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Jon Becker

Jon Becker: The argument for Curry as No. 2 behind MJ, ahead of LeBron

Steph Curry and LeBron James were both born in the same Akron, Ohio hospital. Now, thirty-something years later, one of their performances has given birth to a new, generational debate involving both stars.

You may have to sit down for this one.

“I actually think Steph Curry is the second-best player of all time, right behind Michael Jordan,” said ESPN analyst Bobby Marks, a former NBA executive.

At first blush, Marks’ words sound blasphemous. After all, LeBron is … well, he’s LeBron. He’s even more than the points (he should pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar next year for the most in NBA history), the All-NBA honors (18), the titles (four) and the MVPs (four), he’s the pop culture icon who’s been the face of the league for years.

But Curry’s electric season, culminating with his fourth NBA title (tying LeBron) and first NBA Finals MVP award less than a month ago, has drastically elevated his status around the league. He’s reached a level where the words from his naysayers — the ones who said the skinny kid from Davidson College with the weak ankles was nothing more than a “nice player” — have been mostly forgotten.

Who can focus on such negativity after listening to Marks comparing Curry with Jordan?

“I saw Jordan in his prime in the ‘90s. Curry reminds me a lot of that offensively where he is a threat,” said Marks, who spent time as the Brooklyn Nets’ assistant general manager before becoming ESPN’s front office expert. “Curry has this instinct, what I saw with Jordan, where any time he has the ball, you think it’s going to go in.

“He is a threat offensively. We’ve got three or four more years of Curry in his prime right now.”

Hearing an NBA expert say Curry has surpassed LeBron is a bit jolting. Maybe that’s because we’ve all been conditioned over the years to argue whether Michael or LeBron is the GOAT?

In most people’s eyes, Michael has kept an edge over LeBron, thanks to his gaudy numbers: 10 scoring titles, six NBA titles and five MVP awards.

Let’s take a step back and consider Steph’s standing in basketball’s all-time hierarchy. There are some reasons to believe he’s worthy of at least being on equal footing with LeBron.

Keep these points in mind on Steph’s behalf when considering his place in the GOAT race with LeBron:

1. Greatest shooter ever. Even before Curry broke Ray Allen’s all-time 3-point record this season, the Warriors star was already considered the greatest shooter in the history of the sport. Now the numbers back it up — Curry surpassed Allen with 3,117 3-pointers in 826 games, compared to Allen’s 2,973 in 1,300 career games.

2. He changed the game. The ultimate stamp of greatness is reserved for athletes who are so good they alter the trajectory and the way others play the game. Here’s where Curry joined Michael (dunking and scoring ability) and Wilt Chamberlain (dunking and dominance). Curry’s unmatched long-distance marksmanship has changed basketball at every level, where even youngsters are testing the limits of their shooting range.

3. Head-to-head dominance: Steph and LeBron squared off against each other four times in the NBA Finals, with the Warriors winning three times.

For those looking for a quick and easy way to differentiate between Steph and LeBron, Andre Iguodala has a solution. It’s a matter of simple math, says Iguodala, Curry’s teammate for all four of his championships.

“If we get Steph one more championship, I can’t see how he isn’t the best player of our generation,” Iguodala said when discussing LeBron vs. Steph on JJ Redick’s podcast. “Five is more than four.”

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