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‘He’s Mr. Warrior’ – What three all-time greats are saying about Steph Curry’s latest feat

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Even Stephen Curry can’t believe he’s on the verge of surpassing a record held by the great Wilt Chamberlain.

“That’s surreal to be honest,” Curry said after a loss to the Atlanta Hawks last week, after which he sat 129 points behind the Warriors’ all-time lead.

“[Chamberlain has] got a lot of buckets. Obviously he’s a legend and remains [one] across the whole league, but obviously wearing a Warriors uniform and having been here my whole career, it’s pretty crazy. So I got a couple more points to score — hopefully some more wins in the process — but it is just a wild thought in general.

“To know where it started out and all that’s happened over the course of my career … that is a pretty significant milestone.”

At 33, Curry is in the midst of the type of special relationship with one team and one region that few of today’s players can match. As Curry now sits 18 points behind Chamberlain ahead of tonight’s matchup with the Denver Nuggets (10 p.m. ET on ESPN), we caught up with three all-time greats from three different eras, who all understand the responsibility that comes with being the face of an organization for an entire career: Dirk Nowitzki, Reggie Miller and Jerry West.

Passing Chamberlain will only solidify what the organization has known for years.

“Look,” Miller said of Curry. “He is Mr. Warrior. He’s Mr. Warrior.”


Editor’s note: These responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Steph is 18 points behind Wilt for No. 1 on the Warriors’ all-time scoring list. How do you think Curry has changed the game most?

Nowitzki (21 seasons in Dallas; Mavericks’ all-time leading scorer): Just to make it cool to pull up from anywhere when you cross half court. He’s the first guy to start shooting those deep 3s. Now everybody pulls up from the logo easily, but Steph was kind of the first guy, especially out of the dribble, and he just comes down in the middle of the game, shot clock wasn’t running down, and he would launch one. At the time it was like, “What is this guy doing?” He was super consistent with it and people are now obviously copying that and starting to shoot from deeper.

I’ve told these stories, when I was watching him in those playoff runs and the building there was rocking, he’d come across half court and I’m yelling at the TV, “Shoot the ball! Like, what are you waiting on?” I’m fired up. He’s one of my favorite players to watch. He’s definitely changed the game from a shooting perspective.

West (14 seasons in Los Angeles; Lakers’ No. 2 all-time leading scorer): I can go back and check the first year with the Lakers when the 3-point line came in, and what did they shoot, maybe 200? Maybe not even that many. Curry just mastered the art of this game, through his hard work, his determination, and again, I think that’s who he is. Having spent time around him, he works at it. His craft is very important to him and I don’t think he gets old — when players get to the point where they have to retire. I don’t think he gets as old because he doesn’t rely on enormous jumping and power, he relies on finesse, which is a huge part of his game.

Miller (18 seasons in Indiana; Pacers’ all-time leading scorer): He’s a lot like Wilt and Shaq and Jordan, Iverson. They changed things. They changed how the game is perceived and played.

Steph has amassed his points total much further away from the basket than Wilt did. Is Curry the best shooter of all time?

Miller: He is. He is … I always thought Drazen Petrovic was — because we played the same position, and I had to see it up close, I thought he was the greatest shooter that I had ever seen up close, but Steph has just taken shooting to a different level.

Here’s the thing with most shooters — they are like closers in Major League Baseball. We are all egotistical and we all believe we are the best. So if you ask Larry Bird, if you ask Dirk, if you ask Jerry West, Peja, you ask Craig Hodges, Steve Kerr — In their day, they will tell you, “I’d go toe to toe with Steph.” That’s how we are. We’re like closers. Give me the ball in the ninth and shut up and I’ll get them out. That’s how we are. We all feel that we’re Mariano Rivera.

Nowitzki: Over the history of the league there have been some amazing shooters, but he’s definitely got the quick release, he’s got the high arc. He’s got the deep range. He can catch and shoot, but he’s also the best shooter off the dribble — so if not the best, he’s definitely up there with the best of them. Off the dribble to me he’s the best; catch and shoot we’ve seen some great shooters in our league, but all together I think you’d probably have to put him as No. 1.

West: I think to this point in time, yes. But you must remember he is creating another group of shooters that are going to try and emulate him. Will they work as hard? Will they be as creative with their dribble? Will they be able to finish shots around the basket? People just talk about his ability to make shot after shot after shot — that’s remarkable in itself. But to me, maybe the most remarkable thing at all is how he shoots shots from everywhere.


