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Stephen Curry’s quest to silence the ‘haters’

Peers, former stars, opposing coaches — Curry plays through the critics’ chatter

It started with Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, then Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers called Golden State’s championship run “lucky,” with the knocks continuing throughout the season and the latest jab being a devastating Russell Westbrook snicker. Never mind the fact that Stephen Curry is a two-time MVP, a reigning NBA champion and his team won a record 73 games; the Warriors guard has dealt with “haters” within NBA circles all season long. He was even hated on for promoting water use by children this year.

There is, however, the ultimate silencer as Curry and the Warriors approach the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers: winning it all.

“I do my best to ignore it,” Curry told The Undefeated after practice on Wednesday. “I know what I am about as a player, what I do to try to help my team, the trust that I have for my teammates and the confidence they give me. It sucks to be in that position where I am still playing and have to deal with … I call them haters.

“It’s a certain trap to get caught up in that. But at the end of the day, as long as I put time in and do what I am supposed to do to help my team win and kind of keep that perspective, then I can go to sleep at night fine, knowing that I’m playing at a high level.”

The regularity of Curry-hating is somewhat surprising considering his meteoric rise to NBA MVP after such an unlikely, unassuming start.

He wasn’t good enough coming out of high school to merit a scholarship from Virginia Tech, where his father and former NBA player Dell Curry starred. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native was overlooked by the state’s ACC programs — Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest — as well. Instead, he ended up at mid-major Davidson College.

“He’s kind of always been the underdog,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “And all of the sudden he’s a two-time MVP. That’s a strange situation. Hardly any players have ever done that.”

After averaging 25.3 points during three seasons at Davidson, Curry was selected seventh overall in the 2009 NBA draft by the Warriors after four guards and two players out of the league now (Hasheem Thabeet and Jonny Flynn) were selected before him. Curry entered the NBA under the shadow of former Warriors guard Monta Ellis and was hampered by ankle injuries that limited him to 26 games during the 2011-12 season.

Stephen Curry #30 of the Davidson Wildcats tries a layup between Luc Richard Mbah a Moute #23 and Kevin Love #42 of the UCLA Bruins during the second half of the John Wooden Classic at the Honda Center on December 8, 2007 in Anaheim, California.

Stephen Curry, No. 30 of the Davidson Wildcats, tries a layup between Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, No. 23 and Kevin Love, No. 42 of the UCLA Bruins during the second half of the John Wooden Classic at the Honda Center on Dec. 8, 2007, in Anaheim, California.

Harry How/Getty Images

He signed a four-year, $44 million contract in 2013, which is a bargain by NBA standards now, and was not re-signed by Nike. Questions about his ability and longevity continued to dog Curry. But, the 6-foot-3, 185-pounder responded by becoming an All-Star the next three seasons, a leading All-Star vote-getter in 2015 and becoming the most exciting scorer in the league due to his deep jump shot and handles like Harlem Globetrotter Curly Neal.

With an NBA championship, incredible scoring ability and the most popular selling jersey in the league, Curry may have passed LeBron James as the face of the NBA. But Curry won’t say that.

“I’m not in the business of ranking or debating who is what,” Curry said. “At the end of the day it’s about winning and the fact that we won a championship last year and were the last team standing. It’s really annoying for me to be — that’s not what I’m playing for — to be the face of the NBA or to be this or that or to take LeBron’s throne or whatever. I’m trying to chase rings, and that’s all I’m about.”

Curry is a clean-cut family guy and also a religious man who points to the heavens after every made 3-pointer. He is certainly familiar with the Bible verse Luke 12:48, “To whom much is given, much will be required.”

What has been required from Curry this season is to filter out a lot of hate despite accomplishments that included averaging a league-best 30.1 points per game and being selected to the All-NBA 1st Team.

