DAVID GREENE, HOST:
NBA players have been shooting 3s for years. The 3-point shot was introduced by the league in 1979. But its status as a crowd-pleasing long-range weapon was elevated again this season by Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Curry broke his own record, setting a new mark for the most 3s in a single season - he sank 286 of them. As his shots have soared, so has his popularity, of course. And Curry's a big reason why the Warriors are one of the favorites as the NBA playoffs begin tomorrow. Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The NBA All-Star Game is part of an annual February weekend gathering that's really about NBA culture - fashion, music and what's cool. This time around, the 3-point contest, featuring the league's best long-range shooters, was off-the-charts cool on TNT.
(SOUNDBITE OF NBA 3-POINT CONTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Stephen Curry.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Kenny, would it be safe to say most people here in this building have come to see this man?
KENNY SMITH: I would say it's very safe to say.
GOLDMAN: Stephen Curry, who won the contest, has become the man to see every night, and for advertisers, the man to market. His jersey is the No. 2 best-seller behind still-king LeBron James. But with the younger generation, there appears to be a new king. In January, the digital broadcast network 120 Sports released a survey that asked more than 1,400 18- to 34-year-olds who's your favorite athlete? Curry ranked No. 1. Yago Colas teaches basketball and culture at the University of Michigan. He says for a generation that demands accessibility, largely because of social media, Steph Curry - 6'3'', 185 pounds - is the accessible superstar.
YAGO COLAS: Curry is always talked about as down-to-earth and approachable and an everyman and an average guy. He's small by basketball standards and slight of frame.
GOLDMAN: And his special skill, the 3-pointer - Colas says it's accessible, too.
COLAS: We can kind of fantasize any of us could perfect if we wanted to put in the time.
GOLDMAN: Twenty-three feet, nine inches - the official distance of an NBA 3-pointer. So here we go.
(SOUNDBITE OF BASKETBALL HITTING RIM)
GOLDMAN: Nope. And that is a really long way (laughter). I have this image of Steph Curry rising and flicking his wrist. I had to do a two-handed push from the chest. I'm going to try it again.
(SOUNDBITE OF BASKETBALL HITTING RIM)
GOLDMAN: No, not even close.
Obviously, I have to put in more time. Curry obviously has. As shotmechanics.com points out in this video dissection of Curry's 3-point shooting, it's much more than a flick of the wrist.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHOTMECHANICS.COM VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This means that on the way into his shot, the ball never pauses. It's one fluid motion from the beginning of his shot to his follow-through. This allows the energy from his jump to transfer into his release. That way, he can get extra range.
GOLDMAN: There was a time decades ago when the NBA considered the 3-point shot a gimmick. Today, in an analytics-fueled sports world, scoring from beyond the arcing line that separates 2-point shots from 3s is considered an efficient offensive weapon. Again, here's Yago Colas.
COLAS: You can shoot 40 percent from 3-point range and score as many points as a 60 percent shooter from inside the arc.
GOLDMAN: Of course, nothing is more efficient or crowd-pleasing still as the shot closest to the basket - the rim-rattling dunk. Most appreciate the dunk as if in a museum - can't touch, just admire. Although after Steph Curry sank 77 straight 3-pointers in practice this week, he and his offensive weapon-of-choice may have to be roped off as well. Tom Goldman, NPR News.
GREENE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.