Me and Vince

Vince used to work down here at the SPT. Sat in fact in the cubicle right next to mine. Dropped him an e-mail this morning:

Wondering if you might want to do for the blog a little e-mail back and forth off your story on NBA.com. Starting with this interesting observation: People WANT him to succeed. It’s something I’ve thought about since I started watching him -- more than that: since I started watching others watch him -- but it’s true. Fans seem to want him to do well. Not just fans. CBS has sold him a ton. ESPN has sold him a ton. The predictable and inevitable backlash has been there but really kind of minimal. He’s been the attention king of pre-draft coverage. The NBA, the league itself, I think, wouldn’t mind if he does well, and sooner rather than later. Why? Is it because of March 2008 (STILL)? Is it because of his dad? Is it because of his mom? Is it because he’s an -- ahem -- “acceptable” color? Is it because he’s reasonably well-spoken? Is it because he’s basically un-inked? Or is it because of how he plays? Can it be only because of that? Probably not.

Vince’s e-mail back:

Like I said in the column, fans seem to be devoted to this dude. And I think it’s all image/aura based. Now, granted, if homeboy couldn’t ball, then no one would care about him. That needs to be said. But, when you look at the composite reasons for the Curry-worship, I think his style of play and skill are somewhat secondary. It IS a composite-thing, though.

I look at it this way. American sports fans -- even the most casual of the casual -- love March Madness. Within March Madness, they adore Cinderellas. There hasn’t been a Cinderella, in recent years, that featured a player the caliber of Curry. So he was quite a phenomenon. Most Cinderellas feature a group of players that, together, knock off some big boys. But, while they’re knocking off big boys, the talent discrepancy is always apparent. That’s why the fans pull for them. Curry is one of the most unique stories in NCAA history because, while fans were pulling for this little squad from NC, they were watching this player -- who seemed like he might be the best player in the country -- carry his squad deep into the tourney in an unprecedented way. You probably have go all the way back to Danny Manning and The Miracles and that was KANSAS. Curry and the Wildcats didn’t upset one or two teams. They got all the way to the Elite 8 and Curry was UNSTOPPABLE. This scrawny little guard was proving himself to be unguardable. He was shooting 27 foot jumpers off the dribble. He was nailing 24-footers with two defenders in his face. He was breaking box-in-ones. He was hitting clutch shots when the whole opposing team challenged him. It was astonishing stuff. And the little dude doing it looked like he probably got his lunch money stolen everyday.

That’s compelling and dramatic stuff. Sports fans ate it up. Basketball fans loved the way he played. Tourney fans loved that he was carrying a Cinderella. Grandmas found him endearing. America wanted to celebrate and protect him.

I think his father gave him a little more notoriety. Had his father not been a former pro there might have been SLIGHTLY less pub. Then again, maybe if he came from an ordinary athletic background, his story would be even more fabled.

Race is not a huge factor, but it plays into it in this way: If he were white, America wouldn’t just be devoted to him, he’d be worshipped like a 1980s Michael Jackson. And, if he looked like, say, Jonny Flynn -- and by that I mean darker-skinned and muscle-bound -- he wouldn’t have elicited as much devotion and protectionism from America at-large. I'm sure of both of those premises. Dark skin still intimidates much of America, makes them feel a little uneasy. And, if nothing else, dark skin is associated with athletic prowess. “Well, of course he’s this good, he’s a young black kid.” When you couple Curry’s light skin with his unimposing physique, there’s this notion of overachievement that's heightened by the fact that he plays in a mid-major. Americans eat that kind of stuff up. Now, if he were white -- understanding that white America would have inevitably went bat-sh!t crazy over this kid like we would have never seen -- race would have muddied up his story. In fact, the white-worship may have even turned him off to minority fans. His whole mystique/story would just be tainted with more sinister questions.

Ultimately, he looks and plays the perfect part. I understand why America is in love with him. And that’s cool when it comes to college basketball. People’s love for NCAA can typically be about more than just basketball. That’s why a lot of people will say they love the NCAA, but hate the NBA. If you love basketball, then you undoubtedly love the NBA, because that is where the best basketball is played. But people love NCAA because they like watching kids compete, they like rooting for alma maters, etc. So, yeah, it’s cool to fall in love with Curry while he plays college ball. But now he’s entering the NBA and it’s time to look at his game within a pro context and I’m not sure it translates the way folks WANT it to.

More to come.

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