Warriors

Why Steph Curry's return means just as much to NBA as it does Warriors

currysmileap.jpg
AP

Why Steph Curry's return means just as much to NBA as it does Warriors

The expectation is that Saturday will bring one giant lineup change for the Warriors, one massive boost for the NBA.

Stephen Curry's anticipated return after an 11-game absence with a groin injury immediately lifts the mood of the Warriors, who are coming off that rarest of nights inasmuch as they could walk out of Scotiabank Arena encouraged by their showing in a 131-128 loss at Toronto.

After an unsightly first quarter, the Warriors spent the next 41 minutes outplaying the deeper, healthier Raptors. They did so without Curry or, for that matter, Draymond Green.

So there will be a bit more air under their sneakers when Curry steps onto the court in Detroit. The Warriors without Curry are incomplete, not just because of his skills but mostly because they are built to accentuate them. He’s the hub around which they thrive.

Kevin Durant can be marvelous with or without Curry, but Klay Thompson and the rest of the Warriors rarely unveil the best of themselves unless Curry is on the court. The Warriors are 10-1 this season when Curry is available from start to finish, 5-7 when he is not.

Moreover, the joy factor exponentially increases when Curry is out there shooting and swishing and shimmying. The sight of this relatively ordinary specimen sending much bigger players into silent surrender is an intoxicant for the Warriors and their fans. Curry in many ways is their magic pill.

“Everything gets better,” coach Steve Kerr says. “Food tastes better, (reporters’) questions get better. We’ve been looking forward to getting him back.”

But Curry’s return is bigger than that. He’s also a tonic for the league.

In these three weeks without the two-time MVP, three players posted games of more than 50 points. Durant hung 51 on Toronto two days ago, and LeBron James scored 51 in a Lakers win at Miami 10 days before that, which was one day before Charlotte’s Kemba Walker poured in 60 in a loss to Philadelphia.

Each did his work with the cool, composed proficiency of a surgeon. Which is fine. That’s what most stars do.

Curry is different. Each time he goes off, his response is an animated glee that’s almost childlike. He is that most human of superstars, which is why the vast majority of fans ages 6 to 96, casual or committed, can find themselves charmed to full grin by his performances.

No NBA athlete has a larger contingent of fans at every arena, lining up 20- and 30-deep hoping for a glimpse, if not an autograph. This crazy popularity is why his jersey sales consistently rank No. 1, why he was voted to be the captain of the Western Conference All-Star team and why 9-year-old girls feel comfortable enough to write letters asking for his help -- and actually get it.

Many great athletes are respected and admired, their performances savored, but who besides Curry is so irresistibly enjoyed?

[RELATED: Where the Warriors sit in the NBA power rankings]

Sports history is rich with stories of athletes who pass our way, dynamic performers wrapped in magnetism unique to them. Some 21st-century standouts, like golf’s Tiger Woods, endure. Others, like MLB’s Dontrelle Willis and Tim Lincecum, do not. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the NFL’s man of the moment, is bringing a lot of this energy in his first season as a starter.

Curry, though, is that time-tested comet that keeps coming back, game after game, year after year, providing more “wow” moments, each time as thrilling if not more than the time before.

Sure, the Warriors want him back because he greatly increases their chances of winning basketball games. Curry puts a smile on the faces of Kerr and general manager Bob Myers, as well as their assistants, and teammates from Durant to rookie Jacob Evans III.

But Curry makes them dance in the NBA’s New York offices. He’ll be on the court Saturday, so commissioner Adam Silver should sleep well. The league is going back to its happy place.

How Kobe Bryant, Brian Shaw built enduring three-decade relationship

How Kobe Bryant, Brian Shaw built enduring three-decade relationship

To know their back story is to understand why even now, a full day after receiving the awful news and for the foreseeable future, Brian Shaw grapples with the loss of Kobe Bryant.

“I might have known him longer than anybody else still involved in the NBA,” Shaw told NBC Sports Bay Area on Monday, 27 hours after Kobe, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others perished in a helicopter crash in Southern California.

“He was a special, special player,” Shaw added. “And not many people got to have the access to him that I had over such a long period of time, from a young boy to a young man, to a mature man.”

The Shaw-Bryant relationship began after Shaw’s rookie year with the Celtics. Though he was Boston’s first-round draft pick in 1988 and started 54 games, salary-cap restrictions limited his salary to the league minimum $75,000. So, he signed a contract with Messaggero Roma of the Italian League, where Joe Bryant, Kobe’s father, played for Reggio Emilia.

Kobe was 10 years old and Shaw remembers him as a “little gym rat,” always dribbling and shooting as teams were warming up. Shaw spent one year in Italy, returned to the Celtics, with whom he played one more year and part of another before being dealt to Miami.

Upon becoming an unrestricted free agent in 1994, Shaw signed with Orlando. A few months later, when the Magic were playing the 76ers – the Bryants had moved back Philadelphia – Kobe, then a junior at suburban Lower Merion High School, made a prediction.

