A Quick History Lesson About the NBA’s Best Team
I am never surprised by the people I meet or the things I see while using Bay Area Rapid Transit. On my way to Oracle for a recent game, I hopped on BART and had this cross-generational exchange with a 17-year-old Warriors fan holding the handrail next to me.
“I’m sorry – what’s that?”
“That’s a dope Draymond Green retro.”
“Oh, this ain’t Draymond. It’s Mitch Richmond.”
[He stared at me in confused silence.]
Nice Billy Owens jersey.
This is Steph Curry.
No, I know. I was just messing around.
I don’t get it.
It was a play on the jersey numbers of Warriors past. Like some people think my Richmond jersey is a Jason Richardson throwback.
Who’s Jason Richardson?
Jesus Christ. You serious? When did you start watching the Warriors?
When they beat the Nuggets a few years back. They a hella dope team. When did you start following them?
Like around ‘85 or ’86.
Like, 1985? Damn, you hella old. At least you seen a ton of winning. How many championships you seen?
[I stared at him in confused silence]
Zero. I’ve seen zero.
What? Zero? That don’t make sense. The Warriors are like one of the greatest teams ever.
That’s when I decided to write this article. Some Warriors fans are new to the game. It’s all good. To help out, I’m writing a brief history of the NBA’s fastest-growing fan base.
WARNING: It … ain’t … pretty.
What we’re gonna do right here is go back. [How far you goin’ back?] Way back. As we take it to 1946.
While these guys may look like the Omaha, Nebraska Rec League Champs, this is actually the first NBA championship team – the 1946-47 Warriors … Philadelphia Warriors that is. See, before moving to the Bay, the Warriors played in Philly and won two championships before moving out west in 1962.
Wilt Chamberlain, the most dominant player in basketball history, began his NBA career as a Warrior. But in what was the first of many heartbreaking transactions for the team’s fans, the Warriors basically gave away their star player for nothing. After achieving his historical 100-point game, Wilt and the team left Philly for San Francisco. Then, a season after reaching Game 7 of the 1964 NBA Finals, Wilt was traded for financial reasons. Wilt’s legacy included scoring a lot of points and probably having sex with someone in your family.
Paul Neumann came to the Warriors in the Wilt trade. Paul Neumann never scored 50 points in a game. However, Paul Newman, as Cool Hand Luke, once ate 50 eggs in an hour.
No, that’s not Festus Ezeli. It’s a young Al Attles. Better known as “Legend.” A gentleman off the court, Al “The Destroyer” Attles would rip your head off on the court and burst your eardrums as a coach; yelling with a voice that sounded like it had grinded just its way through a gravel-packed throat. My uncle told me a story about Al’s voice being so deep and loud, it blew out his VW Beetle’s speakers during the post-game coach’s interview on KNBR.
Al was so intimidating, I’m more frightened by him in this photo than the dude with the axe.
Hey, how about this old Warriors logo? Can we just pretend is never existed? And you thought Thunder was a bad mascot. Thank goodness pro sports teams are smart enough not to have racist mascots anymore.
Tom Meschery is one of six players with his jersey number hanging from the Oracle rafters. In six seasons with the Warriors, he averaged 12.9 points and 8.5 rebounds. Yet, Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway don’t have their numbers retired. I guess Tom was just a really nice guy?
Nate Thurmond is an all-time great Warrior, but imagine if Twitter was around back when he had this receding hairline. Even LeBron would post memes clowning on it.
You can find tons of stories about Rick Barry’s game all over the web. He averaged over 25 points with the Warriors, including 31.7 in 56 playoffs games, blah, bah, blah. What I’m more interested in is Barry’s appearance in team photos.
First, we start with this photo of the 1973-74 Warriors. You can see the beginnings of some hairline recession taking form.
His hair is about the same during the Warriors championship team photo, but … wait … is he not wearing any shorts? And where’s his sexual anatomy? What the hell was going on back at Warriors headquarters in the 70’s?
In 1976, Barry refused to let his receding hairline win. At least I think that’s Rick Barry. Changing your hair really does transform your looks. Or did Gordon Hayward travel back in time to play for the 76-77 Warriors?
And just like that Barry gave up on the weave the very next season. This was his last year with the Warriors. He played two more with the Rockets, but based on photos, it doesn’t appear he ever went back to the weave again. Until he retired and became a hairweave spokesman.
With all this Barry hair talk, let’s not forget, this 1974-75 team was the last time the Warriors won an NBA title. Barry was dominant during the season and throughout the playoffs, but it was a balanced attack on both ends of the court that led the Warriors passed Seattle and Chicago in the West and on to a sweep of the Washington Bullets in the Finals. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the title. Is another magical season in the works?
