How Much Does Winning this Ring Boost Steph Curry’s Legacy?

Legacies are difficult to evaluate. Some people are obsessed with counting the accolades and awards, and to them, a player’s legacy is determined almost solely by the number of rings, Finals MVPs and regular season MVPs he has amassed.

But the way I look at it is, above all else, how good was he at basketball?

How much could he do on a basketball court? How efficient was he?

How many boxes does he check?

Because accolades and awards and championships are not always the best way to evaluate an individual player. For one thing, championships are won by teams, not individual players, and there is so much that is out of the individual player’s control when it comes to championships. Suppose he gets injured, or his teammates get injured, and that prevents him from winning a championships? Suppose he’s drafted to a horrible franchise that consistently fails to surround him with championship-level talent? Suppose he’s a top-3 player in the league, but is often thwarted by better teams?

Conversely, what if a player benefitted mightily from injuries to his opponents in his career? What if he had the best front office in the league that continually surrounded him with elite talent? What if he had the best coach in the league?

Don’t get me wrong: a player needs rings and Finals MVPs and MVPs to validate his play to some degree. I mean, you can’t argue that Karl Malone is the greatest power forward of all-time, even though he retired as the #2 scorer in NBA history and #8 all-time in rebounds–he never won a Championship. You at least have to have some outstanding accomplishments we can latch on to in order to make a case for you. I mean, sure, statistically, Karl Malone is probably the best power forward of all time. In fact, he’s pretty clearly the best power forward ever statistically. But nobody ever really argues that he’s the best power forward ever, or even a top-10 all-time player, because he never won even a single championship.

So there has to be some sort of validation when it comes to hardware. There has to be some sort of proof that he can be the best player on a Championship team. Karl Malone made it to the Finals twice with the Jazz and once with the Lakers when he was 40 years old, but he never won or even really came close to winning a Championship–the two times he made it with the Jazz, he was never in a position where if his team won the game, they won the Title. They lost in 6 to the Bulls both times.

And so I just don’t think you can seriously argue that Karl Malone is a top-10 or even top-15 player all-time. He put up incredible numbers, but it didn’t translate into winning at the highest level. He couldn’t consistently beat Hakeem in the playoffs, he couldn’t beat Jordan in the Finals–he just isn’t a Pantheon-level player when all’s said and done.

Now, had Karl Malone won a ring, and won a Finals MVP, then that would have changed the narrative on him. He would be viewed as a player you could win a Championship with. All of the stats he compiled would be validated. As it is now, he just looks like a compiler.

And so this is the conversation we’re now having about Steph Curry: did this ring change the narrative about him and his body of work?

In my view, it did, but not quite as much as everybody else thinks.

The main point of discussion here is that he’s finally gotten that elusive Finals MVP, and so now he has nothing left to prove.

I agree with that to some extent, but I think he should’ve been Finals MVP in 2015. I think he kind of got screwed out of that one. So while I think it was important that Steph got this Finals MVP in 2022, I don’t think it proved anything to us that we didn’t already know: we’ve known he can be the best player on a Championship team for some time now, but it just hadn’t been officially validated with a Finals MVP. This Finals MVP he just won was more of a box being checked off than Steph “Proving All The Doubters Wrong™.” I don’t think anybody out there seriously doubted Steph was capable of being the best player on a Championship team.

Now, there is something to be said about how he won his three rings prior to this one: in 2015, the Warriors were fortunate that the Cavs were missing both Kyrie and Kevin Love to injuries. In 2017 and 2018, the Warriors had Kevin Durant and were basically the most stacked and overpowered team in the history of the league. A lot of people out there think the 2017 and 2018 rings shouldn’t count at all, and I’m inclined to agree with them, although I wouldn’t discount them entirely. The Warriors were tested in 2018, by the Rockets.

So there is an argument to be made that this 2022 Warriors Championship is the first “legitimate” ring they’ve won during this whole 8 year run, although I’m sure Warriors fans would counter that they would’ve won in 2016 had Draymond not gotten suspended.

But as it is now, this is the first, true unquestionable ring that Steph Curry has won, where he was the best player on his team. Again, the first ring was largely a product of all the injuries the Cavs sustained, and then rings two and three, he had Durant on his team.

