Illustration by Ari Libenson
On December 4, 2017, late in the fourth quarter of the Warriors vs. Pelicans game, the crowd collectively gasped as they watched Stephen Curry lunge forward to steal the ball as his ankle rolled to the side. He walked off the court limping in obvious pain. The Warriors later announced that an MRI showed he had no structural damage, only a sprained right ankle.
The re-injury of his ankle, though, was no small matter considering the ankle’s past history. The incident reminded many fans of his previous ankle troubles.
On December 8, 2010, Curry sprained his ankle in a game against the San Antonio Spurs. He repeatedly sprained his ankle during the 2010-11 season. This led to a surgery in May of 2011 to repair torn ligaments. Even after this surgery, he sprained the same ankle twice again in 2012, and underwent a second surgery. At this point, Curry’s unreliable ankles meant that the shooting guard’s future was in a precarious state.
After that surgery, Curry signed a four year, $44 Million contract with the Warriors, which would turn out to be one of the greatest signings, and greatest steals in National Basketball Association (NBA) history. Due to his history with injuries, the deal guaranteed much less money than he would have been paid considering his success thus far.
With questions surrounding his health, the Warriors’ organization was unwilling to commit too much money to him. Since the second surgery, Curry has had no significant problems with his ankle, so this contract ended up working to the team’s advantage. The money they saved on Curry they quickly used to make contracts with some of the other most important members of the team today, like Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. These players were very influential in leading the team to their two recent championships.
Over time, this injury has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Warriors because it was one of the many factors which led to their success in the future.
Following his most recent injury, fans were worried about how the team would do in the upcoming season without him, and many worried that Curry could be out for months. Their fears were misguided, as he only missed eleven games, of which the Warriors won nine and lost two.
Curry returned Saturday, December 30, 2017, to play against the Memphis Grizzlies. He stole the show, scoring 38 points, more than any other player. A week later on January 6, against the Clippers, he scored a season high of 45 points. In fact, since Curry’s return, the Warriors are undefeated, despite the absence of Kevin Durant for a few of these games. Most recently the Warriors coasted past a struggling Cavaliers team, with Kevin Durant leading the scoring charge.
Curry’s injury and the brief panic that ensued until his diagnosis highlighted the incredibly high expectations Bay Area fans have for their team. Despite reaching the finals three years in a row and winning two titles in this process, anything but a third championship would feel unsatisfactory for the Warrior’s fan base. The fact that the Warriors are on track to meet this lofty expectation is truly remarkable, and deserves plaudits.
Besides the New England Patriots, there are very few teams in the past decade that have been able to achieve and maintain this standard of excellence. Following one of their most successful seasons of all time where they won three trophies, Spanish soccer team Real Madrid have dropped to fourth in their domestic league, trailing their rivals Barcelona by nineteen points. With a relatively unchanged squad, Real Madrid’s rapid decline is nearly inexplicable. Following Chelsea’s premier league triumph in 2014-2015, they ended up finishing a dismal tenth the following season. These anecdotes reveal how difficult it is to maintain success, and remind fans not to take their team for granted. While winning is habitual, a successful season is often followed by the onset of complacency.
With four all-stars in their prime and Curry back in the equation, the oddsmakers give the Warriors the best odds for winning the championship.
Following Curry’s return, bookmakers gave the Warriors 5-11 odds of winning the championship, making them heavy favorites. Curry’s strong return confirms the obvious: the Warriors are a much stronger team with him. His performance since his return alleviated any doubts about the state of his ankle.
Assuming the Warriors can remain healthy and curb the recent rise of their behavioral issues, there is no reason to think that the Warrior’s shouldn’t meet expectations. Despite a young, talented Celtics squad turning heads in the East, anything but a third championship in four years would prove to be a disappointment for the Bay Area’s pride and joy.