December 12, 2015

LIVING IN THE ZONE:

Days of Wine and Curry (Rowan Ricardo Phillips, 12/11/15, Paris Review)

When you watch Steph Curry play these days, it's pretty obvious that he's feeling good. If you played basketball growing up, you learn the importance of follow-through when you shoot: forming the gooseneck, waving good-bye to the ball, reaching into the far off hoop like it's a cookie jar--think Michael Jordan's last shot as a Bull. Curry's way, and I mean way, past that. He's to the point where he's putting the ball up like he's getting rid of a bomb. He sometimes looks like he's just throwing the ball up. Then there are the finger rolls, scoop shots and teardrops with either hand. He's rising up from twenty-five feet out and skedaddling back to the other end of the court as soon as the ball leaves his hand. And I wasn't trying to dig into the word-crate when I wrote skedaddle: it's the only word that captures what he does as soon as the ball leaves his hand. You can't give him any space at all to shoot, but if you don't give him any space to shoot he'll absolutely embarrass you off the bounce ... no matter who you are. He's given up on simply blowing past defenders who crowd him--he likes to lead them quick around the court in small figure eights, giving them the impression that they're sticking with him until the rug gets pulled out from under them. The guy is beyond on fire. He's gone full on Super Saiyan.

The NBA is league of peacocking strutters with their signature celebrations for when a shot goes in. Curry is no stranger to celebration, but his looks unintended, as if some other body has taken over his own, which is exactly what happens when you're feeling good on the court. You become muscle memory from head to toe. It barely lasts. You feel like you can't miss, and this is where the infamous "heat check" comes in. You can't miss. So you start taking shots you know should miss. You test the limits of being hot, of feeling good. Twenty-five feet out. Thirty feet out. Without looking at the rim. Quick-firing after dribbling between the legs four times. The heat check. The search for the end of the streak. No one really wants to be hot forever.

Steph Curry, at the moment, is on an endless heat check. Somewhere within the euphoria of his feats is a trace of sadness. He's in a strange quantum all his own, where time and space barely obtain. Any shooter can tell you, things aren't supposed to be this way. Not for the pros. Jimmer Fredette played like Steph Curry in college just a few years ago and he isn't even in the NBA. Plenty of players have been Steph Curry in a high school game or messing around at Rucker Park. But shooters always get found out, always emerge as types: the spot shooter who waits for an opening, the gunner who comes off the bench for an offensive spark, the pick-and-roll point guard who knows just when to let his deadly shot fly, the blacktop legend who just couldn't break through. These limits define the game--and shooters, especially, are supposed to be bound by the ruthlessness of space-time. But Curry has decided to ignore it all. It's not that he's breaking the system, it's that he's a broken system. You can see it in how he loosens his neck and shoulders constantly, how he chews on his mouth guard, the mellow glaze in his gaze during a stoppage of play. It's as though he's missing something. You know how he feels. You don't know how he feels. I know how you feel.


A Sense of Where You Are (JOHN MCPHEE, 1/23/65, The New Yorker)

Bradley is one of the few basketball players who have ever been appreciatively cheered by a disinterested away-from-home crowd while warming up. This curious event occurred last March, just before Princeton eliminated the Virginia Military Institute, the year's Southern Conference champion, from the N.C.A.A. championships. The game was played in Philadelphia and was the last of a tripleheader. The people there were worn out, because most of them were emotionally committed to either Villanova or Temple--two local teams that had just been involved in enervating battles with Providence and Connecticut, respectively, scrambling for a chance at the rest of the country. A group of Princeton boys shooting basketballs miscellaneously in preparation for still another game hardly promised to be a high point of the evening, but Bradley, whose routine in the warmup time is a gradual crescendo of activity, is more interesting to watch before a game than most players are in play. In Philadelphia that night, what he did was, for him, anything but unusual. As he does before all games, he began by shooting set shots close to the basket, gradually moving back until he was shooting long sets from twenty feet out, and nearly all of them dropped into the net with an almost mechanical rhythm of accuracy. Then he began a series of expandingly difficult jump shots, and one jumper after another went cleanly through the basket with so few exceptions that the crowd began to murmur. Then he started to perform whirling reverse moves before another cadence of almost steadily accurate jump shots, and the murmur increased. Then he began to sweep hook shots into the air. He moved in a semicircle around the court. First with his right hand, then with his left, he tried seven of these long, graceful shots--the most difficult ones in the orthodoxy of basketball--and ambidextrously made them all. The game had not even begun, but the presumably unimpressible Philadelphians were applauding like an audience at an opera.

Posted by at December 12, 2015 11:43 AM

  

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