It’s been exactly 40 years since the Golden State Warriors were in the NBA Finals. That’s two generations in terms of population demographics, but much longer in pop culture terms. Basketball is much more mainstream now than it was in 1975, when Rick Barry was shooting underhanded free-throws. Just check league MVP Steph Curry’s endorsement deals for confirmation of that fact. Barry didn’t even get his own signature sneaker, much less deals with insurance, fashion, and headphone companies. Curry –aka the Babyface Assassin — has all of that, plus the top-selling player jersey for 2015.
The Dubs’ ascension into the NBA elite is pure vindication for Golden State’s long-suffering fan base, who literally endured decades of being an also-ran franchise best known for players they drafted who went on to become stars with other teams. Remember the “Warriors Worrier” PR campaign of the late ’80s? The name sort of made sense, because the team only cracked the .500 mark three times during that decade.
The 90s and 2000s weren’t much better. The first Don Nelson era produced the emergence of the “Run-TMC” teams with Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin (who made it into the second round of the playoffs twice), but that period is still overshadowed by the rather-ugly enduring image of Latrell Sprewell choking coach PJ Carlesimo. Few players wanted to come to Oakland after that, and during the first half of the 2000s, our marquee guys were either underachievers like Donyell Marshall or over-the-hill journeymen like Antawn Jamison. The Warriors survived an eleven-year playoff drought covering the tenure of no less than six head coaches between 1995 and 2006. Their fortunes began to turn around in 2012, when second-year coach Mark Jackson won 47 games, but the following year, they didn’t advance past the first round despite a 51-win season, prompting ownership to bring in Steve Kerr as coach.
If hindsight is 20/20, that move—questionable at the time—proved golden. Kerr acted like anything other than a rookie in winning 67 games, one of the highest totals of all time. Not only did the Splash Brothers—Steph Curry and Klay Thompson—live up to their billing as the league’s deadliest backcourt combination, but Draymond Green emerged as the heart and soul of the team, a versatile swing man who played defense and offense with equal passion. Players stifled under Jackson, like Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut, flourished under Kerr. Andre Iguodala accepted the sixth man role without complaint; another former All-Star, David Lee, graciously surrendered his job to Green with nary a peep – unselfishness on a level rarely, if ever, associated with professional sports. Role players like Shaun Livingston, Maureese Speights, Leandro Barbosa, and Festus Ezili all played their parts well. The Warriors developed the deepest roster in the league, a 10-man rotation which relied on team chemistry as much as ball movement and offensive/defensive intensity. Making up 20-point deficits was possible for this team, built on versatility and execution, yet not lacking for star power.
If there was a more exciting team in all of sports to watch than the Warriors this year, that team must play on another planet without cable TV. All season long, the Warriors seemed to be playing at a higher level than their opponents, resulting in many blowout victories, and a plethora of ESPN-worthy highlights. The Warriors of old never seemed to care much for playing defense, especially during the Don Nelson years. But this team was different. When games got tough, the Warriors got tougher. How many times did they break opponents’ resolve by drilling-down with a defensive stop resulting in a spine-snapping transition 3 or dunk? How many times did Curry hit highlight reel shots? Did we mention Klay’s 37-point quarter? Or breakout games where Green, Barnes, or Ezeli showed they can shoulder the scoring load? Speaking of Barnes, his 4th-quarter explosion after Thompson’s injury in Game Five vs. Houston is exactly the stuff championships are made of. When the chips are down, quitters quit and winners win. The game hung in the balance prior to his scoring nine straight points; afterward, it was all but academic.
“Remember the ‘Warriors Worrier’ PR campaign of the late ’80s? The name sort of made sense, because the team only cracked the .500 mark three times during that decade.”
