Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry was named the Associated Press 2015 Male Athlete of the Year on Saturday. In the past calendar year, he's become the NBA's Most Valuable Player, led the Warriors to their first championship since 1975 and then, improbably, improved. The version of Curry we've seen in the past few months has been demonstrably better than last season, which is the biggest reason for Golden State's historic 28-1 start.
From the Associated Press:
Curry finished first in a vote by U.S. editors and news directors, with the results released Saturday. He joined LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as the only basketball players to win the honor in the 85 years of the award. Curry beat out golfer Jordan Spieth, who won two majors, and American Pharoah, who became the first horse since 1978 to win the Triple Crown.
While American Pharoah got three more first-place votes than Curry's 24, Curry appeared on 86 percent of the 82 ballots that ranked the top five candidates. More than one-third of the voters left American Pharoah off their list.
"That's a real honor," Curry said. "I'm appreciative of that acknowledgement because it's across all different sports. ... It's pretty cool."
"Steph actually looks different," ESPN analyst Jalen Rose said. "Like the best player in the league usually is also physically opposing — 6-6 plus, scowl on his face, menacing. With the attitude that we appreciated because like a Michael Jordan or Shaquille O'Neal, or Kobe Bryant, you know, just a cutthroat nature. Steph allows us into his living room. We see him on a national stage be a son, a dad, a husband, a father, a brother. And he does all of it while continuing to improve."
Ironically, the news was announced at the same time that Curry's influence on young basketball players has become a topic of discussion. ABC analyst and former Warriors coach Mark Jackson suggested on Christmas Day that Curry has "hurt" the game of basketball because kids just want to shoot 3-pointers rather than developing the other parts of their game. Part of why Curry won this award, though, is how he has inspired fans and become the face of the league.
"The way that I play has a lot of skill but is stuff that if you go to the YMCA or rec leagues or church leagues around the country, everybody wants to shoot, everybody wants to handle the ball, make creative passes and stuff like that," Curry told the AP. "You can work on that stuff. Not everybody has the vertical, or the physical gifts to be able to go out and do a windmill dunk and stuff like that. I can't even do it."
No one has had a bigger impact on basketball in 2015, and I can't come up with another athlete in any sport who has had a year like Curry's. As he and his Golden State team continue to dominate, these acknowledgements and accolades will keep piling up.