WASHINGTON — Steph Curry and Cam Newton have plenty in common. Besides being friends, Curry is the reigning NBA MVP, while Newton is on the precipice of winning the same award in the NFL. Both guided the best team in their respective sport last year to a title game, with Curry winning his and Newton one win away from doing the same. Both are confident to the point of cockiness, with skillsets that are redefining their position.
But everyone loves Curry, while Newton is, as one columnist put it this week, the most polarizing player in the Super Bowl.
“I’m an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to,” Newton told reporters last week.
But if Curry, also African-American, is so beloved while opinion about Newton remains split, is there something else going on?
You could argue that Newton has had a more checkered past than the seemingly immaculate Curry, like when he was caught stealing a laptop at the University of Florida, eventually precipitating his transfer to junior college, and, eventually, Auburn. But most of you probably only just remembered that incident upon reading the previous sentence, if you even knew about it at all.
That’s because it was a fairly minor indiscretion by most reasonable standards, even compared with what the quarterback on the other side of the ball in Super Bowl 50 allegedly did in college.
Sure, Curry’s popularity extends beyond himself, to his loving wife and her cooking show, and especially to his daughter Riley, who captured even the most casual basketball fans’ hearts during last season’s playoff run. Newton’s personal life is much more private, his girlfriend having just given birth to the couple’s first child. But he’s arguably the most kid-friendly player in the league, having started the tradition of handing out footballs to kids in the crowd after touchdowns, something his teammates have joined in on.
But in a sport of giants, Curry feels like a giant-slayer at only 6-foot-3, often the shortest player on the floor. Despite a brilliant college career, he was deemed too small by many NBA teams, and was the third point guard taken in the 2009 Draft. In a league of Goliaths that puts such a premium on height, it was poetic that he attended Davidson College.
Newton is the opposite. At 6-foot-5 and nearly 250 pounds, he is a giant, even for the position he plays. He doesn’t succeed with Curry’s grace, but rather brute force, a momentum that seems to grow as the game progresses. He inspires the same sense of dread from opponents, but achieves it through a more physical dominance.
But Newton’s hardly a scary figure. His smile might be even more photogenic than Curry’s. And he always seems to be smiling, especially these days.
Curry brings his sharpshooting traveling circus to town Wednesday to take on the Wizards. If the trend of exponentially growing gold and blue jerseys and hats over the past few seasons are any indication, the cheers will be nearly as loud when he sinks a shot as when any of the home squad does. His seemingly unlimited range has captivated fans young and old, his jersey selling more than any other player, even more than LeBron James’.
Newton has begun to catch up on that front, ranking behind only Tom Brady this year. But where Curry draws only effusive praise away from his home market in the Bay Area, some NFL fans have criticized Newton, most infamously one Tennessee mother.
In case you had the fortune of missing the news story above, the author of the open letter to Newton accused his “chest puffs … pelvic thrusts … arrogant struts and … taunting” as a corrupting influence on her nine-year old daughter, who had just watched oversized grown men smash into each other for three-and-a-half hours while scantily clad women danced around them. But never mind the hypocrisy — what of the celebration itself? Was it any more disrespectful than this?
Ringling Brothers … pic.twitter.com/H0DTTHrXzY
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) January 10, 2016
Don’t be distracted by the obscene ball movement. Watch Curry at the end of the play, after he releases the shot. He turns around fully to face the Kings’ bench, to stare them down as the ball goes through the hoop. Even Newton doesn’t show up opponents like that.
And lest you think this is new, here’s a highlight from last season against the Bucks.
Still not sold? Cool. Here’s a playoff game from 2013.
The point is that Curry has been pulling that move, flaunting his transcendent greatness, for a quite a while now. Yet, Newton’s detractors find malice in his celebration where they do not in Curry’s.
Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Curry himself, raised in Charlotte, is one of Newton and the Panthers’ biggest fans, and will be in the stands in Santa Clara on Sunday to cheer him on toward the same championship success Curry enjoyed last season. Maybe if both of them are on the field celebrating together afterward we’ll finally be able to bring this silly conversation to a close.