Steph Curry and LeBron James Meet in the Playoffs, Maybe for the Last Time

Tim Hardaway knows stars when he sees them. Hardaway, a Hall of Fame point guard, battled against his share of them, including Michael Jordan, during a 14-year N.B.A. career.

So when he sees Stephen Curry and LeBron James encountering each other yet again in the N.B.A. playoffs, only one comparison comes to mind.

“Michael Jackson and Prince,” Hardaway said. “You must see that. That’s how big of a star they are. They command the crowd.”

The projects underscore the two players’ vastly different paths to stardom. James was already a sought-after star as a teenager. Sonny Vaccaro, the former shoe-marketing executive, once flew James out to a Lakers playoff game in a private plane from Adidas while he was in high school. James was enthralled, recounted Jeff Benedict, who recently released an independent biography of James titled “LeBron.” He said James had long understood that “basketball isn’t just a sport.”

“It’s like show business,” Benedict said. “It’s a very high form of public entertainment in the United States.”

The cultural impact of Curry and James has also rippled out to the theater in independent plays unaffiliated with the stars. This summer, Inua Ellams, a playwright based in Britain, will debut a play called “The Half-God of Rainfall” at the New York Theater Workshop. The plot combines mythology and basketball: A half-god comes to Earth and becomes the biggest star in the N.B.A. Ellams, a longtime N.B.A. fan, said the character is loosely based on Curry and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.

In another play, Rajiv Joseph’s “King James,” which makes its Off Broadway premiere this month at the Manhattan Theater Club in New York, James looms but doesn’t appear, an indication of his influence. The piece chronicles the friendship of two Cleveland-based men who idolize James.

Joseph, a Cleveland native and lifelong sports fan, said the idea for the play came to him after James won a championship with the Cavaliers in 2016.

“Some players when they are 29, they’re even too old. Some players when they are 34, they’re too old,” Robertson, 84, said. He added: Guys try to rise to the occasion to play against these two athletes. And I’m so glad that these two athletes are meeting that challenge every time they go on the court.”

But so far, no other current player in the N.B.A. — or likely anyone else in American team sports — is in the same orbit of stardom and influence as James and Curry.

“We just have to enjoy these guys in the present because who knows how much longer they’ll play?” Crawford said. “But what we do know is we won’t see two like this ever again. So we should savor every moment.”

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