Sunday, July 5, 2015

Misconceptions, Rock Stars and MVPs

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy

His dirty blonde hair was shoulder length, a tad greasy and unkempt. Legitimately well-worn blue jeans, not the kind intentionally distressed to show age, and a tattered knit sweater over an old tee shirt comprised his preferred uniform. A few days of stubble always graced his forlorn face. Smiles were few. In a word, his expression was “elsewhere.” His eyes, when they could be contacted directly, were angry, distant and haunting, but they always hinted at a troubled, vulnerable core.

There was nothing obviously special about the man. No presence. No promise of greatness…or mediocrity for that matter. Had you passed him on the street in 1990, you likely wouldn’t have even taken notice, unless it was to shoot a judging, “get away from me, bum” stare toward the unassuming, inconsequential vagabond. A year later, this perceived nobody was the biggest rock star in the world.    

When Kurt Cobain strummed the first few cords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, he and his fellow Nirvana bandmates – Chris Novoselic and Dave Grohl – ended hair metal and ushered in the grunge era. In Cobain, rock music and pop culture had found its latest antihero, even if it wasn’t knowingly searching for one.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, the son of former NBA player Dell Curry, was three years old when Nirvana exploded in 1991. The Wiggles and Sesame Street were his rock stars, not Cobain and company. Years later, however, when it came time for Curry to select a college, a future NBA star’s story intersected with one-time Prince of Grunge. 

Curry played his college ball in North Carolina. Not for North Carolina. Or Duke. Or N.C. State. Or Wake Forest. In North Carolina…for tiny Davidson College. Despite his NBA genetics, no major college wanted him. Curry’s undersized, frail frame were his undoing, his shredded jeans, worn out sweater and far-off gaze.  

Playing in North Carolina – for anyone – proved prophetic. The Old North State’s slogan “To be, rather than to seem” describes Curry perfectly. The baby-faced, 6’3”, 185-pound (soaking wet) guard didn’t seem like much upon visual inspection, but Curry’s performance for Davidson was extraordinary.  In the 2008 NCAA Tournament, Davidson defeated college bluebloods Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin before finally losing to Kansas by a bucket in the regional final. Curry averaged 34.5 points in the four games, a stretch that solidified his NBA prospects.

Still, there were whispers entering the 2009 NBA Draft.  Curry could shoot, but was he big enough to get his shot off against NBA competition?  Could he handle the ball well enough to play point guard?  And if so, could he absorb the physical toll of an 82-game season?       

Golden State eventually selected Curry with the seventh overall pick, after NBA busts Hasheem Thabeet (second overall) and Jonny Flynn (sixth overall) and lesser NBA players like Tyreke Evans (fourth overall) and Ricky Rubio (fifth overall).  It was an appropriate spot for Curry’s name to be called, one that both acknowledged his talent and the persistent concerns with his atypical NBA size. 

If you’ve been watching any basketball lately, you know how this ends. In six NBA seasons, Curry has transformed himself into a superior point guard and one of the best shooters in league history. This year Curry won the MVP award and Golden State, after logging the NBA’s best record, is playing for its first championship since it swept our Washington Bullets in 1975 NBA Finals.  Curry’s doubters have been silenced.

Society is quite accomplished at burdening individuals with misconceptions - encountering them on life’s trail is practically inevitable. Rare is the person who hasn’t at some point been considered too short, too tall, too slow, too frail, too large, insufficiently educated, just not right for the part, incapable of performing a task or saddled with some other unfair or patently false limitation. Of course not everyone is destined to redefine “rock star” or go from unheralded college recruit to NBA MVP, but when doing battle with our personal naysayers, and attempting the tall task of overwhelming perceptions with an alternate reality, it is comforting to draw inspiration from those who did. 

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