OAKLAND – Thankfully, the grating references about a perceived lack of respect, an unfortunate, and untrue, Warriors party line last season, has fallen away. Unlike the small-town feel of the inferiority complex, Golden State circa 2013-14 knows it is feared by opponents and appreciated by fans.
But if Stephen Curry holds his lead over third-place Chris Paul when the final results of fan balloting are announced Thursday and a Warrior is starting in the All-Star Game for the first time since Latrell Sprewell in 1995, the significance will be impossible to miss. Curry will have a deserving recognition, sure, but the franchise will be able to claim a unique level of popularity, certainly around the country and maybe, considering the global voting, around the world.
That’s a big development for an organization that had exemplary fan support in the Bay Area during the many bad seasons but was not more than a casual watch around the league, and even then only because they played pedal to the metal while speeding toward the lottery. Finishing in the top two among Western Conference guards, if the order of the previous update holds, would be another sign of what has transpired since 25-41 in the lockout-shortened 2011-12.
“For sure,” Curry said. “When you win, granted it’s been for a year and a half now. It’s not just an exciting brand of basketball. The results are more heavily in your favor when we’re winning games. It has definitely changed. Obviously going to China this past preseason was big exposure for the whole franchise. Any time you make the playoffs and make noise, you’re going to try to change how people view your team. That’s kind of the mission we’re on, to back that up this year.”
So it’s not a big deal, except that it is. Curry will play Feb. 16 in New Orleans no matter what, an automatic to be picked as a reserve by West coaches if fans don’t send him as a starter, but the statement of making the opening lineup is important in many parts of the organization. Just as the exposure of going to China in October for a couple preseason games against the Lakers was a big deal, Curry doing so well in the popularity contest leading to the midseason showcase will be celebrated as an accomplishment of performance on the court and marketing off.
In the final update, released Jan. 9, Kobe Bryant had a clear lead with 844,538 votes despite encouraging fans to back someone playing, with Curry second with 677,372 and Paul third with 651,073. Given the health uncertainties of the players on both sides of him, Curry could be named a starter at a later date even if he is third in the Thursday announcement, except that would not go on the books as being voted to the first five in New Orleans.
“Last year we got an All-Star, so we won’t act like it’s different territory,” coach Mark Jackson said. “I thought David Lee being an All-Star last year made a statement. For Steph to be an All-Star, for him to be a starter, I think it’s another win for the good guys. It definitely does say something, because I would imagine the difference is starting and getting the fan vote. I’d be very pleased because here’s a guy that came in when people raised the bar for him after last year, and he has not disappointed.”
Matching the expectations is an accomplishment, but Curry has done it while seventh in the league in scoring (23.5) and second to Paul in assists (9.2).