WORDS by Max Resetar
THE MYTHS VARY FROM culture to culture. Poseidon is not necessarily the same as Neptune, just like Mazu differs from Lord Varuna. But, no matter what, each society always has a lord of the water.
In the religion of hoops, in our basketball bible, Stephen Curry rules the seas.
His old title of “Splash Brother” no longer fits. “Splash” is too small.
He is the ocean now.
Curry has consumed the NBA yet again, so fluidly, so forcefully, that almost nobody saw his tidal wave rising until it was totally unstoppable. The momentum was too great, the water too strong. His flow was uncontainable.
He’d been comparatively quiet for the last few years, especially contrasted against the context of 2015-19. He was listening, though, hearing all the doubts that the sun had set on his sea. But that’s the thing about the deep, deep blue…A little commotion can bring forth a monstrous explosion. And it absolutely did.
We’ve watched his evolution from a single droplet to the all-mighty ocean for these last 13 years. The tide climbed and climbed, the same way he’s continually been searching for personal expansion.
“Something that my younger self would be surprised that I know now is…the fact that you are never going to stop evolving,” Curry tells KICKS. “That’s the one thing that maybe when you’re younger you think maybe you will reach a point where you’re gonna feel like each year kind of becomes the same or, like, you’ve mastered something. Even though I feel like there’s times I’ve hit my peak, I still know there’s another level to get to, and I also know that I haven’t really mastered anything. There’s more potential to realize. So the journey of evolving and continuing to reiterate what you are doing never stops, no matter how much success you really have.”
Success in the NBA is often measured by titles, limiting as that barometer truly is. Title number four was secured after massive flood-inducing showers rained down by No. 30. He consistently rocked the Curry 4 Flotro throughout his return to the top, mostly in the “Lilac” colorway.
“Flotro is dope,” Curry says. “Flotro, for me, is combining the old with the new. That’s what the name is, but bringing the best parts of the Flow [tech] to the old uppers and the old silhouettes that were a part of my journey and giving a fresh take on them. So building that innovation and performance into the blasts from the past. Everyone who has rocked with me from day one gets to experience this, and even people that are just finding out what I’m about and my story can appreciate it as well.”
The Flow tech that the recently-crowned champ brings up is Under Armour’s proprietary cushioning system that has obsoleted rubber from their footwear. Rather than rely on the squeakiness of a rubber, their developers, engineers and designers cracked the code on how to craft an entirely foam compound midsole. It’s been a groundbreaking journey for Tom Luedecke, Under Armour Innovation’s Director of Design, and the rest of his peers, based in both Baltimore and overseas in China. Since Flow was introduced to the world at the end of 2020, it debuted in the Curry 8 and was featured in the Curry 9. Those are the two silhouettes that have helped Stephen launch Curry Brand. Flow will also be used in the upcoming Curry 10.
Who better than the Lord of the Water to tell us everything there is to know about his 10th signature sneaker: “The Curry 10 is expressing consistency and continuing to level up your game. The fact that you can have 10 signature shoes and, coming off a championship, being at this level, like, you want people to be a part of that journey with you. We’re also bringing back classic colorways from throughout my career that meant a lot to me. A special moment. It’s a celebration of success, the journey, the process, the work, the memories, everything. The Curry 10, ballplayers should know that it’s gonna help them be better, help them perform better, give them all the advantage they can have on the court when they lace up, but it’s also going to give them joy, hopefully. That’s what I’m trying to express through the shoes. They get to embody it as well.
“The 10s continue to push the envelope with innovation in terms of going back to the Flow and traction and comfort that I need and love on the court. And also elevating the upper and the stability and the fit and the ride that you have. We want the best of the best in terms of the on-court feel and cushion and stability, and all of those things lead to great things happening on the court. So we’re always trying to move to that next level.
“I think the storylines, the stories that we’re bringing back with the 10, you can think about ‘Iron Sharpens Iron,’ you can think about the ‘Northern Lights,’ you can think about the ‘Sour Patch Kids,’ all those stories that are from other signature shoes that I dropped. They’re just moments. I can think back to certain games that I wore those shoes. I can think about what the inspiration was then and how it still applies and relates to now. Even with the ‘Sour Patch Kids,’ not just the joy and high energy that we’re trying to bring to my shoes, but also, like, the sour and sweet—killer instinct behind the smile. That’s something I have always resonated with, and it’s cool to bring that back.”
