The Steph Curry Experience: The greatest show in sports

February 4, 2016

WASHINGTON — In the fall of 1966, singular guitar legend Jimi Hendrix joined with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell to form a band. They didn’t need to come up with a name that gave equal billing to all three — like The Beatles, or The Beach Boys, or The Eagles. Jimi Hendrix was Jimi Hendrix, and the experience of allowing his performance to pulse through your soul was about his energy, skill and greatness.

It was The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

The Golden State Warriors are more than one man. They are a team with many skilled players, and even a couple All-Stars outside their leading man. Maybe Klay Thompson is Curry’s Redding, providing support and harmonizing with his style. That would make Draymond Green his Mitchell, keeping the beat flowing, dictating the frenetic rhythm of a legendarily unstoppable offense.

Basketball is a team sport like music is a group activity. It relies upon everyone, but there is a front man, a leader, a floor general. And this is the Steph Curry Experience.

It’s why the Verizon Center was sold out Wednesday night, for just the seventh time in 26 home games this season. It’s why ESPN was there. It’s why we all were there.

Watching Curry go into that zone — the one you know if you’ve seen it before — is like watching Hendrix rip the national anthem at Woodstock for the first time. Sure you’ve heard the song a thousand times, just like you’ve seen countless three-pointers taken. But now you’re watching someone reinvent the whole idea of the long-range shot, as if the line wasn’t even there, as if you didn’t need to set your feet perfectly, keep your core solid and follow through.

You’re watching him set the guitar on fire.

It would seem disrespectful to the entire art of the thing if it weren’t so damn beautiful.


Wherever Curry goes, he draws a crowd. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Wherever Curry goes, he draws a crowd. (WTOP/Noah Frank)

The Experience is scheduled to tip at 8 p.m. Wednesday night, but it swells in waves before that. The first part opens a couple minutes before 11 a.m., as the Warriors finish their morning shootaround at Verizon Center. Steve Kerr is talking to the media in his accustomed, level-headed calm, leaned casually back on the pads of the scorer’s table, a half-circle of cameras and notepads surrounding him.

Then it begins.

Curry passes by and a public relations member announces that he’ll take some questions. After a brief moment of indecision, the herd is off, like a pack of wildebeests trying to avoid being left behind as a lion’s dinner.

“First of all, thanks to you three for staying, I appreciate that,” Kerr says to those still there, tongue firmly in cheek. “Everyone ran over to the superstar, but you guys are the mainstays.”

After a quick press conference, The Experience is put on hold until the evening, when Curry will begin his now legendary pregame routine, the one people take off work and drive hundreds of miles just to see.

On Wednesday night, Act Two of The Steph Curry Experience begins at 6:38 p.m. for the media, staffers and lucky few fans to be considered VIP.

Grown men in Davidson sweatshirts puff their chests, hoping to be seen and acknowledged without looking like they want to be seen and acknowledged.

Kids hover, their toes on the out-of-bounds line like hawks, sharpies out, creeping up the wing and along the baseline.

“I can’t believe Steph Curry is right in front of us,” says a kid in a backwards Wizards hat, carrying a Bradley Beal jersey.

Behind the basket, a few 20-something women creep onto the court and snap selfies with Curry in the background before security sees them and ushers them away.

“He’s so cute,” one of them says, and follows it with something unfit for print.

Curry goes through his mesmerizing dribbling routine, the one captured on home video at every arena in the league. It’s the same one as always, but it never fails to wow the crowd.

But it’s at the free throw line where Curry is truly almost flawless, where even a shot that rattles home feels like a miss. He stands in the middle of the chaos of six practice balls at once, players, coaches, staff on the floor, all eyes on him, and drops shot after shot, seemingly oblivious to the circus. By 6:57, it’s all over, save for a handful of autographs on the way back to the locker room. The Verizon Center doors won’t open to the general public for another 3 minutes.


Curry is known for his three-point shooting, but he's also the best in the game at the free throw line. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Curry is known for his three-point shooting, but he’s also the best in the game at the free throw line. (WTOP/Noah Frank)

It’s unfair to expect greatness from Curry every game. Even though he’s the league’s leading scorer, averaging nearly 30 points a game, everyone has off-nights. It would be understandable if, on his one trip to Washington this year, he didn’t pull out every trick in his bag, if he wasn’t at his best.

After all, he’s failed to reach 15 points in two of his previous three games coming in. He’s traveling with his family, a trip to the White House in the morning. We have to concede the possibility that Curry might not show up tonight.

Until he does.

It takes less than two-and-a-half minutes for him to drop his first triple, and within 90 seconds he’s buried two more, putting Jared Dudley on skates and stepping back for the first, then shaking John Wall on a stutter move and getting a friendly bounce for another. Suddenly, he’s outscoring the Wizards by himself, and the Verizon Center crowd starts to turn.

By the time Curry swipes the ball from Dudley and corrals it 25 feet from the basket, flushing home his sixth triple in seven attempts, The Experience is in full flow, fans sighing in desperation on the rare miss and exploding in glee and disbelief on the makes. When the first quarter is over, he has tallied 25 points on 7-for-8 from deep and the Warriors have a 15-point lead.

The Wizards, especially Wall, seem to feed off the energy to elevate their game, rather than be turned into just another handful of jaw-dropped spectators. After not breaking the 20-point barrier in three weeks, Wall goes for 41 on just 25 shots along with 10 assists, his highest-scoring game since March 25, 2013.

And yet, it feels helpless. Twice the Wizards get back within a possession late, and twice the Warriors run away from them. When it’s all over, the carnage is clear as day in the stat line. Curry finishes with 51, matching a Verizon Center record. He falls one three pointer shy of matching the single-game NBA record. It’s all anyone is likely to remember from this night, despite Wall’s brilliance, despite Green’s 10th triple-double of the season, in which he puts up 12 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists and five blocks.


Curry's fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson chats with fans after Wednesday night's game. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Curry’s fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson chats with fans after Wednesday night’s game. (WTOP/Noah Frank)

Before it all can really be over, there’s the postgame press conference, even more slammed than the one at shootaround. Kerr goes first, then Curry, then Thompson, for those who bothered to stick around. While the coach and the other Splash Brother shake hands and chat with fans lined up on the way out of the arena, the team helps Curry duck out the back exit, where his family is waiting, his day finally done.

The Experience is over in Washington, but the show must go on.

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