This ring was without Durant, and without any major injuries to his Finals opponent. You can certainly try to poke holes in it in terms of the teams he faced along the way. But you can poke holes in just about every ring. Don’t believe me? Let’s go through it–I’ll “debunk” every ring going back to 2015:

  • 2022: Nuggets were missing Murray and Porter in the first round. Ja was hurt for a good chunk of the second round. The Mavs were a one man show and Luka was just not ready to win. Plus, the Warriors got to avoid the Suns in the playoffs.
  • 2021: Hospital ring. Devin Booker was hurt in the Finals, so was Chris Paul. Bucks would’ve gotten smoked by the Nets in the second round if Kyrie and Harden didn’t get hurt. Also, they still almost lost to the Nets anyway: if KD’s feet were two inches further back, the Bucks would’ve lost Game 7.
  • 2020: Bubble ring.
  • 2019: KD tore his achilles and Klay tore his ACL in the third quarter of Game 6. No way the Raptors would’ve won if the Warriors were healthy.
  • 2018: Doesn’t count because KD on the Warriors was unfair. But the Warriors still almost lost to the Rockets anyway in the Conference Finals–if CP3 hadn’t gotten hurt at the end of Game 5, the Rockets would’ve closed that series out.
  • 2017: KD joining the Warriors ruined the league.
  • 2016: Draymond’s suspension in the Finals, Bogut got hurt, Steph wasn’t 100%.
  • 2015: Kyrie got hurt in Game 1 and missed the rest of the series, Kevin Love missed most of the playoffs with a shoulder injury.

Now, it’s true that some of these excuses are stronger than others. But the fact remains that if you really want to split hairs, you can downplay almost every NBA Championship that’s ever been won.

And even if we do grant a reasonable bit of “hair-splitting” on this Warriors Championship, it still stands up to scrutiny–the Celtics were not dealing with any major injuries in the Finals. Robert Williams wasn’t 100%, but he played all 6 games. He didn’t miss any games.

So the fact that this is Steph’s first true “unimpeachable” ring, in my view, really changes the narrative on him. It’s not the Finals MVP thing for me–although that was a big box that has now been checked off.

It’s the fact that his first three rings, you could poke holes in. This one, you can’t. You can’t invalidate this one. It is 100% legitimate.

It is now undeniable that Steph Curry can be the best player on a Championship team. That was something you could not definitively say prior to the 2022 NBA Finals.

This changes the narrative on Steph Curry. It moves him up a tier on the all-time greats list.

Another example of this: I thought that, basically since 2013, LeBron was probably the greatest player in NBA history–just in terms of completeness, physical gifts, efficiency, leadership. But I was not ready to put him ahead of MJ just yet. I thought he had to prove just a little bit more. I thought from about 2007 that it was clear LeBron was the most talented player in NBA history, but he had to actually back it up with hardware and rings in order to validate himself.

After 2016, completing the 3-1 comeback against the 73-9 Warriors, I thought LeBron became the GOAT. That was was the moment it became official, in my eyes. Because it was more than the fact that he had won his third ring: it was what he did to get there. He reached a level of dominance that I don’t think anybody else in NBA history has ever hit: 41-16-7 on 53% shooting in Game 5, 41-8-11 on 59% shooting in Game 6, 27-11-11 triple double in Game 7.

My takeaway after the 2016 Finals was not just that LeBron proved that he could do something incredible like that, but that I didn’t think there was any other player in NBA history capable of pulling that off. I think that’s what made him the GOAT: because he was the only player who could’ve done that. You replace him with anybody else, including MJ, and I think the Cavs lose that series.

And so, really, after 2016, I didn’t think LeBron had anything left to prove. There was nothing more he could’ve done after that series that would’ve made me think, “Wow, he’s better than I thought he was.”

What LeBron is doing right now in terms of longevity–averaging 30 a game on 59% eFG at age 37–only adds distance between himself and everybody else. This is like some borderline-inhuman, somebody-test-that-man-for-steroids shit.

The only thing winning more rings will do for LeBron is make it harder and harder for the dug-in haters to deny his GOAT status. But even if he wins 6 rings, or even 7, they’ll point to the fact that he lost in the Finals, and they’ll say “MJ was 6-0.” Because there are lots of people out there who just harbor a deep, personal hatred for LeBron and will never change their minds.

