Seriously? How much room does he need? Despite dropping Game One to OKC in the Conference Finals last night, it’s impossible to ignore Stephen Curry’s amazing return from a sprained knee that cost him four games in the playoffs and the miraculous contribution he made to clinch the Warriors’ series-clinching win in Game 5 against Portland. One look at the play made by the back-to-back MVP in the final seconds of that game, similar to the amazing shot he hit at the end of last night’s game, is all you need to understand what makes Curry so special:
It’s not simply that he is so skilled as a ball-handler to create his own shots, as a cutter to get open and get shots, or as a master technician to make shots, it’s that he does it under the most extreme forms of pressure. And whether we play basketball or not, staying true to who we are and being able to perform under stress and pressure is an attribute we should all desire to find.
BASKETBALL – Beyond Great
Even though he amazes night in and night out, Curry has his critics and doubters. There are those who think he has set an unreachable standard for young players developing in the game, hampering the development of other fundamental skills. There are others, like an acquaintance of mine, who think he’s arrogant and self-glorifying. And others, who think he’s reckless.
I don’t buy into any of that and I realize that critics will always lurk in every corner, but as I watch Curry – how he plays, how he prepares, and how he appears to handle fame off the court, I see important elements that are helpful to young players in not just becoming a great shooter, but in becoming a clutch shooter and an almost impossible shooter to defend. The internet is full of Curry highlights, but I encourage you to take the time to watch a compilation of all of his record-setting 402 three’s made in 2015-16 or at least these highlights.
By watching them in succession, I see three factors that have led to his ascension as the greatest shooter in the modern game:
- He’s Fearless: Like his teammate Klay Thompson, Curry will shoot at any time, against taller defenders, and with the game in the balance. He has no fear of failing.
- He’s Confident: Curry expects shots to go in. It’s not arrogance as some would suggest. Its confidence through preparation – during the offseason, before games, and even in his footwork before he shoots.
- He Optimizes: Curry is constantly probing and cutting, looking for his shot and when he catches the ball, all he needs is a sliver of space to get his shot off. When he doesn’t have space, he’ll dribble and fake to get just enough room, against any defender.
FAITH – Real Pressure
For the past few weeks, I’ve been drawn to learning more about the early church. As the modern church recently celebrated Pentecost where we focus on the Spirit of God being displayed through the followers of Jesus (start with Acts 2, but take the time to read the entire book and when you can, dig more into the history books to learn from those early Christians), their example is so relevant to the growing uncertainty and pressure developing all around us in the modern world.
In a terrific sermon series called Tough As Nails, one of my favorite preachers, Andy Stanley, provides an in-depth look at Christians in the early church – you know, the ones who didn’t have a physical church to go to on Sundays, didn’t have high-tech worship services, and honestly, didn’t even have the New Testament because it hadn’t been written. And living in the middle of a pagan culture, they thrived in their faith despite constant persecution from the ruling government of Rome. Yet, those early Christians thrived under pressure. With a sermon here and act of kindness there, they multiplied and grew their numbers at a mind-boggling rate, despite a society and a multitude of cultures that wanted nothing to do with a God that. To me those Christians set an example that is similar to Steph Curry.
The church grew and more people came to know Jesus in staggering numbers because those early Christians were more than just believers. With the help of the Holy Spirit, they were fearless in the face of persecution, they were confident to preach the Gospel through their conversations with those who had actually been with Jesus, and they optimized every opportunity to spread God’s love. And talk about pressure! As the church grew, the persecution and torture rose to a fever pitch under the emperor Nero and continued throughout the Middle Ages into today. I stand in amazement as I read and investigate the martyrs of our faith in the past and in our world today.
LIFE – Fearless
In 2015, a record number of Christians throughout the world, over 7,000, were killed because of their Christian faith and over 2,400 churches were destroyed. The persecution of Christians that began in the first century continues today. We grow numb to all of the news stories, but Christians are being horrifically murdered in the Middle East, terrorists are on the march in Europe and even within the U.S. the persecution of our faith is growing through powerful decisions being made in government and within our society. You cannot and will not be able to escape it. Are you prepared? Are you willing to live your life with the same conviction as those Christians hunted down by Nero?
Thankfully, God is still at work and if you live as a Christian in today’s world, He doesn’t expect us to withdraw from society or sit comfortably in our secluded churches. Like Curry as a pressure shooter, we can be fearless in sharing the Gospel and living by God’s standards, we can gain confidence through the preparation that comes from regular worship, fellowship, and Bible study, and we can optimize our witness by always looking for ways to serve and inspire others. And for more examples of the growing persecution Christians will face, check out this newsletter from my good friend, Brad Alles.