Curry's future as bright as NYC lights

NEW YORK -- Of all the items on LeBron James' ridiculously packed All-Star Weekend agenda, two things that happened Friday illustrated where he is in the basketball universe.

James was unanimously elected as vice president of the players' union at a meeting he did not even attend Friday afternoon. In the evening -- between a dinner to satisfy one sponsor and a party to satisfy another -- he shot a car commercial on 34th Street in Manhattan despite being on the set less than three minutes.

It is indeed James' league. He draws more fans, sells more shoes, makes more money and wields more power than anyone in the league. A major reason there are no games until Thursday night is because James leaned on NBA commissioner Adam Silver last year to extend the All-Star break.

As for the game itself, James sort of feels like he controls that too. Maybe he'll decide to win his third All-Star MVP, or maybe he'll let someone else win.

"I haven't decided what my minutes are going to be just yet," James told The Associated Press in one of the dozens of interviews he has done over the past three days. "It's my first time in the Garden, so I've kind of been like, 'Should I go out and do one of those LeBron games? What should I do?'"

So for now the league belongs to James; it has essentially for the past five years as Kobe Bryant has slid into his twilight. This is not a new phenomenon.

But the man who seems poised to eventually nudge James out is using this weekend to make that statement known.

That man is Stephen Curry, whose popularity and reach have been affirmed all season and magnified at the annual midseason party. His victory in the 3-point shootout Saturday was just the cherry on what has been a clear establishment of the developing hierarchy.

Kevin Durant has a $30 million a year Nike contract and an MVP Award. Russell Westbrook has his own line of jeans and shoes and has become a fashion trendsetter. James Harden's beard is one of the fastest rising brands in the league as he has essentially overtaken teammate Dwight Howard as the most popular Houston Rockets player.

But if you're paying attention, there is no missing how Curry has connected with the game's younger fans. Curry came to All-Star Weekend as the leading vote-getter -- with 43,000 more votes than second-place James -- and that is a trend that is showing no signs of slowing.

James hangs out with the A-list, partying with Kevin Hart and Jay Z and guest starring in Judd Apatow movies. But something symbolic happened last week when Mo'ne Davis, the most popular 14-year-old athlete in America, showed up at a game in Philadelphia wearing a Curry jersey and looking to hang out with her favorite player.

Davis is a face of her generation, and she is infatuated with youthful-looking and sweet-shooting Curry. Millions of her peers are following, as Curry has the hottest selling jersey in the league since the start of the year.

In a wide-ranging piece last week on ESPN.com, Darren Rovell examined how Curry is blossoming into a marketing star. Under Armour missed out on Durant when he was a shoe free agent last summer, but its deal with Curry, which pays him approximately $4 million per year, may be the steal of the industry. State Farm did its market research too. After handing its endorsement baton from James to Chris Paul, it is in the process of making Curry a face of its massive ad buys.

On Saturday morning, after it was announced he was going to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, George Raveling was asked to predict who he thought would win the MVP on Sunday. Raveling, who has been a high-ranking Nike executive since he retired from coaching in 1994, picked Curry without a moment's hesitation.

"That's a hell of a prediction," Raveling said. "Because he's with Under Armour."

Just as Michael Jordan was the right player at the right time when fans became obsessed with the dunk during the 1980s, Curry is the prince of the burgeoning 3-point generation. The 3-pointer has become sexy, and while there are those who may shoot it better than Curry -- who actually has the worst 3-point percentage of his career so far this season -- few are more recognized for it.

His hot streaks, slick dribbling and step-back jumpers are YouTube staples, and the stylish and big-market Warriors are a refreshing feel-good story that have stepped perfectly into the limelight as more traditional power brands like the Knicks, Lakers and Celtics have faded.

For the younger fan, Curry is all the rage. If he can follow in the steps of Jordan, Bryant and James and grab an NBA title before players like Durant or rising New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis, his victory over the future could be complete.

"It's fun right now," Curry said. "You just want to embrace the higher expectations that everyone now has for you."