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.