The black swan theory was an idea developed by former Stock trader Nassim Taleb in 2007. As explained by Taleb, the theoretical black swan can be summarized as an event or outlier outside the realm of realistic expectations that has an extreme impact on history and makes experts invent explanations, but not until well after the fact. The advent of the personal computer, the rise of the Internet, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand are notable examples of Taleb’s black swan theory. These black swans expose our severely limited understanding of the world. For the basketball cognoscenti, Steph Curry is that black swan.
In becoming a black swan, Curry propelled himself into top-10 all-time player discussions. If you glance at any respectable rankings of the top 10 players in NBA history, you could argue each player or ones on the fringe were always destined to be in that conversation. Jordan was being called God in disguise by Larry Bird at the end of his second season.
Kobe Bryant was a pioneer in the preps-to-pros pipeline. But he was also a Jordan facsimile from whom greatness was expected. Magic, Bird, Kareem, LeBron, Shaq, Wilt, Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Bill Russell were selected first in their respective drafts. The Hall of Fame was a given and leading respective franchises to NBA titles was the bare minimum of their career to-do lists. Oscar Robertson ended his collegiate career as the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer and has a Player of the Year trophy named in his honor.
Steph was a mid-major phenom, who fell in the draft because he was too small to play shooting guard and teams were unsure how he would fare transitioning to point guard. His first four years
were marred by ankle injuries.
At 6-foot-3, Curry is the smallest player in the aforementioned group of greats. If you divide NBA 75 legends into divisions by size, Curry occupies a tier of his own within the ‘6-foot-4 & under’ class. Relative to his size, there’s a wider gap between Curry’s accomplishments and those of Jerry West, Isaiah Thomas, or Allen Iverson than there is between LeBron and MJ or Shaq, Olajuwon, Wilt, or Tim Duncan in the heavyweight division.
In the ensuing decades, we might witness an undersized superstar guard come along to take advantage of modern spacing and shatter Steph’s 3-point records. And there will be other scoring champs smaller than Curry, but he’s the first below-the-rim guard to be the anchor of a bonafide dynasty.
After Durant left for Brooklyn, the Warriors were counted out again. Their acquisition of Andrew Wiggins was divisive. Bob Myers picking James Wiseman over LaMelo Ball was viewed as a blunder that would sink the Warriors’ trajectory. The league was beginning to catch up to their offense and Curry was in his age-34 season. We should have seen this coming, A lack of imagination once again led too many to count the 3-time champions out.
The Big 3 of Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson were graciously fading into obscurity during their early to mid-30s. Expectations for Klay Thompson 2.0 were modest after he suffered an ACL tear and Achilles rupture in consecutive years. Before this season, Draymond Green was frequently mentioned as one of the NBA’s most overpaid aging assets. Iggy was traded to Memphis.
Even all the way up to Game 4 of the 2022 Finals, Golden State retained its black swan status. At the beginning of the 2022 postseason, Curry was slumping like we’d never seen him before. Two months later, he averaged 31.2 points, five assists, 5.8 rebounds, shot 44.2 percent from distance and earned his first Finals MVP. Prior to Game 1, FiveThirtyEight’s forecast model gave Golden State a 17 percent chance of beating Boston despite their home court advantage. After four games, those odds doubled to 29 percent. FiveThirtyEight’s Basketball Power Index algorithm blew the Finals worse than they did the 2016 election. Steve Kerr even called their championship, the unlikeliest title of the nine he’s won as a player or coach.
The first title was the launching pad. Charles Barkley’s 2015 proclamation that “jump shooting teams don’t win championships” is emblematic of the popular Warriors sentiment of yesteryear.
The energy has shifted again.
The first title was the launching pad for Curry’s legacy. His fourth title is a monument to his achievements and probably means more than any title they’ve won. He might be the first black swan to ever surprise so many people twice. Curry’s shooting changed the paradigm for better or for worse. He’s duplicated often, but never replicated. Golden State is back to being touted the favorite for the 2023 title. A fifth ring would make Curry’s case as a top-10 all-time player indisputable.