On Sunday in Charlotte, a quarterback led his team to a 31-0 first half lead, one that team nearly squandered entirely, before securing a victory. The quarterback is his league’s MVP, and his team has been consistently – and rather quietly – the best in the league this season by no small margin. His celebrations have prompted equal parts resounding support and agitated ire, the latter of which hounds the player for his childlike enthusiasm, charisma-as-arrogance and, mostly, his stellar play, the likes of which the sport has never seen previously.
Meanwhile, on Monday night in Cleveland, a joyous band of star shooters thoroughly tore down the greatest basketball player of his generation in the arena in which they celebrated their championship seven short months ago. The centerpiece of that squad, a point guard from Charlotte, is his league’s MVP and, barring something unforeseen, will be again. Aside from a small pocket of rage which seemingly only comes from contrarian people with a noticeably absent agenda otherwise, the American public and media have resoundingly accepted this team for its childlike enthusiasm, charisma-as-arrogance and, mostly, its stellar play, the likes of which the sport has never seen previously.
Stephen Curry is a hero, and Cam Newton is a villain. To put it so simplistically is, of course, to miss the point of what they both do entirely, yet it seems that many people are in agreement to disagree over who these players are and what they are supposed to be or represent. In an interview with Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers on his radio show on Tuesday, Jim Rome presented a contrast between the way people view each of these players in their respective roles, both athletically and socially.
As linchpin of the historically-nuclear Golden State Warriors, Curry has captured the minds and hearts of basketball fans and casual viewers alike. The same can be said of Newton, whose Carolina Panthers, it seems safe to assume, would be nowhere near this place if, say, Derek Anderson° was their quarterback.
Let’s not dance around this, lest we solicit a letter to the editor from an angry detractor: Newton is a black quarterback, something with which fans and the media continue to struggle. Whereas the Warriors’ playground antics are generally regarded as wholesome, fun and spontaneous, the “concerned parent” sect of professional football fans seems to think of Newton’s celebratory first down signals, tearing down of flags and dabbing as a calculated attack on their way of life.
Case-in-point: following Carolina’s 31-24 victory over the Seahawks on Sunday, themselves no strangers to would-be controversial displays of braggadocio, we now have not one, but two letters to media outlets that have gone viral which question Newton’s sense of “class,” an unbelievably vague and indirect weapon fans typically unleash in the face of helpless defeat.
National criticism has followed Newton since he was at the University of Florida, where he was arrested for purchasing a stolen laptop that he had then thrown out of a window. It wasn’t the smartest move, but then you invoke some stone-throwing at glass houses, accepting that nineteen-year-olds aren’t the most astute decision-makers anyway. But while a player like fellow Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel has repeatedly received opportunities to make amends, Newton seemed to walk a razor’s edge at the NFL Combine ahead of the Draft, where he was nevertheless selected first overall.
Curry is black in a sport that has long since accepted, or at least tolerated to a certain degree, African-Americans in every walk, from playing to coaching to, in the case of Michael Jordan, ownership. Admittedly, as the son of an NBA player, Curry had advantages growing up that Newton did not. Even so, he was never a sure thing. Where Newton is the supreme athletic specimen, Curry was an undersized shooting wizard with bad ankles and paperweight biceps. That he has achieved what he has is nothing short of astounding, not unlike the galaxy-spanning shots he nails as if they are free throws.
As always, a bit of context helps. The Warriors are coming off the aforementioned championship, which they won in six games against an injury-riddled Cleveland Cavaliers team which LeBron James carried to two victories. Fast-forward to the present, and the Warriors now have two victories over the Cavs in the last month, with Monday’s coming in an absolute demolition.¹ Draymond Green is the most vocal member of the Warriors and, as Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone has asserted, might be the most important player for Golden State even as his teammate Curry continues to bum rush any expectations anyone has ever had about the game of basketball.
The “us against the world” mentality Golden State has had over the previous two seasons should have vanished, or at least diminished, with the Warriors’ championship. People continue to love the Warriors – seemingly against their own will, at times – for the same reasons Cam Newton is catching heat from a small but vocal minority (though, don’t remind any of the people complaining about Cam Newton that they are the minority).
The inevitable Warriors backlash has yet to arrive, even as Green’s mom defends her son² against anonymous egg warriors on Twitter. The chip on their shoulder is inexplicably huge, given they are at a point of all-encompassing dominance that only the Jordan-era Bulls have ever even considered plausible. Meanwhile, Cam Newton’s singular focus is to win by any means necessary, consistently putting his body on the line for lack of a better alternative. That’s what Curry and Newton have in common: with the ball in their hands, anything is possible.
°Newton’s Panthers backup
¹Seriously, Dan Gilbert ought to call in Curry & Co. to dynamite the Quicken Loans Arena and put up something else in its place.
²A Defensive Player of the Year candidate, by the way.