He’s a scourge. He’s a menace. He should be placed under house arrest.
Who’s saying that? Who is saying those inflammatory things about the most popular basketball player in the universe? Who would dare blaspheme Stephen Curry, the idol of untold millions of basketball enthusiasts?
I am, you see, 100 percent 3-point-phobic. I truly believe the 3-point shot is the single-worst thing to happen in basketball during my lifetime. It has distorted the game at every level.
Of course, there could hardly be a more minuscule minority viewpoint on any subject in sports. The overwhelming percentage of basketball fans adore the three. When they see Curry attempt 17 of his 19 shots from behind the arc against the Trail Blazers, as he did last Wednesday night, they do not see it as I did, which was an abomination. They see it as lovable, adorable Steph being Steph.
The three has been with us since 1961, when Abe Saperstein introduced it as a gimmick to impress casual fans of his short-lived American Basketball League. It was then taken up by the Eastern League, when it was the second-best basketball league on earth. It was an obvious stunt, to go along with the red, white, and blue basketball, for the American Basketball Association when it began play in 1967. It was brought to the NBA for the 1979-80 season and into college basketball in 1986-87. So if you are 30 or under you know nothing else. You don’t recall when basketball was, well, basketball and not a nightly contest to see which team can clang more stupid shots than the other.
There have been previous 3-point notables, including our own Larry Bird, who used it as a strategic weapon better than anyone in his time. Ray Allen is likewise remembered with great fondness in these here parts for his expertise shooting threes. But no one has become more closely linked with the three than Curry, and that includes his 3-point partner in crime, Klay Thompson.
What Mr. Curry has done is expand the concept of a legitimate, makeable three. He can shoot it with remarkable accuracy from three? four? five? however many feet beyond the arc. If he crosses midcourt with the ball, you’d better get your hands up. You think people haven’t noticed? Trae Young, for one, is likewise doing it. The problem is that, as it is in so many other aspects of athletic life, some people are simply better than others. No one is going to out-Curry Curry, and that includes Young. But they will try, and we will see more teams shooting 5 for 32 from beyond the arc, rendering the game more and more unwatchable. Worse yet, we will see more college and high school kids hoisting threes, as if that were the only way to, as they quaintly say these days, “score the ball.” Curry’s influence is that profound.
Individuals have long had very direct influence on how basketball is played. Angelo-Giuseppe “Hank” Luisetti practically scandalized the basketball world when he began shooting the ball with one hand, circa 1935. Prior to that, there were only three ways to score: layup (dunks were unknown), two-hand sets, and hook shots. Plus underhanded free throws, of course. Thanks to Hank, the one-hander was here to stay.
No one can state definitively who first left his feet before shooting a one-hander (i.e. took the first “jump shot”), but there is no doubt who first made it a dangerous NBA weapon, and that was Joe Fulks of the Philadelphia Warriors. He was the first great scoring forward, establishing successive single-game highs of 37, 41, 47, and, on Feb. 10, 1949, an astonishing 63 points against the Indianapolis Jets, a record that stood until Elgin Baylor scored 64 against the Celtics in 1959. Fulks was a true pioneer.
Bill Russell came along to change the basketball order of things, first at the University of San Francisco, and then with the Celtics. There may have been an occasional blocked shot prior to Russell, but he was the first to make it an art form. Russell changed the concept of what a center could be. The game has never been the same.
What Russell did for defense Baylor did for offense. Elgin took a game that was essentially horizontal and occasionally vertical and made it diagonal. Simply put, Elgin Baylor was the single-most influential individual offensive player of the past 70 years. His descendants are just about everyone who has played after him, but its most notable practitioners include Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James. Notably missing from the list was Oscar Robertson, the most orthodox great player ever. Oscar was all about mastering technique, and about making the game as simple as possible. Given his druthers, he would take nothing but layups after backing in some hapless defender. Oscar retired seven years before the 3-pointer invaded his beloved game, and I’m quite sure he would have regarded the three as frivolous nonsense.
I would say that Magic Johnson was influential had we seen any serious facsimiles. The truth is we haven’t, and please Ben Simmons me no Ben Simmons, even if he is essentially a 6-foot-10-inch point guard. Magic will remain sui generis. On the other hand, Luka Doncic may well be the 21st century Larry Bird.
The biggest recent development in the game is that so-called “stretch 4,” or even “stretch 5,” the big men with excellent range. The good outside shooting bigs of the 1970s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and early 2000s had a range of, say 20 feet., whereas the modern bigs can shoot threes. We might trace the “stretch 4s” and “stretch 5s″ from Bird, but I think the bigger influence was Dirk Nowitzki, a 7-footer with amazing range.
I’m going to throw another name at you, someone who never played in the NBA, and that is Kresimir Cosic, the creative Yugoslavian who played at Brigham Young from 1970-73 before returning home to become a European great and four-time Olympian. He was 6-11 with a ball-handling wizardry that predated Giannis Antetokounmpo’s, a passing eye that predated Bird’s, and a shooting touch that predated Kevin Durant’s. Cosic was properly inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996. You can only whisper his name in European basketball circles.
Stephen Curry is now a gold standard in his specialty. Countess young players, male and female, idolize him and dream of having his game. Me? I wish they were trying to replicate Oscar Robertson’s.
One more thing: Please remove yourself from my lawn.
Bob Ryan can be reached at email@example.com.