Curry has become synonymous with the Bay Area. What did it mean to you to play your entire career with one franchise?

Miller: It’s the best feeling having kids that weren’t born [when I played] walking through the airport or walking downtown Indiana and they have your jersey on. Because they weren’t alive to see you play. Where they’re getting their information from is their parents who were young kids coming to watch you perform, and we laughed and we cried together. That’s the relationship, that’s what it means to me. Does it burn me that I never won a championship in Indiana? Yes. But I will take the love of those fans and those kids over any championship because that is just as everlasting as that proverbial ring — the relationship I have with those fans. It’s just unbelievable in Indiana.

Nowitzki: Now people are like, “Dirk who? It’s all about Luka.” No, it’s awesome. Of course it comes with some responsibility, it comes with a little pressure too. Everybody knows if the end of the game is coming, you know where the ball is going at the end. It’s fun, it’s a challenge, but it’s also some pressure. In our position — trying to chase a championship for a little while, and obviously Steph has already been there, done that, and won multiple — we wanted to give that first championship to this city; they’ve never had a basketball championship here. It was a lot of pressure. And I would say in ’06, I didn’t handle the pressure well and I wasn’t at my best. I always remembered that, that always pushed me forward to come through for this team and for the city. So it’s super fun, it’s an honor that people would say, “Dallas Mavericks, that’s Dirk.” That is super, super special, but of course it comes with some responsibilities, some pressure.

West: For me, it meant everything. But I can’t say I would not have relished an opportunity to be a free agent really to find out what you’re worth to a franchise was or if it’s the same value you play with for so long. So it’s very unique that players spend their whole careers with franchises today because if you’re in a smaller market and you’re a really good player, agents today want to move them to bigger markets so they can exploit their names in terms of commercially and make a lot more money for their player. So when you get a franchise that is well run, well respected, at one time players would stay there forever. But today, it’s just amazing that [Curry’s] run has been a long time and I’m assuming it will continue until he ends his career.

Was there ever a point you felt like you might leave? Any superstar pitches to join forces?

Miller: No. And if Michael Jordan ever would have called me and tried to sway me to come to Chicago, I would have told him to go f— himself! “I’ll be coming to see you on I-65 or whatever that highway is there. I’ll be down to see you.”

I never came close to going anywhere else. Contemplating, or other teams sniffing around, like the Knicks, possibly. I already had a storied history against them, right? I couldn’t go there. And if there was ever a place I would have wanted to have gone, it would have been to come back home and play for my hometown Lakers, and my mentors being Magic, Byron [Scott] and Michael Cooper. So there weren’t a lot of options, which was good for me. In today’s game some of these guys get like six or seven teams, which is incredible. I personally did not have that.

Nowitzki: The first time I really was a free agent I think was in 2010, right before we won the championship. I remember I was in town and I went over to Mark [Cuban’s] house. It was just me and Mark sitting there and I’m like, “What are we doing?” He’s like, “We’re going to keep plugging.” We were so close a couple years and so we were both kind of getting emotional about the stuff we’ve been through and it was just such a great conversation. And I said, “Listen, we’ll try four more years,” and then it was obviously super lucky that the first year out of that four-year deal I signed, we ended up winning the championship and obviously made it all worth it. But that was really the first discussion of a contract that I ever had.

I never really got many pitches because everybody knew I kind of loved Dallas and I wanted this to work. I remember Kobe Bryant one year reached out to me, it was obviously an honor. I think this was after I won the championship and my four-year deal was done. Kobe was still doing his thing in L.A. We talked, we texted back and forth, but I told him, “Listen, I’m sorry and you know how it is. Dallas is my city and my home and it would feel super weird to put a different uniform on.” And I think he totally understood that; I think he respected me more after that.

West: Well, there’s one time that I really did want to leave, for sure. Looking back at that one particular era where an owner didn’t appreciate me and chose to sell me something that wasn’t true was not only hurtful, but more importantly made me angry. And so I did not want to play for this team, simply because of this owner.

And I loved Los Angeles. I loved the weather, the fans, here in this city you could be very anonymous because I wasn’t a guy that hung out, and so that was pretty much me. But for sure I would have left. Today, you have agents to protect your rights and also to represent you in an honorable fashion, which at one time that wasn’t the case.


Curry is in Year 12 with the Warriors. Is staying in one city for an entire career a declining trend in the NBA?

Note: Curry is the league’s second-longest-tenured player with one team, behind only Miami’s Udonis Haslem.

