We’re not just moving towards the New Year—it’s a new decade.
As such, there will be lots of awards for teams, players and events of the past ten years. One of the more intense debates emerged for the “NBA player of the decade” distinction. It boiled down to Steph Curry or LeBron James.
It’s true—no two players were more influential in the past decade. Aside from the 2010 Finals duel between the Lakers and Celtics, all the NBA Finals had one or both of these players. LeBron James (2011-2018) and Steph Curry (2015-2019) are, inarguably, true champions.
Cut to the chase
The New York Times is one of the world’s most influential broadsheets, and among their Hall of Fame sportswriters, the choice was Steph Curry. Before you raise your pitchforks, it must be mentioned that they do acknowledge James as the BEST player of the decade (no need for the head-to-head stats, we all know who would dominate almost all categories), but Curry is being credited for “changing the game” and “defining the decade.”
Yes, Curry did change the game. A pull-up three on a fastbreak would lead to classic Coach’s facial expressions before Steph, but they’re a staple now. If we want to see how Curry did change the game, look at how it’s played in 2015 BS (Before Steph broke out, yes we could divide the NBA eras that way) and today.
Curry paved the way for guys like Damian Lillard, star rookies Trae Young and Luka Doncic and even James Harden. He had the audacity to do it when no one else would. Thus, we should also credit Coach Steve Kerr for having enough faith (and also, the caterpillar Mark Jackson) in Steph’s shot.
Compelling arguments for Chef Curry is that he has three championships in five Finals appearances. The style of play he brought attracted Kevin Durant to leave a team with two other MVP candidates. The NBA adjusted to the Warriors, and the Warriors were defined by Curry.
These are very good reasons why Curry should be the player of the decade. There is only one reason why he shouldn’t—and that is LeBron James.
James has influenced the game on the court and outside, as he ushered in the player empowerment era. We can debate whether this is good or bad, but we cannot deny how it redefined the league.
The King has also changed the game. It is not the three-point shot that rendered the traditional center extinct—it is the demolition of basketball positions that did them in. LeBron James was a freak of nature, a player with the skill to guard a point guard and the size to match up to a center.
James is the reason why Giannis Antetokounmpo, already a Greek Freak when he came in the league, had to spend hours on the weight room. James, not Curry, is the reason why Anthony Davis is extending his range. He’s the reason why 7’0 is no longer enough to be drafted in the NBA. Scouts have to think about how they’ll keep up with the faster pace, the athletic demands of running back and forth the court.
Yes, the Golden State Warriors were the masters of maximizing possessions and running the break, primarily because of the shooters spacing the floor—but that was already being done in Miami. And if we look back, Mike D’Antoni was already ushering the fast game with Steve Nash. If Nash had the teammates that Steph had, we would be talking about the late 2000s as the era of the Suns.
Curry changed the game, but more of an improved version of what James brought before the decade began. This is probably the basis of choosing Curry. If the decade was 2006-2015, it’s James by a mile, but the past five years was all about how Curry AND the Warriors overcame James.
LeBron was still there in the latter half of the decade, Curry was hardly an afterthought when the decade began. I’d give the slight edge to the King, even if I cheered against him the past decade.