EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – The two NBA stars have experienced success, often at the expense of the other. They also have experienced sorrow, often because of the other opponent.
But with Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James facing off against Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry in yet another playoff matchup, James views Curry more with admiration for his accomplishments than any animosity toward him as a rival.
“He puts in the work. When you put in the work, nine times out of 10 you’re going to see the results,” James said following practice on Monday at the Lakers’ facility. “He’s done that throughout his whole, entire career. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Steph and everything he’s been able to accomplish, not only on the floor but also off the floor, too. It’s just great to have people like that in this league to set an example for the generation to come.”
James has set that example, too. He has won four NBA championships, appeared in eight consecutive NBA Finals and became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. That path often involved Curry, who won four NBA titles and became the league’s all-time leading 3-point shooter. With the Cleveland Cavaliers, James faced Curry in four consecutive Finals appearances (2015-2019). After the Warriors won in 2015, James helped the Cavaliers become the first NBA team in league history to overcome a 3-1 series deficit (2016). Following Kevin Durant’s block-buster free-agent signing, the Warriors then beat the Cavaliers the following two years (2017, 2018).
Most of the history James and Curry cemented traces back to their Finals appearances. But James also led the Lakers to a play-in tournament win over the Curry-led Warriors in 2021 that entailed making a game-winning 3. And finally, James and Curry will square off in a playoff series before the NBA Finals.
No wonder Lakers coach Darvin Ham called the James-Curry matchup “the best rivalry of his generation.”
“Just two of the most competitive players that have ever played this game,” James said. “We want to etch our names in the history books as much as we can, but playing and doing it our own way. Like I said, I got nothing but the greatest admiration and the greatest respect for Steph.”
James has become the NBA’s most physically dominant player with positional versatility and superior playmaking. He has elevated teammates with positive reinforcement and constructive criticism. Even in his 20th NBA season at age 38, James has averaged 28.9 points on a 50% clip along with 8.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists. That tops his career averages in points (27.2) and rebounds (7.5)
Curry has become the NBA’s best shooter with developing unlimited range, creating on-court gravity and moving relentlessly off-the ball. Curry has mirrored James’ leadership qualities, while doing so more of it behind-the-scenes. Even in his 14th NBA season at age 35, Curry has averaged 29.4 points per game while shooting 49.3% from the field and 42.7% from deep along with 6.3 assists and 6.1 rebounds. That tops his career averages in points (24.6), shooting percentage (47.5) and rebounds (4.7).
Too bad James has more to worry about than just Curry, who posted a career-high 50 points in the Warriors’ win over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series. The Warriors also have another elite shooter (Klay Thompson), an elite defender (Draymond Green) and a dependable center (Kevon Looney). Golden State also has a skilled two-way player on the wings (Andrew Wiggins) and a young dynamic guard (Jordan Poole).
“You’ve got to be super-duper locked in. You can’t make a mistake,” James said. “You just can’t. You can’t make a mistake or they’ll make you pay. It’s literally that simple.”
So simple to know. So difficult to execute.
“They’re right there at the top along with some of those great San Antonio Spurs teams where you just – if you make a mistake, they make you pay. It’s that simple. So, we have to be locked in,” James said. “They’re going to already do a great job of scoring anyways, even when you’ve got a body on top of them. You’ve seen some of the shots, the routine shots, that Steph was making in Game 7 that everybody was going crazy after. That’s just Steph. When you’re that great, you make tough shots like that. So, we’ve got to be locked in and not hurt ourselves.”