“He said to me, ‘I’m going to be playing with you after my senior year of high school,’” Shaw recalled. “He said, ‘I was thinking about maybe forgoing my senior year of high school and coming to play after this year.’ I just kind of laughed. I hadn’t seen him since he was a little kid, and now he was about the same height as I was.

“But I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. OK. Sure. Whatever.’ I just laughed it off.”

Kobe remained at Lower Merion for his senior season, during which he and Shaw crossed paths again. It was during the NBA playoffs and Joe Bryant took his son to Orlando to meet Penny Hardaway, one of Kobe’s favorite players. By then, with Kobe collecting numerous national awards, Shaw was becoming a believer.

Not long after, Kobe was standing before dozens of cameras and microphones announcing his decision to skip college and declare for the NBA draft. He was the sixth prep – and first guard – to completely bypass college for the pros.

“I instantly remembered what he had said,” Shaw said.

Selected by the Charlotte Hornets and immediately traded to the Lakers in a prearranged deal, Bryant didn’t play much as a rookie but cracked the rotation in his second season. Shaw, who had moved on to the Warriors, began to see the development of a legend.

“We were playing at The Forum,” he recalled. “Looking down the court, a bunch of guys were playing. They had one of the Cotton brothers, I think it was Schea, on the team. Mario Bennett, who went to Arizona State, was there. There were maybe five guys playing o

ne-on-one, King of the Court, where you beat somebody, keep the ball, and the next person would try and beat you. And Kobe was just going through the line killing guys. All of them.

“I was at the other end, warming up and watching but I was thinking, ‘Damn, he can really play.’ But he wasn’t playing much because they had Eddie Jones, who was damn good at that time.”

Two years later, in October 1999, Shaw signed a free-agent contract with the Lakers, for which he can thank Kobe.

Though Shaw had impressed during a couple summer workouts for the Lakers, he was informed by new coach Phil Jackson that the team had no guaranteed contracts available. Shaw returned home to Oakland, stayed in shape and waited for a call from any team that might be interested.

The Lakers opened camp and shortly afterward and in the preseason opener in Jacksonville, Kobe sustained a hand injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the preseason and the first two weeks of the regular season. Within hours, Jackson phoned Shaw and invited him to join the Lakers.

“He said, ‘We fly back tomorrow. Meet us at the facility at LA Southwest College to take a physical and get the paperwork done,” Shaw recalled. “He also said, ‘You have eight weeks to make me cut somebody with a guaranteed contract.’”

[RELATED: Bob Myers reflects on 'warrior' Kobe Bryant]

Shaw played well. When Kobe was ready to return in November, Jackson kept his word, waiving Sam Jacobson, the team’s 1998 first-round draft pick.

Ten years after meeting, Shaw and Bryant were teammates. The bond was strengthened over the years, as Shaw transitioned from player to assistant coach on Jackson’s staff.

“I met him when he was a little boy,” Shaw said. "I knew him in high school. I played against him. I played with him. I coached him. And we continued the relationship all the way up until now.”

Bob Myers tells hilarious story of playing H-O-R-S-E with Kobe Bryant

Bob Myers tells hilarious story of playing H-O-R-S-E with Kobe Bryant

Before he joined the Warriors as assistant general manager in April 2011, Bob Myers served as an NBA player agent.

He worked for the legendary Arn Tellem, who was Kobe Bryant's first agent. So naturally, Myers crossed paths with Kobe quite often in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And during a radio appearance Monday morning on 95.7 The Game, Myers shared the following story about the NBA legend who tragically died Sunday morning in a helicopter crash.

"This guy embodied the antithesis of load management. He would play when he shouldn't have played. He would play against doctor's orders. We were doing a commercial -- I didn't have any money then -- he was with Adidas then. He was doing an Adidas commercial and he said, 'Do you want to be an extra on a commercial?'

"I said, 'All right, fine.' So I went there and we were playing H-O-R-S-E. And on these commercial shoots, it's thousands of dollars every time a second (is wasted) because they're paying the crew. I was winning -- I had him H-O-R-S. They had this crane set up where he was gonna be in the air dunking, and they were waiting for him.

"So the director said, 'Kobe, we're ready.' And he said, 'No, no. I got to finish this game.' And I looked at him and I said, 'You got to go do your commercial, man. It's fine, I won. I won this game.' He goes, 'No, no, no. We're finishing the H-O-R-S-E game.' 

"Then the director and hundreds of people are looking at me going, 'You got to stop him.' I said, 'What do you guys want me to do?' I said, 'Fine, I won't play.' Kobe said, 'No, you got to finish.' Of course he comes back and beats me.

"That's who he was. He competed."

[RELATEDDraymond issues emotional message regarding Kobe's death]

What a great story. But we aren't supposed to be hearing about these types of memories right now. Kobe is supposed to be with us still.

Life just isn't fair.

Follow @DrewShiller on Twitter and Instagram