A Tale of Time: James versus Curry

Adam Kunin, Staff Writer

Throughout the history of sports, many icons have faced off to create unforgettable playoff moments. Whether it is Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson, Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo, Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning, or David Ortiz versus Derek Jeter rivalries have added depth and passion to the late stages of the playoffs.

However, perhaps no rivalry has had as much of an effect on their sport as much as the matchup between Stephen Curry and Lebron James. 

Despite both of them having illustrious careers on the court, the two have had vastly different rises to their respective positions in the basketball landscape.

James was the chosen one. A kid from Akron, Ohio, who was nothing like anyone had seen before. He could jump out of the gym, was as skilled as many NBA players and had physical attributes far beyond the kids his age of 18. News outlets such as ESPN broadcasted his games from packed high school gyms to allow fans from all over the country to watch his team, St. Vincent Saint Mary. James was aware of all of the attention and made sure to put on a show for NBA scouts to marvel at. 

“He’s so gifted it’s scary,” one 247 scout said. “As a scorer, his range extends to 3-point land. He’s a terrific passer and is quite unselfish. Simply put: his talents are on another level.”

As a senior in high school, James averaged 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game, declaring to forgo college and enter the NBA draft. 

With a miraculous twist of fate, James’ hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, won the NBA draft lottery to receive the first overall pick and elected to select the 18-year-old phenom to become the savior of the organization. 

From the moment James stepped on the court, there was pressure on him to succeed. Averaging 20.9 points, 5.9 assists and 5.5 rebounds, the rookie was able to live up to expectations, winning Rookie of the Year. 

On the other hand, Stephen Curry entered college as a three-star, undersized guard who was forced to commit to Davidson College after not receiving any substantial division one offers. Despite being the son of former NBA player Dell Curry, the guard did not receive much media attention in college. 

This would all change however after Curry led the small school of Davidson on a miraculous March Madness run. Curry would light up the scoreboard by raining down a barrage of three-point shots. He became a spectacle that fans across the country, including Lebron James himself, would come to see. 

After Davidson’s run came to an end in the Elite Eight, Curry would enter his name into the NBA Draft. Even though Curry was a scoring savant coming out of school, many scouts still had their doubts about the 21-year-old.

“Stephen’s explosiveness and athleticism are below standard,” one scout said. “Do not rely on him to run your team.”

With the seventh pick in the 2009 draft, the Golden State Warriors would take a chance on the guard, and take what would be the face of their franchise for many years to come. 

Curry’s transition into the league would not be easy, as he dealt with many ankle injuries to begin his career that would keep him off the court. There was much speculation of possible trades that could send Curry elsewhere, but the organization was committed to sticking with their pick. 

They would also pair him up with guard Klay Thompson forming the legendary duo of the Splash Brothers. The lethal backcourt would go on to create havoc, leading the Warriors to the finals to face James’ Cavaliers in 2015 behind an MVP season from Curry.

Meanwhile, James’ path to this final was anything but smooth. The superstar would leave the Cavaliers in 2010 to join the Miami Heat in a decision that was scrutinized by the media, fans and players. James would go on to win two championships in Miami before returning to the Cavaliers in 2014. 

In 2015 James would take the Cavaliers to the finals in a showdown that would be the first of many featuring James and Curry. In a series that went six games, the Warriors captured their first championship since 1975. 

This would only be the start of many heavyweight bouts to come as the two matched up again the following year in the NBA Finals. 

The Warriors were fresh off of an NBA record of 73-9 during the regular season, giving them the best record of all time, passing the previous record set by the Michael Jordan of the Bulls with 72-10 in the 1996 season. Additionally, Stephen Curry won a unanimous MVP, winning the award in back-to-back years after a historic campaign in which he averaged over 30 points per game. 

After a stellar regular season, the Warriors found themselves in trouble when they were down 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the Western Conference Finals. Behind strong play from Curry, the Warriors clawed back from the 3-1 deficit en route to their second straight NBA finals appearance.

On the other hand, James led the Cavaliers on a dominant run through the Eastern Conference on their way to another NBA Finals appearance.

This set the stage for another legendary series between the icons for the second year in a row. The Warriors took control of the series early, taking a commanding 3-1 lead back to Golden State for what seemed to be a close-out game. 

However, the Cavaliers battled to win game five in Oakland behind a 41-point performance by James. Then, they would win game six in Cleveland to set up the win or go home to game seven at Oracle Arena, the Warrior’s home court.

In what can only be described as one of the greatest games of all time, the Warriors took a close lead into the fourth quarter. 

Late in the fourth, James had the most iconic play of his career, chasing down the Warriors forward, Andre Iguodala, to block his shot and prevent the Warriors from recapturing the lead. A minute later, the Cavaliers guard, Kyrie Irving, sunk a fade-away three-pointer to secure the Cavalier’s win of 93-89 over Golden State. 

The win was a career-defining accomplishment for James, with him finally delivering on his promise to deliver a championship to the city of Cleveland which had been deprived of any major sports championship for 52 years. 

In an on-court interview after the game, James yelled the iconic line, “Cleveland this is for you!”

After losing in the championship, the Warriors would make a move that shocked the world by signing superstar Kevin Durant to pair up with the likes of Thompson and Curry.

The team would prove to be an unstoppable force, and the Warriors returned to play the Cavaliers in the finals for the third year in a row. This time Curry’s Warriors rolled over James’ Cavaliers defeating them in only five games. 

Miraculously, the teams met again the next year for the fourth year in a row, with the Warriors only needing four games to defeat James’ Cavaliers. 

At this point, both of these basketball titans had achieved hall of fame careers, but they were both still searching for another championship to cap off their illustrious careers. 

After their matchup in 2017, both experienced career altering events, with James signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, and Kevin Durant leaving Curry and the Warriors to sign with the Brooklyn Nets.

In 2020, James would return to the finals with his Laker’s squad who would go on to win the 17th championship for the organization. 

At 35 years old, James was able to capture his fourth championship, win his fourth finals MVP and complete a run of ten straight years where either James’ or Curry’s team played in the NBA Finals. 

The following year, Curry’s Warriors returned to the finals to play the Boston Celtics and captured his fourth championship behind a remarkable performance where he averaged over 31 points per game and won his first finals MVP. 

Now in 2023, the two matched up again in the playoffs, and although a championship may not be on the line, there is still a tremendous amount of weight on this series with this possibly being the last time these legends will square off against one another. 

Despite a herculean effort from Curry, it was not enough to prevent James and his Lakers from defeating the Warriors in six games behind a spectacular game six performance from James who had 30 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists. 

With this chapter of dominance possibly coming to a close, it is important to recognize the greatness that has been on display for an extended period. 

Curry will retire as the greatest shooter of all time, and James will go down as the all-time leading scorer, and one of the greatest if not the greatest basketball player of all time. 

The two have grown the game immensely through the ratings they have brought in nationally and globally. They each have their own shoe lines, with James working with Nike and Curry teaming with Under Armour to create basketball shoes for all generations to enjoy. 

On top of this, they have made immense contributions to improve their community. Curry and his wife, Ayesha, have their foundation, “Eat.Learn.Play” which has helped provide over 16 million meals to children and families in the Bay Area. James started his own school named “I Promise” to help educate underprivileged children in the Cleveland area.

It is abundantly clear that these two individuals have had a monumental impact on the game of basketball and the lives of many, but people must appreciate their greatness on the court before their historic careers come to an end.