For four straight years, Steph Curry and LeBron James battled at the highest level, with the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers facing off in the NBA Finals from 2015-2018.
Those duels saw the two basketball legends go at each other relentlessly. One of the lasting images from the Cavs' 2016 NBA Finals comeback was when James blocked Curry's layup attempt late in Game 6 and let him hear about it afterward. Then, there was the back-and-forth in the waning minutes of Game 1 of the 2018 Finals when James goaltended a Curry layup attempt out of frustration leading to a brief trash-talking bout in which James can be seen telling Curry to "get out of his face."
Despite their intense on-court rivalry, the Warriors great and the now-Los Angeles Lakers star have nothing but respect for one another.
“Respect is always there,” Curry said after the Warriors were blown out by James' Lakers on Monday at Chase Center. “You have a situation where it’s not just me and him (LeBron James). It’s obviously teams going at each other and you're competing year after year after year, and you get to see up close and personal greatness, and I think he will say the same thing.”
The respect is there. No doubt. That was made fully clear over All-Star weekend when James and Curry played as teammates for the first time and clearly enjoyed the experience.
Curry admits he and James had their issues during those Finals showdowns. That's only natural. For Curry and the Warriors, the focus is on getting back to the level to compete with James for titles once again.
“There’s obviously a lot of pettiness and competitiveness, trash-talking and all that type of stuff that went on during those runs, but that's the fun of it all,” Curry said. “Like you said, the respect level is always there, and the appreciation of competition at that level. Obviously, the goal now is to get back there.”
James' arrival in the Western Conference was expected to lead to many more high-intensity bouts with Curry and the Warriors. But that hasn't been the case.
During James' first season in LA, he strained his groin during the Lakers' Christmas Day win over the Warriors and didn't face them again that season. Last year, Curry missed both matchups with a broken hand as the Warriors sunk to the bottom of the NBA. This season, with Klay Thompson rehabbing a torn Achilles, the Warriors have gone 1-2 against the Lakers, suffering two blowout losses in the past 16 days.
While Curry and the Warriors' up-and-down season drags on, James and the Lakers are locked in on their bid to repeat as NBA champions.
Perhaps when Thompson returns next season the Warriors will be able to give the Lakers more of a fight than they did this season. The NBA world would love nothing more than to get another Curry-James duel with everything on the line.