The killer behind the smile. It really, really, really isn’t sweet with Curry. It never has been. He’s just done a good job of hiding his carnal competitiveness from TV cameras and social media. Until this year, that is. This year, he was decidedly more demonstrative, in the far fewer moments that didn’t go his way and in the many more moments that did. There had just been too many people disturbing his calm waters. Everyone knows about the now-famous “night, night” celebration, but there were also several moments against the Celtics where he let his emotions out. We saw him express the pain, the frustration, the anger, the aggression, the joy and, finally, the tears.
The vulnerability of a deity.
For several years now, he’s used the word “expression” when speaking about the game in interviews. That word choice consistently gets glossed over by those conducting the interviews. But just that one word offers an illuminating insight into how he’s been so wildly prosperous. Basketball isn’t just basketball for Stephen Curry.
“Basketball was kind of always an expression, but that was the natural part of how the game came to me,” he says. “I didn’t think I really realized the impact it could have, or the unique way that I play the game and how much joy you have, the flair for the dramatic, the creativity, and all that, I didn’t realize that until probably Davidson, during the tournament run my sophomore year. Not only were we winning, but you found ways that people resonated with your style and kind of became a part of the narrative a little bit. You can show your killer instinct, you can show your competitiveness, you can show your level of care. You can show gratitude, selflessness. All those things can be demonstrated without saying words with how you play. But that killer is probably the biggest thing you can say with how you approach every game.”
The borders of normal life start to transcend amid years of pursuit. Try to quantify the number of jumpshots that Wardell Stephen Curry II has taken in his 34 years on this planet. The exorbitant digits that immediately accompanied that thought probably isn’t close to how many he has actually put up. There has been more work, more thought, more peaks and more valleys than anyone else could ever know. All of that dedication, everything that has been sacrificed, physically and mentally, it has to be joined by something greater than just the game. Under the magnitude of all that commitment, the adventure begins to have deeper meaning. The game’s scope increases without intention. It happens almost subconsciously. The more time spent playing, the more grand it grows on its own, until the stark realization one day that it has passed through to a different realm of meaning for the player, one where the lessons learned are enlightening. The game is a door to one’s self. Everything Curry said he can say through the game, his “killer instinct,” his “competitiveness,” his “level of care,” his “gratitude,” his “selflessness,” is on the other side of that door. And as the greatest explorer the game has known in the modern era, Curry has used the game to venture out to what lies much farther than the three-point line.
In return for his exploring, the game has given him back a key to creativity, a key to fearlessness and a key to expansion.
He wasn’t afraid of obsoleting rubber on his sneakers. He wasn’t afraid of shooting 30-footers in the NBA Finals. He wasn’t afraid of crying on national television.
He’s been expressing himself.
“The look-away three is something that when I do it, is the utmost self-expression of confidence, of the work that I have put into it,” Curry says. “All the reps and just the idea that I am my biggest fan in that moment because I feel like all the work that you put in is paying off, where I can’t do any wrong and I’m not missing the shot. And it feels so good that I gotta turn away. It’s not really about anyone else or showing anyone up. It’s about me and the expression of self-confidence to a whole other level.”
It’s about him. There is no competition left. There is only one Lord of the Water.
But it’s not just about him at this point. What he has perhaps unintentionally done is bring more and more people to the coast. More and more people want to leave the beach because he’s shown them the power of the natural element that covers more than 70 percent of Earth. His style of play has become some type of collective, near spiritual agent that gathers divers, other explorers not skilled enough to be him. But they can appreciate him.
To be able to inspire is a huge gift. To show people that limits are just perceptions is something sacred. Where does the inspirer find his inspiration, though? In the same game that he rules over.
“There is room in my mind and spirit for more imagination,” Curry says. “More self-expression, more moments where people see a different side of you because every year is so different. The challenges are different. It requires more of you, and that brings out the different reactions, different forms of self-expression and presence on the court. But the mystery of what that is and the unknown is what makes it so dope and so much fun. I have no idea what that’s gonna look like, but I’m going to keep living it. You know, what happened this year and our journey to win a championship, all the accolades that I got, the night, night stuff, all that stuff I had no idea was going to be happening, but I fell in love with the journey and all that stuff takes care of itself. So now the challenge is to maintain that energy, maintain that perspective, go back to the drawing board and try to continue to be the best version of yourself. Because you’re never, ever complete.”
Brooks and streams, rivers, lakes and bays find their way to the ocean, where under the surface, out of the deepest, darkest, coldest trenches, come the most ruthless killers. The real rulers.
[Appeared on SLAM Kicks Vol. 25]