Steph Curry Is Making #30 Cool

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Stephen Curry is proving more and more to be the most heartening kind of sports success story: a player who is undeniably great, relying on skill rather than size or athletic superiority, channeling some kind of basketball genius in a way that transcends the game and would be delightful to watch even if you had never heard of basketball. He’s “doing it the right way,” crusty traditionalists might assert. On top of that, he’s just a nice guy, a family man who will bust your ass and then drive his daughter to school in a minivan. He’s set to win his first MVP and the team he leads is a title favorite. No mean feat for a guy who entered the league as a presumed string bean spot-up shooter.

But perhaps Curry’s greatest achievement is making the number 30 cool. To me, the number 30 calls to mind YMCA weekend warriors. The rec spec/knee brace set who you don’t want to guard because you know they’re going to get physical and you’re not about getting their hairy sweat all over you. I have no idea why the number 30 has this connotation for me aside from it just being a number that people who don’t give a shit about numbers would pick. When your high school coach throws down the bag with all the jerseys in it at the beginning of the season, what numbers do you go for first? The 5s, the 3s, the 11s, the 34s, the 23s. 0 maybe. If you were taking a piss or checking a text and got there late, you might get stuck with a 45 or a 13 or a 22. There’s nothing wrong with those numbers, to be sure, but nobody’s jumping on 30 right off the bat.

Until now. I admit this is a hard thing to quantify, and I’m not as up to date on the ins and outs of high school/AAU players number preferences as I once was, but one thing that’s empirically observable is that Curry’s #30 Warriors jersey is the number one (non-LeBron) selling NBA jersey. That’s probably more of an achievement considering that of the 11 of the jersey numbers in the top 15 best-selling jerseys that can be worn in high school and college, 30 is arguably the “least cool.” That is to say, Derrick Rose’s jersey is already kinda cool because it has #1 on it. Anthony Davis sports #23. Dwyane Wade wears the very chic #3, Damian Lillard rocks the mysterious #0.

I’d be willing to bet Curry will end making 30 cool the way Jordan made 23 cool. Because, think about it, nobody cared about 23 before Jordan wore it. He famously chose that as a second option, after his older brother’s #45 jersey wasn’t available. Another player on those mid-90s Bulls teams is also instructive in terms how much a player’s number is tied to how we think of him: Dennis Rodman. 91 is maybe the most bizarre number a basketball player has ever worn—with apologies to Ron Artest’s days as #37—which makes it incredibly cool. Choosing such an extreme number is kind of like driving a pink car in that it’s a bet you make with the audience. You can end up looking really stupid if you’re not good. But if you are good. Well, 91 will be cool as hell.

I want to say that Curry’s #30 is kind of like Rodman’s #91, on a smaller scale. He has clawed his way into the cultural mainstream through his dazzling, undeniable performances and he’s taken #30 with him. And like Dennis Rodman chose 91 because the digits add up to his Pistons’ jersey’s 10, Curry chose 30 for a similarly meaningful reason: it’s his dad’s NBA number. Every time you see Curry the Younger drop 40-plus in that #30 jersey, it’s a low key homage to his father’s legacy. Every time he hits an insane three or passes the ball between a defender’s legs in his #30, he’s reinforcing his image of a family man who has his priorities in order.

Also—maybe this is a little more “out there”—but to me, when I see the number 30, it makes me subconsciously aware of the largest factors within it: 5 x 6. #5, my personal theory goes, is probably the best point guard number because there are five players on a team and it suggests a mastery of how to make the five players work together. Perhaps that’s just because I grew up in North Carolina in the Ed Cota (#5) era, but there you go. And then there’s #6. The only better selling jersey than Curry’s is LeBron’s, who wore that number as he entered his prime in Miami. And what’s his game like? A score-at-will team-leading superstar who steamrolls over competition deep into the NBA Playoffs. It tracks—in my mind, anyway—that an old-school point guard’s #5 x high-scoring superstar’s #6 = Stephen Curry, who vacillates between the two roles with ease, who might be the best player in the league and who might bring the Bay Area a championship through this synergistic style.

And then there’s James Harden’s hard-luck, injury-plagued Rockets and that #13. Boy, don’t get me started on that.

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