Some people mark the beginning of ancient Rome’s decline with the assassination of charismatic generalissimo Julius Caesar. But Caesar’s death is just a handy catchall for 100 years of internal strife and civil war that precipitated the downfall of the day’s greatest empire. I’ve been listening to historian Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcasts on the subject (highly recommended — get your Genghis Khan knowledge up!), and there are more than a few theories about how everything fell apart.
One is that the financial system became too byzantine and complex; another that Rome’s government relied on outmoded political conventions designed to govern cities not empires. Others blame the accumulation of vast wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people. There’s still another theory that the young of Rome were made cynical by the ignoble power struggles that bloodied the floors of the Forum and, occasionally, turned the Tiber red. Rome and The Republic could not endure without the Myth of Rome.
I bring this up because, listening to Carlin wrap up at the end of nearly 10 hours of material, it was hard not connect these fatal syndromes of empire with events and trends in current day America — the financial system in need of regulation and overhaul, the political stalemate that retards all reform processes, the privatization of military defense. You’ve probably heard statistics indicating that the American middle class is not exactly swelling with optimism. It’s not swelling at all; it’s shrinking as money finds its way to fewer and fewer super-wealthy people, often with the aid of an incomprehensibly opaque financial and political systems.
People get salty and cynical in the face of conditions that do not inspire optimism for future generations, yet alone their own. Twitter is a sort of megaphone for cynicism, and the internet as a whole does a pretty great job of letting you know what sucks. Even LeBron James, the greatest player since Jordan, is loudly criticized for being too good — see, it makes the game boring.
But I’ve yet to encounter a cynic calloused enough to reject the miracle that is Steph Curry’s jump shot. His game is optimism incarnate — just listen to Andrew Bogut: “Any time he dribbles the ball over half court, he’s in range. If we can get him open anywhere in the half court, I’m setting the screen cuz’ he’s shooting the ball.“
If Curry were a presidential candidate, his slogan would be Range You Can Believe In.
Other than phenomenal hand-eye coordination, Curry wasn’t blessed have outstanding physical gifts to begin with, and doesn’t even appear capable of dunking on his poor ankles. Those joints appear to be constructed mostly of plaster, and that fragility further imbues every high finger roll and 30-foot pull up dagger with a certain preciousness that is rare in any time, but especially so in an age of instant nostalgia and free, endless reproduction of media and art.
Not to go all Andy Rooney here, but even the Hot Hand has been disproven. Those moments when it seems anything is possible and the guy who’s just hit a couple shots will never miss? Not only will he miss, he’ll probably miss a bunch and hurt his team.
It seems Curry is exempt from “hotness” in the traditional sense: his range and release ruin the scientific notions about what makes for a good shot. As one person tweeted last night, Curry doesn’t get the Hot Hand, he gets the Holy Hand. He’s like an alien from another dimension in which drilling fadeaway threes after whipping the ball behind your back is common practice. You earthlings are so strange, on my planet we believe all shots are good.
Hunter Thompson describes the zeitgeist of the acid movement in the Bay Area where Curry now plays thusly: “You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.”
This is also how, in a smaller, slightly less drug-addled way, it must be to watch Curry these last two nights at Oracle Arena. When he’s going, he becomes the child who pulls the sword from the stone, the hero who steals the Gorgon’s head. Curry plays with what seems like absolute freedom to shoot at any moment — a license he had to grant himself, rather than one he earned from head coach Mark Jackson. This season has been personal experiment for Curry to push the bounds of possibility. Happily for the everyone — other teams’ fans included — he has come to realize that sometimes a 30-footer in traffic is a high percentage play.
The way he is shooting is nothing short of mythic by basketball standards, and it inspires a rare and pure wonderment.
Who knows how long this kind of thing can last. It seems out of step with the history of the world to expect a full and long career of such spectacular brilliance. So get near a TV next time he plays. The cynic in me wants to chalk it all up to distraction theater, but there are precious few moments when something a small and meaningless as Curry’s perfect shooting form can make you feel a little better about the future of the republic.