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LeBron, Curry provide David vs. Goliath aspect to Finals

The multi-skilled, 6-foot-9 forward and the sharpshooting, lithe, 6-foot-3 guard contrast in their physiques, skills and more

POSTED: Jun 2, 2016 9:50 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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The diminutive Stephen Curry (left) and the hulking LeBron James have vastly different NBA skills.

— A hundred years ago or so, the late great Wilt Chamberlain grew peevish over the responses he often generated from NBA fans, many of whom seemed to delight in seeing a 7-foot-1, 275-pound giant such as himself humbled and cut down to size.

"Nobody roots for Goliath," Chamberlain famously said, though he might have lifted the line from his Lakers friend and teammate Jerry West.

That whole David-Goliath dynamic is alive and well in these 2016 Finals.

If you focus on the leaders of the respective teams, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, it's pretty easy to cast the roles in this hardwood version of the Biblical story. Curry is David, the undersized king of the Israelites. James is Goliath, massive mighty warrior of the Philistines.

I don't think [size] matters as much these days. Maybe in the '90s, the 2000s ... with a lot of wrestling going on in the paint. I think it's changed.

– Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut

In the Bible, of course, David slays Goliath with one stone from his sling, a shot that in secular and shorthand interpretations has made it the original underdog story. Now any apparent mismatch routinely gets characterized as a David-Goliath tale.

For the purposes of this discussion, we'll limit the parallels to the physical stature of the principals. Curry is that plucky smaller guy, at least by NBA standards. His sling? Why, his outrageous use of the 3-point shot, wielding it as a weapon like no one before him in league history.

GameTime: LeBron James

LeBron James sits down with NBATV's Kristen Ledlow.

James, meanwhile, is listed at 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds and might be a little bigger. Well, Goliath was listed in the Book of Samuel as standing "four cubits and a span," which translates to 2.06 meters or, sure enough, 6-foot-9.

The fact that the two of them are, with San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan, the only active NBA players to have won more multiple MVP awards demonstrates there are different ways to dominate. Which wasn't always the case.

Back in Wilt's time and for a decade beyond, Goliaths might not have captured the hearts of the fans but they did rule the NBA. Twenty-five of the first 28 MVP winners were big men, with only Bob Cousy (1957), Oscar Robertson (1964) and Julius Erving (1981) slipping in from 1956-83. But only seven of the next 21 MVP trophies went to players 6-foot-9 or bigger. And since Steve Nash won back-to-back MVPs in 2005 and '06, the only true "power" player to win any of the past 12 MVPs is James ('09, '10, '12 and '13).

"I don't think [size] matters as much these days," Andrew Bogut, Golden State's 7-foot center, said at the Finals media day at Oracle Arena. "Maybe in the '90s, the 2000s, the big, brute strong guy with the biceps curls every day and [who] probably flexes in the mirror, there probably was an intimidation factor, with a lot of wrestling going on in the paint. I think it's changed. Your 'four' men are usually thin who shoot threes out on the floor, and your five men are a little leaner as well these days. There's no more big, bulky strong guy anymore.

GameTime: Stephen Curry

Check out a preview of NBATV's Kristen Ledlow's interview with reigning two-time MVP Stephen Curry, airing Thursday ahead of Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

"I like to think I'm decently strong. But there's no Shaqs anymore. There are no guys who absolutely have you bruised and battered after a game. Maybe Dwight Howard. Maybe DeAndre Jordan. But the game's changed. There was a big emphasis on lifting weights, on trying to get bigger and stronger and football player-like, but now it's more on [endurance] and staying flexible and dropping weight."

Even James shed about 20 pounds on a modified paleo diet in the 2014 offseason after losing in The Finals that June, with his Miami teammates, against San Antonio. His goal: To get swifter, leaner for more open court play.

Then again, he still is built like an NFL tight end.

But I think it might be easier for the common fan to relate to Steph because it's hard to be 6-8, 260 and have a 40-inch [vertical leap] and be the fastest guy on the floor.

– Klay Thompson, on Stephen Curry

"LeBron, there's probably never been a body in the NBA that combines the force, the strength, the dexterity," said Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams. "His skill level is really outstanding for being in the body that he's in. He's unusual. He's the best playmaker. When he's around the boards, he's the best rebounder. You just go down the list. There's nothing he can't do."

That's where the body size, the sheer physical presence of a player like James -- or back in the day, Chamberlain -- starts to bleed into the expectations fans might have for the guy. Like LeBron currently, Wilt was 2-4 in six trips to The Finals.

Golden State's Shaun Livingston knows something about expectations, preconceptions and size, as a 6-foot-7, 182-pound point guard. Big guys carry big burdens, he said.

"Yeah, because you think, 'How does a human being grown to be that big?' when LeBron walks through the door," Livingston said. "Similar to Shaq when he walks in. It's like, 'How?' I think it's even more impressive to have that skill level at that size."

Finals Media Day: Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry addresses the media heading into Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

If James is capable of doing everything, Curry is an Everyman who, at a claimed 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, could almost pass unnoticed on the streets of San Francisco. He acknowledged Wednesday that he actually uses Uber, with drivers unaware of the young fellow they're picking up until they get really close.

For a lot of NBA fans, Curry -- like Nash before him -- has a relatability that turns into likeability.

LeBron, there's probably never been a body in the NBA that combines the force, the strength, the dexterity. His skill level is really outstanding for being in the body that he's in. He's unusual.

– Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams

"There's always an appeal whenever you get a smaller guy -- Isaiah Thomas, Steph, those guys who are the same size as the Average Joe, maybe a little taller," Bogut said. "I guess people can relate to it that much more, an if-he-can-do-it, I-can-do-it mentality. Steph's a prime example. He still doesn't get respect from a lot of our opponents or opposing fans, because he looks like a little kid."

There was some talk, now that Curry and James are facing each other (without actually matching up by position) for the second straight Finals, of a growing rivalry, perhaps driven by the reigning MVP usurping the Cleveland star's status as the league's "face" in jersey sales, endorsement opportunities and the like. Klay Thompson, Curry's backcourt mate, addressed it while deftly sidestepping controversy.

Finals Media Day: LeBron James

LeBron James addresses the media heading into Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

"I think there's faces, because it's just a star-driven league," Thompson said. "But I think it might be easier for the common fan to relate to Steph because it's hard to be 6-8, 260 and have a 40-inch [vertical leap] and be the fastest guy on the floor."

Thompson added: "It's unconventional what he's doing. It's never really been seen before, a guy that can dominate the game of basketball being 6-3, 190 pounds, and he plays with such great poise. ... That's why, the hate he might receive or skepticism from past players or media, I think it just comes with territory because they can't believe their eyes. Like, 'how is he getting those shots off?' "

Curry, by virtue of his size, surpasses many folks' expectations. James, by virtue of his, constantly has had to live up to them. Only one of them ever gets to be a giant slayer. And nobody roots for Goliath.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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