New Face?: The Popularity Theory

Flashback to the 2015 NBA finals.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are facing the Golden State Warriors. Say what you will, but for that series, LeBron and Cavs had no chance against the superior talent and coaching the Warriors had, thus the Golden State Warriors won in 6 games.

Despite it being the Golden State Warriors first NBA championship since 1975, something else also happened, that is not as important as a championship, but still pretty special. The second the Warriors beat the Cavaliers, the title of “Face of the NBA” may have shifted from LeBron James to Stephen Curry. Now before someone reads this and says “I can’t believe this guy thinks Steph Curry is better than LeBron James, what an idiot”, I just want to stress that is not what I said.

LeBron is clearly the best player in the world today however, I truly believe that for the last three years Stephen Curry has been gaining popularity with the NBA fans. Thus, when the Warriors beat the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, even though Curry did not win finals MVP, he may have inadvertently won the most popular player in the NBA.

Now I'm sure you're thinking, How do you know? Well let’s look at some facts. 

On June 30th 2015, the announcement was made that Steph curry overtook LeBron James for jersey sales, but I think what is more intriguing is that in the same announcement the Warriors sold the most team merchandise over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Not only does that mean there is a direct correlation between jersey sales and team merchandise sales (obvious), but also more people are becoming fans of the Warriors.

The Captain of the Warriors is Stephen Curry and thus more people are fans of Stephen Curry. I already hear the counter argument that the warriors have more star power with Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and even Andrew Bogut who is very appealing to the Australian fans. Here is my rebuttal, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and even Matthew Dellavedova for the Australian fans. Now the facts are there but I am more concerned with with why.

Even though I do not have a concrete explanation, I will attempt to break down why I think Stephen Curry is more popular. I think there are two main reasons for Stephen Curry’s popularity. The first reason is what I call the David versus Goliath Complex.

LeBron for the majority of his career has been listed at 6’9 260, with wide receiver speed, good handles for his size, and incredible strength. Now while he has slimmed down to about 250-pounds, it is no secret that athletically he is a freak. He is a modern day NBA “Goliath”. He is bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter than everyone else. In theory, he should have no equal in the NBA from a genetics standpoint.

Steph Curry is not a Goliath by any stretch of the imagination. He is an average sized point guard at 6’3 190lbs, with average athletic ability – and really the only thing that isn’t average about him in the NBA is his skill set. However while his skill set is amazing, it can be achieved in theory. Not everybody can be 6’9 260, but anyone can practice their shot and handles to perfection, again in theory, because it’s really not that simple but again achievable. Thus Steph Curry is your NBA “David”.

Now as a society we have been taught to cheer for Goliath until he is opposed by someone who is not as physically gifted, then we will cheer for Goliath to fail because deep down, no one likes Goliath’s talents. The reason why is, Goliath is exceptional because of his genetics, something that is unachievable to the common man. David is exceptional because of his skill and a little luck something that is achievable (in theory) to the common man.

Before this turns into a psychology piece let me get to the point, Steph Curry is more popular to the common man because he represents the common man better. I am not saying LeBron James is Goliath and that he does not have his share of adversity. I am saying that James is perceived as Goliath, and unfortunately everyone loves the story of the common man rising up to defeat the favourite, the best, the Goliath.

Movies, TV shows, cartoons, animes, comics etc. have literally made billions on this concept. This celebration of the proverbial David defeating Goliath is also evident throughout sports history as well. Ali vs Frazier (before Ali gave the metaphorical “middle finger” to white America), Ali vs. Foreman, Bird vs. Magic, Russell vs. Wilt and even the numerous Cinderella stories in the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament.

This is not only about Steph Curry’s basketball skills but this is also about the way he is perceived to carry himself. While both gentlemen are what you would consider “family men”, Steph Curry’s family looks more “average”. Never mind that Steph Curry is a vocal Christian which already makes him and his family fit the “church-going” mold (which is a majority). Throughout the season Steph Curry’s wife, Ayesha, was pregnant with their second child and adorable Riley become an internet sensation for being an average 3-year old girl; cute and funny but average child behaviour.

This inadvertently painted Steph Curry as a great father and model husband. None of LeBron’s sons are in the media spotlight enough to give LeBron the look of a family man and while one of his sons is an internet sensation, he is one because of his basketball skills.

I am not saying one is a better father than the other. In fact, we really don't know how either of them are behind closed doors (excuse my negativity). What I am saying is that the perception is that Steph Curry has the model but average church going family which is desirable but in theory achievable.

But wait! I hear the readers of this article telling me, “....but what about the basketball fans who do not care about family perception or try not to be sucked in by the David vs Goliath complex?”

Do not worry about that fans, I have an explanation for that too.

Believe it or not Steph Curry has a skill set that is more appealing than LeBron James. While LeBron James does literally everything a basketball team could ask, his games looks cumbersome and clunky when he dribbles, passes and even shoots when in comparison to Stephen Curry.

When Steph dribbles and pull-up, it looks so smooth, not to mention that shooting ten-feet beyond the 3-pt line always looks fantastic. This makes Steph Curry’s game more appealing and more aesthetically pleasing to the human eye. The smoothness of Curry’s game, coupled with Curry’s average looking body gives Curry’s skill set a flashiness, that also has some substance because of the slight nuances in his mechanics that allow his flashiness to translate into the NBA.

That is where he has succeeded, where other players have failed when their “flashy” game comes to the NBA. This makes him an underdog success story, and also it is not like Curry did not have his share of adversity before developing into what he is today. This makes look him a model modern day NBA “David” (sounding familiar).

But wait! I hear again, “is their any evidence of this?” There is evidence of Stephen Curry being the most popular player in the league today. His jersey has the most sales as of the June 30th 2015, his team has sold the most team merchandise, and during the ESPY’s (which is a glorified popularity contest) he took home the awards of Best Male Athlete, and Best NBA Player.

The thing I want to stress is that again, LeBron James is the best basketball player on earth today and I do not think it is only because of his genetics. He has skill and works very hard to be the player he is. While most people’s perception is that LeBron’s genetics is the only reason why he’s great, that is not the case. Not to mention he literally gives his team help in almost every statistical category and can turn a bad team into a good one. In fact, I think the debate is not if LeBron James is the best right now but if he is going to be better than Michael Jordan (which I think Jordan has locked down).

I am saying Stephen Curry is getting more popular and also more marketable than LeBron James, which means the NBA now has to decide which player they want to market more, LeBron James or Stephen Curry.

Michael Asiffo

Michael Asiffo is currently a student at York University. He is a lover of almost all sports and enjoys the essence of fandom towards sports. His love for sports arose as a young child watching the Toronto Raptors in the Vince Carter era and has been following the 4 major north American leagues since (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB).As the creator of the Weekend Warriors, Asiffo's goal is to always allow the average fan to smile at the lighter side at sports but he will also have dark conversations about certain elements of sports as well.

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