As the Rick Barry era came to an end in the late 70’s, the Warriors became less and less relevant. Eric “Sleepy” Floyd brought an exciting coolness to the team that peaked with his 29-point fourth quarter in a classic Western Conference Semifinal win over the Lakers; a series the Warriors lost 4-1.
Joe Barry Carroll put up some great stats, but earned a nicknamed of Joe Barely Cares for a perceived lack of effort and an inability to live up to his hype – hype that caused the Warriors to trade Robert Parrish and a draft pick that turned into Kevin McHale so they could select Carroll with the #1 overall pick in 1980. By the way, the Warriors had a lot of receding hairline issues back in the day. That’s World B. Free (#21) with Carroll behind him.
The Love/Hate with Don Nelson runs deep. On two separate occasions nearly 20 years apart, he brought the Warriors out of the depths of the NBA standings and made them relevant. But as you read on, you’ll also see he did some awful things that set the team back for years.
Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin made up Run TMC – a golden era in Warriors history. They ran the floor, bombed threes, dunked on your head (just Mitch), killed you with the cross (Timmie) and laughed in the face of defense (Mully). Unfortunately, with names like Jim Petersen, Manute Bol, Paul Mokeski, Alton Lister and Les Jepsen, Run TMC never found an inside presence to make them a threat in the Western Conference.
Speaking of ‘Nute, here’s a great article from LOL KNBR that tells you everything you need to know about one of the most interesting human beings ever.
So Mitch Richmond averages 22, 22 and 23.9 points respectively in three seasons with the Warriors. He was Rookie of the Year, someone Michael Jordan called his toughest matchup at shooting guard and was one-third of the coolest and most exciting trio in the NBA. But hey, who cares. In what Don Nelson calls the dumbest move of his career (I can confirm that it was), Mitch was traded with two other players for the potential of Billy Owens. Billy seemed to care less about basketball than Joe Barely Cares and was traded for a stiff center after three forgettable seasons.
It took me three years to get over the Richmond trade. But it was easy when the Warriors snatched up the most exciting and impactful player in their draft history. Chris Webber brought Warriors fans to life with his scowls, beautiful passes, behind the back dunks and all-around bad-assness. But Nelson forced the dominant power forward to play center in a small-ball lineup. Webber didn’t like it and the two clashed. With ownership changing hands (we’ll get to that in a bit), Nelson had the power to pull his weight and send the Rookie of the Year packing for a dude named Googs and draft picks that turned into Todd Fuller, Antawn Jamison and Billy Owens for his second go-around with the Warriors just-because. The Warriors traded away one of the most promising and exciting NBA players for nothing because Nelson didn’t like him. Webber still ended up having a great NBA career, but injuries kept him from being one of the best players of all-time. I’ll always believe he would have been a top 10 player ever if he stayed with the Warriors.
You are the prince of darkness, arch enemy, father of evil, hell born, demonic, obstinate beast. That’s either the opening of an Ice Cube song or a Warriors fan’s description of Chris Cohan. When telling the story of the Golden State Warriors, Cohan is Voldemort, Sauron and Darth Vader rolled into one. But he didn’t use a wand, Orcs or a lightsaber. His weapon of choice was absence. In three years working at the Warriors corporate offices, I never spoke to the dude once. He was the type to stay in his office all day, and when he came out to use the bathroom would stare at the floor as his walked by you. His lack of leadership led to some of the most embarrassing team’s in NBA history. Seasons of 26 wins, 19, 21, 19, 17, 21, 29, 26 … and on and on. Fans hated him so much they booed him at half court during NBA All-Star 2000 in Oakland – one of his extremely rare public appearances.
And let’s not forget this happened under his watch. One of the most infamous and embarrassing moments in NBA history happened as Chris Cohan stood in the corner facing a wall like Blair Witch was scolding him. It was such a crazy event, I had to write a fake oral history about it.
Trying to regain some credibility, the Warriors brought back Chris Mullin to retire with the team and then take over as GM. Even Nelson came back for another run and the Warriors made some moves to become relevant again. After a few rookie GM mistakes, Mullin pulled off a steal in landing Baron Davis. He then made a great trade with Indiana for Stephen Jackson and All Harrington to round out the We Believe squad, which gave Golden State its first playoff appearance in 16 years – the NBA’s longest drought.
But Cohan’s right-hand lackey, Bobby Rowell, didn’t like Mullin getting too much credit or power. Nelson didn’t get his former player’s back, so Mullin bounced and the team became a joke again.
Rowell, Cohan’s so-called business expert, got outsmarted by Captain Jack for a ridiculous contract. Baron got fat and left. Monta Ellis didn’t like it when the team drafted a baby-faced assassin that played his position. The team lost a lot. Jackson and Nelson yelled at each other a lot. Then they both left.
Things continued to fall apart, until finally, on November 15, 2010, the Cohan cloud disappeared from the sky and Joe Lacob came in to save the day.
Every single day since then has gotten a little bit better for Warriors fans.