Michael Jordan passed the torch to Kobe Bryant. The late Bryant passed the torch to LeBron James.
Any conversation about the greatest players in NBA history includes MJ, Kobe and LeBron among others, and James long has been considered the best and most influential player of the current generation.
But ESPN's Stephen A. Smith wants everyone to consider altering this thinking.
What if Warriors superstar Steph Curry, not LeBron, actually is this generation's greatest NBA icon? What if we should be comparing Curry to Jordan?
After all, Jordan changed the NBA in the 1980s and 1990s, and Curry, arguably the greatest shooter of all time, has stretched the limits of the court with his long-range shooting, leading to an entire generation of high school, college and NBA players taking shots from distances unheard of 10-plus years ago.
Stephen A. brought up this scenario on Friday.
"Know what I'm thinking about? I'm thinking about Steph and LeBron James," Stephen A. said. "For years, we've compared LeBron to Michael Jordan. Can LeBron equal or surpass Jordan's impact on the game? His rings. How will LeBron's legacy compare to Michael Jordan's? But maybe the question we should start asking is this: Has Steph Curry overtaken LeBron James as the basketball icon of this generation?
"Because look at it this way, as great as LeBron James is, and the man is a legend, don't get it wrong. He's on basketball's Mount Rushmore for crying out loud. But if Steph Curry and the Warriors win the title this season, Steph will have as many rings as LeBron James. He'll also be in position to win more rings than LeBron James on a Warriors team that is simply better than the Lakers. And in better position to compete for championships long-term. And if Steph has more rings and the all-time 3-point record?
"If he has changed the way basketball is played at every level with the rise of the long-range 3-point shooting, and he most definitely has, then maybe it's not LeBron's legacy we should be comparing to the GOAT, Michael Jordan. Maybe instead we should be discussing Steph Curry vs. Michael Jordan. Just something to think about."
Last week, Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who played with Jordan while on the Chicago Bulls, was asked about all the mesmerizing performances by Curry and if it has become harder to appreciate each individual game.
"I think Steph, in a lot of ways, is like Michael Jordan," Kerr told reporters after practice Tuesday. "There are so many moments that they just all blend together. They don't even stand out because that's just what you expect. And maybe that's the true sign of greatness."
"Every single night [fans] are going to see something special. And when you do something over and over and over again, it's harder for one particular night to stand out. It's become routine for him."
LeBron, in his 19th NBA season, turns 37 on Dec. 30 and will go down as one of the most decorated players in the history of the sport. His list of accomplishments and awards is as long as anyone's.
Curry won't be able to match LeBron's list of individual awards and accolades. But as Stephen A. points out, if the Warriors win the NBA title this season, Curry will match LeBron with four rings. And Curry, who turns 34 in March, has several MVP-level seasons left in him and could potentially win a fifth and maybe a sixth title before it's all said and done. If rings are a big part of the GOAT conversation and Curry wins more titles than LeBron, does that push the Warriors' star ahead of James?
While Curry isn't routinely mentioned among the top five or 10 greatest players in NBA history, his impact on the game could be felt for generations depending on how the sport trends over the next few decades. Right now, it doesn't appear the game will move away from the deep 3-point shots.
While LeBron has been a star attraction ever since he came into the league in 2003, Curry and the Warriors became a Bulls-type traveling show ever since the 2014-15 season when they blossomed into a dynasty and won the franchise's first title in 40 years. To this day, fans in opposing cities show up more than an hour before tip-off to watch Curry simply warm up before games.
The 2014-19 Warriors garnered so much attention that they drew comparisons to Jordan's Bulls teams that won six NBA titles in eight years.
The idea of considering Steph, not LeBron, as this generation's NBA icon might seem blasphemous, but Curry's impact on how the game is played can't be denied, so it's not overly outrageous to wonder if he has made the biggest impact over the last 10 years.