Filter out the aforementioned comments from Irving and Rivers; filter what could be perceived as a slap in the face, when his peers selected Houston Rockets guard James Harden as the MVP in the first annual National Basketball Players Association Players’ Awards in 2015; filter out NBA general managers picking the Cavaliers (53.6 percent of the vote) and Spurs (25.0) ahead of the Warriors (17.9) in their preseason poll.

He even endured hate from former NBA stars.

Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson said on ESPN’s Mike & Mike radio show that Curry benefits from weak defense and coaches who “don’t understand the game of basketball.”

Ex-NBA player Cedric Ceballos got in on the action, telling the Steve Gorman Sports! show on Fox Sports Radio: “They don’t expose Steph and the way he plays defense. I don’t think [my old, 1993-94 Phoenix Suns team] would have a problem with Golden State.

“So today if I’m guarding Curry … he might have 25 2s on me, but he’s not going to have 13 3s because I’m going to be forcing him inside of the arc,” Hall of Famer Walt “Clyde” Frazier also said on Mike & Mike.

James actually came to Curry’s defense about the former NBA star’s criticism saying, “It sucks because we’re just trying to carry the torch for the next group to come behind us.” Curry said he is sure the former NBA stars “wouldn’t have appreciated” being knocked back in their day and that their negativity is frustrating.

“The biggest thing was Mr. Frazier’s comments, ‘He is doing it now, but he won’t be doing it in the next time frame,’ ” Curry said. “I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, let alone three or four years from now.

“But in the middle of a historic season, with what we’re trying to accomplish, to bring it down … I don’t call it fair. But I guess it doesn’t really matter.”

The season was truly historic. Golden State opened with an NBA-record 24-0 start, then went on to win an NBA-record 73 games. Curry also nailed an NBA-record 402 3-pointers, surpassing his previous record from a season earlier by 116.

Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry waits for a interview as confetti comes down after a 118-91 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals Wednesday, May 18, 2016, in Oakland, Calif.

Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry waits for a interview as confetti comes down after a 118-91 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals May 18 in Oakland, California.

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

James gave the Warriors some love early this season, saying they were playing like they lost in the previous Finals, but once Curry won his second-straight NBA MVP award and became the first unanimous selection in league history, James decided to debate how the award should be defined.

“Sometimes the word ‘valuable’ or best player of the year, you can have different results,” said James, a four-time NBA MVP.

Curry’s response?

“I’ve gotten really good at ignoring people. That’s been the theme for the last two years.”

Just last week, Westbrook snickered, after a 120-111 Game 5 loss to the Warriors, when asked about Curry’s defense. Many took it as a sign of dismissive disrespect on Westbrook’s part. But we now know that Curry shook off a knee injury to help the Warriors overcome a 3-1 playoff deficit, winning three straight gut-checking games to knock off the gritty Thunder and make it here, Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

“When we get out on the court, we’re going to get everybody’s best,” Curry said recently. “I wasn’t talking about the noise outside the locker room.”

It’s not just peers and predecessors throwing shade Curry’s way.

Curry signed a three-year deal last December with Brita (which sells water-filtration products) and partnered with the Drink Up campaign as a spokesperson. He was criticized, however, in the San Francisco Chronicle for going to a West Oakland, California, elementary school in March to talk about drinking water in a Brita-sponsored event. Josh Golin, executive director of the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, called it branding; the paper’s headline referred to it as a product pitch.

Curry described the comments as “kind of comical.”

“It’s kind of a reach to try to find negative in positive situation,” Curry recently told The Undefeated.

Curry also told The Undefeated that he doesn’t “know what the root of [the hate] is,” but he does know the ultimate silencer is winning. The glare of diamonds in a second NBA championship ring speaks much louder than words.

“I don’t know if there is a certain jealousy or if you are a prime target for any type of material or conversation,” Curry recently told The Undefeated. “For what I’ve seen this year on the court, you got to just embrace the positive or the negative. You can’t avoid it. It’s just how you respond to it.

“If you let it become a distraction. If you let it fog your focus on what you’re doing or let it take the joy away from what you’re doing, they win.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.