But I don’t think LeBron needs more rings to prove he’s the GOAT. I think he’s already done so, and anything else from here on out just widens the gulf between him and everybody else.

I bring up LeBron because, while this 2022 ring for Steph was not quite as impressive as LeBron’s 2016 ring, I think this ring did something similar for Curry: he no longer has anything to prove. There are no longer any lingering questions about him and his legacy. He has fully validated himself, and now, the only thing to do is to debate his numbers against guys who are around him on the NBA All Time list.

At this point, we can simply debate his game and his stats against guys like Kobe, KD, Dr. J, etc.

Because that’s the company he’s in on the all-time list: he’s somewhere between 9-12, in my eyes.

And now comes the hard part: where, exactly, is he now?

To get there, I’m going to lay out my top-10 plus the guys on the cusp:

  1. LeBron
  2. MJ
  3. Wilt
  4. Kareem
  5. Magic
  6. Bird
  7. Shaq
  8. Hakeem
  9. Tim Duncan
  10. Kobe

And then prior to the 2022 Finals, I had KD at 11 and Steph at 12, Moses Malone at 13, Dr. J at 14. Beyond them would be guys like Isiah Thomas, Giannis, Dirk, Bill Russell, KG, Wade, Barkley, and Karl Malone (not in a particular order).

Now, this is not set in stone, and I change my mind all the time. But just to give a brief summary of my rationale for why each guy is ranked the way he is: I have Wilt at #3 even though most people have Kareem there. But I just think Kareem can’t be #3 because of Magic: Magic is a bona-fide top-5 player of all time as well. Kareem was great before he got Magic on his team–he had already won a ring, a Finals MVP and won multiple MVPs before Magic’s arrival in 1980, when Kareem was 32. But Kareem won 5 of his 6 rings after Magic joined the Lakers, and I think you just have to take that into account.

But the same thing also applies to Magic: how great would he have truly been–how much would he have accomplished–if he didn’t have Kareem? After Kareem retired in 1989, Magic was still great and still accomplished quite a bit, but he never won another Championship.

Kobe and Shaq are the only other guys with a teammate on this list (each other), and I just think that has to be taken into account. Now, Kobe and Shaq did both win rings away from each other, so that helps both of their cases.

This ring helps Steph’s case, because he’s now won two away from Durant, while Durant has not won any rings away from the Warriors. Durant was the Finals MVP for both his rings in Golden State, but Golden State has won without him.

The Steph vs. KD debate is really difficult because you have those two competing truths–that the Warriors won without him, but that when Steph and KD were teammates, KD was the #1 option on the team and won Finals MVP both times.

I always thought KD had to be ahead of Steph for this reason, but now I’m not so sure.

It really is a tough decision, and every time I think I’m going to cast my lot with one guy or the other, I change my mind.

The KD vs. Steph all time debate is extremely difficult for me to decide on.

And, I think the Kobe/KD/Steph debate is a great one, too. It’s hard to debate guys who play different positions, but to be honest, I think spots 7-12 on my board are all virtually interchangeable: Shaq, Hakeem, Duncan, Kobe, KD and Steph are all extremely close to one another. I just feel like Shaq, Hakeem and Duncan have to be top-10, and really, so does Kobe.

Which is why it’s so hard for me to place KD and Steph: I think they also deserve to be top-10 in the abstract, but in practice, there’s not enough spots.

I guess the easier thing to do would be to split it into tiers or groups

  • Tier 1: LeBron
  • Tier 2: MJ, Wilt
  • Tier 3: Kareem, Magic, Bird
  • Tier 4: Shaq, Hakeem, Duncan, Kobe, KD, Steph

Now, I personally had Steph in the Tier 4 category even before these Finals, but I had him firmly at #12, so the bottom of the tier. After the Finals, I think he’s about on the same level as the other guys in that tier and could be as high up as #7 all-time depending on your personal preference.

But as to the original question of how this championship affects Steph’s legacy: I think it undoubtedly vaults him up. This did a lot for his legacy. It’s not just because he got a Finals MVP, it’s because there is really no way to discredit this ring, unlike his previous three.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s