For all of his talent and success, Stephen Curry can be somewhat of a divisive player. Some see the Golden State Warriors guard as someone emblematic of the modern NBA; three-point shooting is an essential skill, and Steph has mastered it. Others, however, argue that Curry is simply a sharpshooter taking advantage of soft defenses and nothing more. One talent, in this case, long-range accuracy, isn’t enough to be an all-time great.
Shaquille O’Neal, however, doesn’t have much time for that debate. He sits firmly in Curry’s camp and doesn’t care who knows it.
In fact, the big man even paid Steph some high praise during a recent interview. According to the Diesel, Curry belongs alongside Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James as players who have their own category.
Shaquille O’Neal invokes some legendary basketball names when discussing Stephen Curry
During his time on the NBA hardwood, Shaquille O’Neal crossed paths with plenty of incredible players. Steph Curry, in his mind, certainly belongs in the highest category.
“Because there’s no one like him,” O’Neal told Bill DiFilippo of Dime when asked about his appreciation of Curry. “People remember Shaq, there was no one like him. He’s one of those players — Mike, Kobe, LeBron, nobody like them. He has his own category: Best shooter ever. Not one of the best shooters, not Ray Allen, not Reggie Miller, he is the best shooter ever. I’m in a category, but there’s another name that you have to mention: Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal, the most dominant ever. I’m fine with that. But in his category, he’s by himself. Greatest player ever, 10 people in that category.”
While that’s already some high praise, Shaq wasn’t done there. He had plenty more to say in support of Steph.
“So, the fact that he has his own category and nobody’s even close, and nobody’s even coming close, that should tell you a lot,” O’Neal continued. “Then if you look at him, he still looks like a little kid. That’s what amazes me the most — Jordan was big, Kobe was big, Bron is big. If you saw Steph in the grocery store and you didn’t know who he was, you’d just think he was a regular guy food shopping. And so the fact that he plays and dominates all those big guys, I’m amazed by that, he can just get his shot off anytime. I love that, I’m jealous of that, I wish I could shoot like that.”
And there you have it, straight from the big man himself.
Shaq has fired off some hot takes, but it’s tough to disagree with his Steph Curry stance
As anyone who’s watched TNT’s NBA coverage can confirm, Shaquille O’Neal doesn’t always exhibit impeccable logic. In this case, though, he’s right on the money: Steph Curry is special and has already earned his place in NBA history.
From a pure counting numbers perspective, the guard has virtually all the bases covered. He’s averaged 24.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 6.5 assists across his professional career, draining an incredible 42.8% of his three-pointers along the way. For those who look at silverware as a deciding factor, Curry has also won four NBA championships, two scoring titles, and two MVP crowns.
Beyond that, consider Steph’s role in the evolution of basketball. During Shaq’s prime, for example, players could survive, if not thrive, without a jump shot. These days, though, having long-range accuracy is almost a requirement to step onto the floor. While it’s a bit reductionist to say a single person is responsible for a grand stylistic change, Curry certainly played a major role in making three-point shooting a key part of everyone’s offense.
Lastly, let’s consider a final point: As Shaq mentioned, Curry is a (relatively) normal man from a physical perspective. Modern basketball might not have the same physicality that it had 30 years ago, but it’s still impressive to see him dominate without massive size or physical strength. That speaks volumes about the guard’s talent: He’s so good that he can shine one the back of that skill alone.
Will it irk some old-school purists to have Steph Curry standing alongside the likes of Michael Jordan? Maybe, but the guard deserves to be recognized for his place in NBA history. Whether you accept it now or wrap your mind around it later, he’s earned the right to be called an all-time great.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference