championship terms, with Leclerc potentially losing two wins because of problems, team boss Mattia Binotto does not think that DNFs will solely decide the title fight.
“Reliability is certainly important, as important as the performance, but I don’t think will be the only factor,” he said after the Canadian Grand Prix.
“I think development from now until the end of the season is another one, as is the budget gap, and then reliability finally.”
While F1’s cars are all-new for this year, the power units are a carryover with the engine regulations not due to change until 2026.
But Binotto says that Ferrari has been exposed by an overhaul during the winter, plus limitations that have been imposed on dyno running.
“The power unit is a completely new design compared to the past, and the problem is because it’s certainly a young project,” he said.
“On top of that, there are limitations on the dynos which were not there in the past, so you cannot run much on the dyno. We are limited, which means the exercise is more complicated.”
Additional reporting by Christian Nimmervoll
“Intense pain” forces Espargaro withdrawal from MotoGP Dutch GP
The Spaniard injured his ribs in a heavy crash in FP1 at the Sachsenring last weekend, and was ultimately forced to retire from the race due to the pain.
He had hoped to be better for this weekend’s Dutch GP but, after ending Friday 19th overall, he said the pain he was experiencing was much worse than expected and was unsure if he could continue.
Having undergone treatment overnight at Assen and seeing no substantial improvement in his conditions, Espargaro has taken the decision to withdraw from the Assen weekend.
Honda hopes Espargaro will recover in time for August’s British Grand Prix.
A statement from the team read: “Repsol Honda Team’s Pol Espargaro will not participate in the remainder of the Dutch GP due to his injuries sustained at the Sachsenring.
“Since suffering his fall in Free Practice 1 at the German GP, Pol Espargaro has tried his maximum in order to recover and be fit for Round 11 of the MotoGP World Championship.
“After Free Practice 2 on Friday, Espargaro was still in intense pain and discomfort.
”Consequently, he feels he is not capable of racing a MotoGP bike and together with the Repsol Honda Team has elected to sit out the race in Assen.
“The Repsol Honda Team is looking forward to welcoming a fully fit Pol Espargaro back in Silverstone after the Summer Break.
“Stefan Bradl will continue to contest the Dutch GP with the Repsol Honda Team.”
Pol Espargaro, Repsol Honda Team
Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images
Pol Espargaro, Repsol Honda Team
Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images
Espargaro explained on Friday at Assen that the damage to the muscles around his ribs was also giving him severe back problems.
He also revealed that on the Monday following the German GP that he struggled to even lift himself out of his bed, such was the intensity of the pain he was feeling following the Sachsenring race.
Espargaro is set to leave Honda at the end of the 2022 MotoGP season and return to KTM with the Tech 3 squad.
Suzuki’s Joan Mir is expected to take his place at the factory Honda squad next year, while Alex Rins will replace Alex Marquez at LCR in 2023 on a factory contract.
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