For a player with such a high profile as Stephen Curry, whose pregame warm-ups can turn into nationally televised events, you probably haven't noticed one of his most important qualities. You can even spend plenty of time talking to the Golden State Warriors and not hear about it. Curry's leadership is a critical component of the Warriors' winning ways, even if it's rarely discussed.
It's rarely discussed because it's rarely detected. His teammate Draymond Green is far more demonstrative; the cameras show it, the storylines support it.
"He's kind of our engine," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Green before a game this season. "He's the guy who brings the passion, the emotion, the energy. He's a competitor, he's a trash-talker, so he gives us our edge."
Let's go over that checklist: engine, passion, emotion, energy, trash-talker, edge-giver. Oh, and that same night Kerr credited Andre Iguodala for his leadership of the team's second unit and brought up the impact of David West's veteran presence. So what does that leave for Curry? Maybe the most important category of all: culture.
The tone of the Warriors -- those fun-loving, shot-flinging, media-friendly group of guys -- comes from Curry. That enjoyable environment that Kevin Durant said he sought when he made his free agency decision last summer? That was created by Curry.
Flash back to a timeout in a Warriors home game against Boston in early March. Curry was transfixed by a fan in a promotional contest who was shooting to win a new car. The fan kept hitting 3-pointer after 3-pointer and Curry was mesmerized, as if it were one of Klay Thompson's sizzling shooting stretches. Curry stood and watched, raising his arms in the air.
All the while Kerr sat in the middle of the huddle, whiteboard resting on his leg, waiting to diagram a play. But he couldn't begin until he had his star's attention, and Kerr wasn't about to yell at him to get it. Finally the fan hit the requisite number of shots to win the car, and a satisfied Curry engaged in the huddle. Kerr just smiled and looked at Curry with an expression that said, "You good?" Kerr wants his team to find the fun in the eternal drudgery of the NBA season, to play with as much joy as possible. One play in one game wasn't more important than that. Curry makes enough shots for the Warriors, historic amounts of 3-pointers, that if he wanted to be entertained by watching someone else shoot, so be it.
There's an unspoken covenant: do the work and earn the right to play around. West, the ultra-serious power forward who sacrificed millions of dollars to pursue a championship at the tail end of his career, was struck by Curry's diligence when he joined the Warriors this season. "You see him up close and you realize how hard he works and how much he invests in trying to get better, even with all the success he's had," West said.
Think about those clips you've seen over and over again, the ones of his pregame dribbling exercises, and consider them in a different light. Every time you see them you see Curry putting in work, perfecting his craft. If you walk into the Warriors' practice facility as they're winding down, the first thing you see is Curry -- already widely considered the greatest shooter of all time -- working on his shot.
An apt comparison is Tim Duncan. He went through 19 seasons in San Antonio without giving fiery speeches or fist pumps, yet he is acknowledged as the player who empowered Gregg Popovich when Pop was an unproven NBA coach and kept the Spurs' individual egos in check.
David Lee now plays beneath Duncan's retired jersey and lasting legacy in San Antonio. He also played with Curry in Golden State for five seasons, through the championship-clinching Game 6 in Cleveland in 2015.
"With [Curry's] work ethic and how well he treats people," Lee said, "and how consistent he is on and off the court -- he never complains about anything, doesn't have an ego when it comes to stuff like that -- when your star player acts that way, no one else has the right to act [up]. It starts from the top down.
"That's how Tim Duncan was, and still is when he's around. If Tim Duncan or Steph Curry's not saying anything, how am I going to complain? Of course, they have their times when they speak up, but it was always understood, just through Steph's actions. When he acts a certain way -- especially now, with his level of fame -- you've got to fall in line."
And if anyone steps out of line on the Warriors, they'll hear from Green. There isn't a hierarchy with the team so much as a division of labor, with the roles well established by now.
"We just have a great understanding of who we are -- as people, as players and who we are to this team," Green said. "I don't expect Steph to come down the floor yelling at someone, telling them they should have done this. That's not who he is. And vice-versa. It would be more expected from me.
"You have to understand that. And that's a part of knowing your role. If you don't know your role, your team won't be very good. I think that is more of our vibe. Good cop/bad cop type deal.
"At the end of the day, someone has to be there to say, 'Hey this isn't right.' And someone has to smooth all of those things over. And I think it's a great chemistry that we have."
West played with another great point guard, Chris Paul, in New Orleans.
"Steph is not as confrontational," West said. "I'll tell you that. Steph ... he's going to talk to the group, look for feedback from the group ... but ultimately set the tone up front."
Curry, who says he believes "it takes a whole squad" to reach the lofty altitudes the Warriors have hit the past three years, is more likely to step in when someone needs a confidence boost, as when rookie Ian Clark had to fill in for an injured Curry in the 2016 playoffs.
"He told me just to play my game and be aggressive, to be able to take on the moment," Clark said. "He just gave me the confidence to go out and do what I do."
Normally, Clark said, Curry waits for other players to approach him.
"They feel like they can come to Steph and talk to him about anything," Clark said. "And he's more than willing to listen and help you out, whatever you need."
When Curry speaks up, it tends to be more instructional than motivational.
"He sets the tone in terms of messaging for that night," West said. " 'We need to be better screeners.' Whatever it is, the message for that night, he takes that on and reiterates it."
For Curry it has been a natural progression of leadership, after the franchise's difficult climb from obscurity.
"I feel like, not just me being here the longest, but seeing both sides of losing days and the mediocre days and obviously the championship days, I've kind of seen it all," Curry said. "And I feel like I had a huge hand in trying to just lead by example when it comes to exactly what the identity of what we're going to be about here, how we play, the attitude we have coming into practice, coming into the games. The confidence that you want to have out there on the floor, knowing that we can win every game we set foot on the floor. But also, kind of the gratitude and humility when it comes to understanding that you don't take winning for granted, and you have to respect the game when it comes to that.
"Obviously, in the locker room as well, trying to be, one, just be myself when it comes to how I carry myself, but develop an atmosphere and vibe with my teammates, that we trust each other and everything we do is together and everybody deserves some of that credit as well.
"It's been an amazing journey, of eight years of seeing everything from the depths of the standings, all the way to where we are now. I don't take that for granted."
No, the only thing taken for granted is Curry's leadership role.