Despite all the offensive fireworks, perhaps no better play illustrates the Warriors season than their defensive gem the last 11 seconds of Game Two vs. Houston at Oracle Arena. The Rockets’ best player, James Harden, had the ball. Running down the court, he spotted a double team of Steph and Klay. He passed the ball to Dwight Howard—what was he thinking?—then received it back, with even less time remaining on the clock. With the Warriors trapping him, he seemed confused and didn’t manage to get a shot off. A foul would have given the Rockets a chance to win, but that didn’t happen. It was like Harden—a bonafied MVP candidate who finished second to Curry—was psychologically crushed, overwhelmed by the pressure. The next game was a blowout win for the Dubs, and even though Harden came back to score 45 in the Rockets’ lone victory in Game Four, any momentum was deaded in Game Five, when the Black Rasputin logged an NBA record for turnovers in a Houston loss which wasn’t even close. Sure, we can blame the Lil B curse for Harden’s poor performance, but a more logical explanation is that he was simply outsmarted by players with superior court intelligence.
The win over the Rockets might have seemed shocking for Warriors newbies and national b-ball fans just tuning in, but the fact is, they’ve shut down potent offenses and league superstars all year with their defensive play, three-point shooting, and nimble transition game. They made adjustments in the playoffs after dropping two consecutive games to Memphis and never looked back. Is it really any wonder they’re the consensus favorite to win it all?
As the Finals approach, Dubs fever is at an all-time high. Warrior gear once resigned to closets is now on full display. The Alameda County Courthouse is bathed in blue and yellow lights. And Steph’s daughter, Riley Curry, has become an unlikely media superstar. It’s been a long time coming for anyone who suffered through the days of Chris Washburn, Manute Bol, Tom Tolbert, Tyrone Hill, and Mike Dunleavy.
Even though their name doesn’t say it explicitly, Golden State is an Oakland team. They might be moving to San Francisco next year, but in the event of a Finals win, the parade will be held right here, in Oakland. Their Townish affiliation is evident in their unpretentious identity and the loudish “Roaracle” fans who helped cheer them to a 37-2 regular season home record. Their secret weapon is DJ D-Sharp, a hip-hop veteran who isn’t hesitant to play snippets of Too Short or the Luniz during games.
A measure of the Warriors’ pop culture cachet is the numerous songs dedicated to them, the unofficial anthem (and Oakulture personal favorite) being E-40’s Dubbed-out remake of “Choices.” The rapper known as the Bay Ambassador took an already-good song and made it great by inserting lots and lots of references to the boys in blue and yellow:
Did it happen in a day? (nope)
Came a long way? (yup)
Never know what kind of angle (nope)
Crossover, break your ankle (yup)
Sloppy with the rock? (nope)
Steph Curry with the shot (yup)
Splash Brothers? (yup)
Ain’t no stoppin’ (nope)
Klay Thompson (yup)
Under pressure, is he choking? (nope)
Do it big like Bogut? (yup)
Never let em tell us that we can’t (nope)
Go hard like Barnes in the paint (yup)
Never ever slowin up the pace (nope)
Shoot a three-pointer in his face (yup)
Almost as good: a reggae video featuring Morgan Heritage and Bobby Lee’s “We A Warrior” set to clips of the Dubs splashing their foes.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Locals Zion-I and Kev Choice are reportedly working on Warriors-inspired tunes right now (edit: The Sole Brothers’ “Warriors” features Zion-I, Blackalicious and Lateef the Truthspeaker). Rapper Rich Cole also has a song, “Dub Nation,” which notes “we the best in the west and the NBA.” As do Ron Lennon & J-Wells — whose “Splash” proclaims, “in the Bay Area they say we too loud/ but we turned up, bout to turn out” — and uno408. Expect the number of celebratory tunes to increase with every moment the team comes closer to the championship trophy.
Yes, it’s been a long time coming for Warriors fans. And the impact on Oakland is already being felt – just witness the blue/yellow gear being sported all over The Town as the team’s playoff run nears its ultimate destination.
“If there was a more exciting team in all of sports to watch than the Warriors this year, that team must play on another planet without cable TV. All season long, the Warriors seemed to be playing at a higher level than their opponents.”
Going from perennial scrub to potential champion is kind of a big deal, even for non-sports fans (who can conceivably bask in the afterglow even though they watched “Sex in the City” reruns instead of the games). And of course, there are all the bandwagon-hoppers who probably don’t remember when the Warriors offense was Jason Richardson and not much else. Even if the Warriors lose—which probably won’t happen—they have solidified Oakland/Bay Area pride and earned a permanent place in our region’s cultural iconography—and our hearts. They are the little team that could. And that’s why we love them.