MIAMI - Over the past month, Eddy Curry has toned his body and toned down the rhetoric.
When he signed with the Miami Heat, Curry made no secret that games against one opponent were already circled on his calendar. That opponent was none other than the New York Knicks.
The Knicks paid him about US$30 million to basically not play over a three-year stint where his ballooning weight and series of personal issues seemed to be bringing his basketball career to an end.
"I'm looking forward to it," Curry said in mid-December, just as training camp was starting in Miami. "Looking forward to it. That's all I'll say."
A little over a month later, Curry is a smaller man — he says he's lost 35 pounds in the last few weeks, raising his total to 65 by his count since starting his comeback attempt, though some estimates suggest he's dropped even more. And when asked these days about the Knicks, who visit Miami on Friday for the first of three matchups this season, Curry's aiming to be a bigger man by insisting the game will not carry any extra significance.
"Every game is no more important than the other until the playoffs come," Curry said, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2001 draft trying to pretend that he wasn't aware a matchup against the Knicks was looming. "Whoever we play, I'll be up for it. Looking forward to it."
Curry is hardly all the way back, just back on the floor on occasion. He's appeared in three games with the Heat, scoring six points in 21 minutes. Miami signed him with the long-term in mind, knowing that his weight issues were not fully in check and that there would surely be some rust to shake off his game after appearing in only 10 NBA contests over a three-year span.
Slowly, he's getting there. And for the Heat, right now, that's enough.
"First of all, you root for a guy like Eddy because you know he's been through a lot," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "You can empathize with his journey.
"He's taking responsibility for his future right now. He's done the majority of this on his own, before he got here.
"Once we got him into the program, we've had a history of players getting into our Miami Heat condition. He's bought into that. He's earned this opportunity. He's a very likable guy. So you root for him."
During Curry's Knicks tenure, he didn't always give the team reasons for rooting.
In his training camps under Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, either injury or illness always found a way to derail Curry. Their relationship was strained, to put it mildly. Fans never seemed to turn on Curry, perhaps mindful of his personal issues — the murder of his former, a custody battle, a lawsuit by his former limousine driver who alleged verbal abuse and sexual harassment, and massive financial problems.
He got a warm cheer from the crowd at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 22, 2009, when he checked into a game late in the first quarter and with the Knicks leading by 17. He left about 3-1/2 minutes later, the lead having been trimmed to six and the MSG crowd having grown considerably antsy.
The Knicks wound up losing that night.
Curry never played for New York again, or any other NBA club until his Heat debut earlier this month.
"Good for him," D'Antoni said Wednesday when asked about Curry's new beginning in Miami. "He's a great kid. It got to a spot where he can perform and he needs to.
"That's good. I hope it works out."
There's no certainty Curry will even play Friday against New York, or Sunday when Miami faces the team that drafted Curry in 2001, the Chicago Bulls.
But there's a chance. Which, even a couple months ago, seemed highly unlikely.
The Heat started their relationship with Curry last spring, having him in for a workout. Another workout followed in June, just before the lockout began. No guarantees were ever made, but Miami made Curry one assurance: Keep losing weight, keep getting closer to your former form, and you'll have a shot.
So far, he's taking full advantage. Playing against the Knicks would merely be a bonus.
"I've got no animosity toward anybody over there at all," Curry said. "I heard from a lot of people over in that organization (after his Miami debut), a lot of people wishing me well.
"I have no animosity. It's going to be a fun game."
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