Nowitzki: For me, I was prepared to live with the fact that I wasn’t going to win a title. One of my big idols is Charles Barkley. I loved him — that’s why actually in Europe I had No. 14 because he wore No. 14 in the Olympics in Barcelona. And I never have looked at him lesser because he didn’t win a championship. He just happened to run into Michael Jordan all the time. Of course that’s always in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, “Man, what if? What if I would have done that?” But I’m just glad it worked out in Dallas. I really am. And I didn’t have to think about ever leaving this place.

West: Winning and winning with hopefully the same guys every year, there’s something about that that’s really appealing to me, personally. If you develop a player that has an iconic name or the respect in your franchise [and they leave], there’s such tremendous damage not only to the franchise, but I think more importantly to the people and kids who idolize these players. All of a sudden they’re gone and you just say to yourself, “Oh my gosh.”

Miller: So it goes better for [Nowitzki and West], because not only do they have the loyalty and the fan base, but they rewarded that franchise with the ultimate prize, which I did not. So that’s what pains me: As much as I wanted to reward Indiana, I failed in that venture to win a championship. Which is why we’re talking about all this — it’s jewelry over loyalty.

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Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley to miss Game 2 vs. LA Clippers

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Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley has been ruled out of Thursday’s Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the LA Clippers due to a mild strain of his right hamstring.

Conley, who also missed Game 1, suffered the injury during the first half of Utah’s series-ending win over the Memphis Grizzlies last Wednesday.

Conley, 33, an All-Star for the first time this season, has missed significant time because of injuries to both hamstrings during his two seasons in Utah. He missed six games in February and nine games in late April and May due to tightness in his right hamstring.

Conley averaged 17.4 points and 8.6 assists for the top-seeded Jazz in the first round.

ESPN’s Tim MacMahon contributed to this report.

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USA Basketball sets plan for Olympic camps in Las Vegas

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For USA Basketball, the last stop before the Tokyo Olympics will be Las Vegas.

The men’s and women’s national teams will hold training camps in Las Vegas in July, they announced Thursday, and they’ll be playing seven exhibitions there against other Olympics-bound national teams as well.

USA Basketball will open its men’s training camp, led by coach Gregg Popovich, in Las Vegas on July 6. The Olympic men’s teams from Australia, Nigeria, Argentina and reigning Basketball World Cup champion Spain will also be spending some time in Las Vegas; Argentina will start its training camp there this month.

The U.S. women’s training camp under coach Dawn Staley will likely open around July 12; the WNBA break for the Olympics starts after the games of July 11. The Olympic women’s teams joining the U.S. in Las Vegas are Australia and Nigeria.

It’ll all take place at the MGM Resorts, which was announced as USA Basketball’s training camp home and resorts partner with the sides having now agreed to a multi-year sponsorship deal.

“USA Basketball is proud to expand its partnership with MGM Resorts,” USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley said. “We’re excited to bring our national teams to their properties as we prepare for the challenging competition that lies ahead this summer.”

The U.S. men are seeking a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal, the U.S. women their seventh in a row. Both will enter the Olympics ranked No. 1 by FIBA, the sport’s international governing body — though it remains unknown who the Americans will have on their rosters for the rescheduled Tokyo Games.

Those rosters could be set by the end of June. Some top NBA players such as Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Kawhi Leonard of the LA Clippers and Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers have expressed some interest in being part of the Olympic team; others, such as LeBron James and Anthony DavisLos Angeles Lakers teammates who were dealing with injuries when their season ended last week — are not planning to join the team.

All teams in Las Vegas will be taking part in what USA Basketball described as “comprehensive health and safety protocols … including mandatory and regular COVID-19 PCR testing, administered to athletes, coaches, officials and staff in accordance with FIBA and USA Basketball recommendations and CDC guidelines.”

Those concerns are why the international teams opted to spend time in Las Vegas. Argentina’s men’s team is conducting the entirety of its three-week camp there before flying to Tokyo, simply because it believes a controlled environment and less traveling between different countries will minimize virus-related risks before the Olympics.

“We were lucky and, at the same time, we deserved it to get an organization like USA Basketball to extend this invitation to us,” Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said. “In such a complicated context it doesn’t get better than this.”

The games are set up as part of five doubleheaders, and fans will be able to attend the matchups at MGM’s Michelob Ultra Arena. Tickets go on sale next week.

