EVERY SO OFTEN the basketball gods open the door to the Zone. There is no telling who will be granted access and how long he will be allowed to stay. Great shooters can remain for a quarter, a half, even an entire game. The best ones may take up residence for a week. A few immortal marksmen have been known to move in for a month.
Warriors point guard Steph Curry has lived in this exclusive fun house all year. He was there when he splashed a record 286 three-pointers last season and a record 98 in the playoffs, 40 more than the previous mark. He was there when he sank the tying corner three with his eyes closed in Game 3 of the first round against New Orleans, while getting knocked down by two Pelicans. He was there when he delivered a heartfelt MVP speech, as his family wept, and when he conducted a hilarious press conference as his daughter jeered. He was there when he drained the double-crossover step-back three against Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova in the Finals. And he was there when he smoked that sweet victory cigar on a downtown Cleveland street corner at 4 a.m.
Police officers that June morning asked Curry if he wanted them to shield him from passersby. They must not have noticed that he was surrounded by his own force field. No one could touch him—not Anthony Davis, not James Harden, not LeBron James, all vanquished with a velvety flick of the wrist, en route to Golden State's first championship in 40 years. Rookie coach Steve Kerr was a genius. Two-year-old Riley Curry was a celebrity. The Warriors won more games last season, playoffs included, than any team that did not employ Michael Jordan ever has. All this was made possible because Steph never left the Zone.
It is tempting to suggest that Curry rode a 12-month hot streak, as if he will eventually regress to some imaginary mean. But Curry has moved the mean. The streak is not stopping. Curry is the rare player—the only player?—who doesn't need an invitation from the gods. He owns the Zone. That much became clear this fall, when Curry returned from a four-month cooling-off period and scored 40 points against the Pelicans on opening night, then 53 against them four days later. This isn't a streak. This is the 2015 Sportsman of the Year, with a head start on 2016 as well.
November 30, 2015
Curry's appeal stretches beyond his limitless range and uncanny accuracy. He is polished but not manufactured, devout but not overbearing, outgoing but not annoying. He doesn't look all that different from the 27-year-old unleashing fadeaways at the park. He doesn't act all that different from the young father lip-synching Frozen songs in the house. He actually did that, with wife Ayesha, and they posted the video on Instagram. Yes, the flamethrower who incinerates the NBA also reprises Prince Hans in "Love Is an Open Door."
The quality that distinguishes him, beyond sublime hand-eye coordination, is brimming confidence. He'll pull up from 25 feet when he has a two-on-one fast break. He'll let fly when a 7-footer is in his jersey. He'll dribble circles around three defenders and then thread a no-look pass. He makes the plays that others imagine but don't dare try. He is a showman and a winner, a joy to watch and a terror to guard, the best reason in modern sports to buy a ticket.
Curry floats around the perimeter, teasing opponents with jukes and fakes. He is searching for space—just enough to kick those Under Armours and flick those wrists. There is an inevitability to his game, an overriding sense that he will find the space, he will make the shot, he will point to the sky, he will stay in the Zone.
For the next two weeks THE CASE FOR ... will feature a Sportsman of the Year candidate. Find more nominees at SI.com/sportsman
He is a showman and a winner, a joy to watch and a terror to guard, the best reason in modern sports to buy a ticket.