The definition of “superstar” is shrouded in ambiguity and opinionated reasoning. There’s no secret document containing the names of bona fide NBA superstars locked in a secret vault in David Stern’s office (or is there?), nor is there a special category on the stat sheet specifically for “points scored by elite players.”
At what point did we begin to consider LeBron James and Kevin Durant “superstars”? There isn’t really an answer to that question. Depending on who you ask, neither truly cemented his elite status until taking his team deep into the playoffs. Other will suggest they earned that label just by assuming the role as the face of their respective franchise.
I won’t argue the merits of what makes a player a superstar. But given the generally accepted definitions of an elite NBA talent, Stephen Curry hasn’t quite gotten there.
The 25-year-old point guard has put together a remarkable season in leading the Golden State Warriors to their second playoff appearance in 19 seasons. With 23 points and 6.9 assists per game, Curry has been the unquestioned leader of an offense that ranks seventh in the NBA in points per game (101.2).
Oh yeah, and then there’s the record.
Entering Golden State’s final game of the season, Curry is just two three-pointers shy of breaking Ray Allen’s all-time record of 269 treys in a season. Given his absurd 45.5-percent mark from behind the arc this season, he probably won’t need more than five minutes to break the record.
But the merits of such a record don’t inherently justify a special label, other than perhaps “NBA’s best shooter.” In a vacuum, a record is just a record.
Players like James, Durant, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade have all done things Curry has been unable to do in his four seasons with the Warriors. All four elevated their respective franchise to a new level—the level of a legitimate championship contender.
The Warriors aren’t far from that level, but we’re unlikely to see a Golden State championship this season. While anything can happen in the NBA playoffs, the Western Conference is loaded with talented squads, and then there’s the matter of potentially being forced to beat Miami in a seven-game series.
Therein lies Curry’s ultimate opportunity to earn a unanimous superstar label, and it has nothing to do with records.
With all eyes fixed on Golden State in the playoffs, Curry has a chance to prove he has the elite talent to carry his team to a deep postseason run. Superstars defy the odds in the face of adversity. Superstars find a new level when the cards are on the table. Superstars win.
By itself, Curry’s season will be a nice note in the record books. But there’s a bigger picture that defines the league’s biggest stars, and Curry can join that picture this season.
He’ll just have to break through the barrier that separates the NBA’s best from the best players who have never won much of anything past the regular season.