GAME SCHEDULE

July 10 — U.S. men vs. Nigeria, Argentina vs. Australia

July 12 — Argentina vs. Nigeria, U.S. men vs. Australia

July 13 — U.S. men vs. Argentina, Australia vs. Nigeria

July 16 — U.S. women vs. Australia, U.S. men vs. Australia

July 18 — U.S. women vs. Nigeria, U.S. men vs. Spain

PREQUELS

The Nigeria-U.S. women’s game will be a prequel to the teams’ Olympic meeting on July 27 in Tokyo, the first game there for both of those teams. Nigeria and the U.S. are both in Group B at the Olympics, along with Japan and France.

The Australia-Nigeria men’s game is also the warmup for an Olympics-opening matchup. They’ll play in a Group B game on July 25.

The men’s teams from Spain and Argentina — the teams that played in the World Cup final at Beijing in 2019 — are both in Group C for the Olympics. They’ll both spend some time in Las Vegas but are not scheduled to face off there before flying to Japan.

FIBA RANKINGS

Las Vegas will see the top four men’s teams in the FIBA rankings there for the exhibitions: The U.S. is No. 1, Spain No. 2, Australia No. 3 and Argentina No. 4. Nigeria is ranked No. 22.

The U.S. women also hold the No. 1 FIBA ranking, and their July 16 opponent Australia is ranked No. 2 in the world. Nigeria’s women are ranked No. 17.

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Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul ‘makes it look normal’ after notching 15 assists, zero turnovers in win vs. Denver Nuggets

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It had been seven years since a player had a game in the postseason with 15 assists and no turnovers, but Chris Paul accomplished the feat on Wednesday as the Phoenix Suns routed the Denver Nuggets 123-98 to take a 2-0 series lead.

The last player to post a 15-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio in a playoff game? Paul, in 2014, with the LA Clippers.

“Guys are open. I got the easy part. All I got to do is find them,” said Paul, who had 17 points. “They got to make the shots. It’s a credit to our coaching staff to tell you the truth. Things we’ve drilled all season long, it’s nice to see it come into play in game form, especially in the playoffs.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Paul had the 10th playoff game with 15 assists and zero turnovers since assists were tracked in 1977-78. And Paul has accounted for three of those games himself.

“Obviously 15 assists, zero turnovers is unheard of,” Devin Booker said, “but for Chris Paul, it’s a thing that he does, and makes it look normal.”

In the two games in the series, Paul has 26 assists to just one turnover. Going back to his last three playoff games, that ratio gets even more ridiculous, sitting at 38-2. He’s the first player with 10 or more assists and one or fewer assists in three straight playoff games since Maurice Cheeks in 1989.

The Suns showcased their impressive balance with six players in double-figures, including all five starters. But even with 123 points, no player scored more than 18 (Booker). It was a clinic in distribution, particularly in a raucous second half, as Paul carved the Nuggets, finding efficient possessions nearly every trip down the floor. In Game 2, the Suns shot 15-of-24 off Paul passes. Of the 15 makes, 11 were uncontested looks.

“I’m telling you man, I’ve never been on a team quite like this where everybody can shoot it the way that they do,” Paul said. “You don’t have to try to find a certain guy.”

Like in Game 1, Paul found his spots to assert himself offensively, too, hitting a flurry of shots early in the fourth quarter as the Suns put the game away. It’s one of Paul’s many rare talents, an ability to sense moments and pick his spots to attack the game himself, or get teammates involved.

When Paul joined the surging young Suns in the offseason, there was a lot of talk about his role as a mentor, as a leader, as a culture cultivator. At age 36 and plenty of tread on his tires, Paul’s cerebral presence was thought to be something that could boost the Suns just as much as his play. But as he’s shown this postseason, there’s still plenty left in the tank.

“I would never doubt Chris,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “His ability to manage the team, his track record, has success all over it and everywhere he’s been he’s been successful. He works his tail off and yeah, he’s 36 years old but he’s doing a lot of stuff off the floor so he can be effective on the floor.”

The series now turns to Denver, where the Nuggets are desperate for a response. Paul has been using his experience as a motivator, recounting the 2007-08 second-round series against the San Antonio Spurs where the New Orleans Pelicans took a 2-0 series lead, winning the opening two games by a combined 37 points.

“We’re cool. We’re cool. We’ve got a great locker room, guys that understand the moment. A guy like Jae Crowder, who’s been to the Finals,” Paul said. “I’ve played a lot too. I’m always talking about 2007-08, we played against the Spurs when I was in New Orleans and we won the first two games, beat the brakes off of ’em. I remember looking over there at Tim [Duncan] and all them and they weren’t fazed. It was just one game. That’s what we talk about as a team too. It’s just one game.”

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