Steph Curry’s jump shot is as close to perfect as it gets. His wrist action is inevitable; an unreal snap that looks vaguely like his father’s, but impossibly more refined and repeatable. It’s unbelievably fast, locking and rising and leaving his hand faster than any defender in the league can possibly imagine. His range extends beyond the three-point line like Damian Lillard’s, but he doesn’t have to load the ball up for as long as Dame—it leaves his hand and flies at the rim from 30 as easily as it does from 25. He has Ray Allen and Reggie Miller’s accuracy, but he can do it shooting it off the dribble. It’s not just that he is the greatest shooter who ever lived—it’s that no one else is even close. He makes teams fear a guy with the ball beyond the three-point line nearly as much as a guy open under the rim.
There have been other basketball moves that achieved their own kind of perfection: Michael Jordan’s turnaround mid-range jumper, Kareem’s skyhook, Hakeem pivoting on the block. But Curry’s achievements are…different. Once, these moves were the result of an individual genius wielding an unstoppable weapon. Curry is closer to Napoleon, History on Hardwood, the forces of modernity converging in one player and storming the NBA like it was 19th-century Europe.
After the Mavericks won the title in 2011, the broader NBA template was set. Every team with their head on straight began to shoot threes at an unprecedented rate, prioritize ball movement over isolation, drive to the rim, seek fouls, and dish to spotted-up three-point shooters. The on-court battle drifted away from grimy, big-boy guts stuff and became more refined, engineered. Role players who couldn’t shoot were cast out. Isolation-heavy volume scorers were out of vogue, instantly. Nearly everyone was stuffing their playbooks with healthy amounts of pick-and-rolls. Centers played less to get more shooting on the floor. The mid-range jumper was relegated to late-clock bailouts.
No one has thrived in this environment more than the Golden State Warriors. Curry’s perfectly-engineered jumper walks hand in hand with the team’s perfectly engineered offensive approach, a maddening maze of ball movement, spotters, cutters, all pivoting around Curry’s ability to make threes from anywhere on the court. They have led the NBA in offensive rating for four of the last five seasons.
Next year, the Warriors will be leaving their longtime home of Oakland, California, and moving to the Chase Center, a new, obscenely luxurious arena in the heart of San Francisco. San Francisco is the capital of America’s tech industry, of course, a city overwhelmed with capital from milking a profit out of re-engineering our lives. America has become a massive research and development lab for these companies, who tweak and data mine and re-develop to allow us to get somewhere faster or share more Donald Trump-centric memes.
Playing in that city, in the style they do, the Warriors have become the sports team of the age: an unstoppable dynastic contender with deep pockets led by a player armed with a perfectly engineered jump shot, executing a perfectly engineered offense, in an arena filled to the brim with tech entrepreneurs who wake up every morning trying to engineer problems away, consequences be damned. The Warriors are the truth of numbers, of detail-oriented thinking, of systems working in concert with each other—everything Silicon Valley tells itself it’s about, manifest in a team that cannot ever seem to lose.
When the Warriors lost to NBA hero LeBron James after blowing a 3-1 series lead in 2016, they added free agent Kevin Durant, one of the league’s best players. In the interim, Durant has functioned as something of a pressure valve for the Warriors, taking them from practically unbeatable to absolutely-totally unbeatable on the court, but scuttling the crystalline purity of their approach. After Durant pulled his calf in the series against the Rockets, the Warriors seemed like they were in trouble—that is, until they actually played the games and the Warriors just reverted to their pre-Durant form. It’s as if the team troubleshot a glitchy update in the app, returning to the simple, elegant design of their early years.
It has also been completely infuriating.
Watching the Portland Trail Blazers, my squad of choice, get absolutely wrecked by the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals was nauseating. The Blazers gutted out an improbable second-round victory, everyone in the city and on the squad was jacked and juiced, and they just got coolly dispatched by robots. There were times, dark times, when I wished it was the Nuggets taking the beating, instead of me. The Warriors are like my text notifications at this point—dinging forever, telling you that whatever fun, weird team you are watching is going to get cooked again, just like the last fun team they beat, and the fun team they are poised to beat after them.
The Toronto Raptors, who will be locked in NBA Finals combat with the Warriors beginning tonight, are maybe the best team they’ve faced since the Cavs team that beat them in ‘16, and they’re deeply unlike the Warriors in a lot of ways. They were built almost on the fly after a series of failures, GM Masai Ujiri making drastic mid-season trades (e.g. acquiring Marc Gasol) in a frantic attempt to contend for the title.
They rely on the talents of Kawhi Leonard, no one’s idea of basketball perfection, who dominates games through pure, icy force of will. Gasol, their center, is a hefty throwback who mixes traditional big-man play with a jury-rigged three-point shot he built on the fly as the NBA mutated around him. Instead of weird, anonymous tech guys sitting on the sideline, the Raptors have a Sikh car salesman and Drake, doing a kind of troubling Spike Lee impression. The diminutive Kyle Lowry, Steph’s matchup at the point, is as unlike Curry as a player can be, just a bundle of imperfections doing everything he can to grind out victories out of pure distaste for losing.
If there’s a team out there designed to strike back against the demons of rigorous basketball excellence, to cast the game back into the dust and the mud that humanity itself emerged from, then baby, it’s the Raptors. God bless them, even if, like you and I, they are doomed to get chewed up and spit out by pure engineering perfection.