I woke up today and checked the news, just to make sure it wasn’t a dream. Yep, it’s still real.
The Warriors did it. They really did it. The Golden State Warriors, my favorite basketball team in the world, are NBA champs.
For the first time in my 36 years of being alive, the Dubs are the kings of the basketball universe. And it’s not just that it took so long, it’s that the Warriors were HORRIBLE for almost every second of those 36 years. They were a complete and total laughing stock of the NBA. The Sports Gods can be incredible and generous, but mostly are very cruel.
The Dubs actually winning the title (it still feels weird saying that) made me think back to when my life as a Warrior fan got started. Along with my friends, and other people in their mid-30s from the Bay Area, my Warriors ‘fandom’ goes back to the early 1990s. For me, I will say more specifically 1993. That was the first year I clearly remember being a big enough fan to pay attention to the NBA Draft as it was happening. '93 was the Penny Hardaway/ Chris Webber year. I was 14 years old, listening on a small radio, riding my bike to a friends house to watch the rest of the draft. I vaguely remember the Run TMC years, but it wasn’t until Sprewell, and then the Webber trade, that I would consider myself an even remotely knowledgable fan. While I was only 14 at the time, this would mark the starting point when I was getting emotionally invested in the Golden State Warriors, not knowing that the franchise I was just starting to love would be shitting on my dreams pretty much non-stop for the next 14 years. In retrospect, 1993 was a pretty awful time to just be getting on the Warriors bandwagon.
Just to recap, my first official memories as a fan of the Warriors started out with their best players being Latrell Sprewell and Chris Webber. Sprewell’s upside was an All-Star, while his downside ended up being choking the coach, getting suspended, and eventually kicked off the team. Good times. The ‘savior,’ Chris Webber, by far the best player they had drafted in my life, won Rookie of the Year, and helped the team make the playoffs, where they got swept by the Suns 3-0 in a series that I honestly don’t remember. Webber was traded after that single year on the team, for Tom Gugliotta and three 1st round picks, so the team could keep Don Nelson as head coach. More good times. That trade was a perfect example of the tiny rays of hope, followed by lots of misery, that being a Warriors fan for the next twenty plus years would be.
A year after Webber was gone, one of the worst owners in the history of sports bought the team: Chris Cohan. That is a name that will forever live in infamy to any long suffering fan of the Dubs.
Starting in 1995, the horrible, disastrous, atrocious Cohan reign began. For the next two decades, it would be a waterfall of bad draft picks, worse trades, and a revolving carousel of new coaches. From 1995 to 2011, they employed eleven coaches. Eleven! Don Nelson was the only one who stuck around longer than two years. The worst thing about sports is when your favorite team has a bad owner. There is simply nothing you can do but grin, bare it, and hope to catch lightning in a bottle.
During this nightmare time, early first round lottery picks included All-World stiffs like Todd Fuller, Jeff Foster, and Adonal Foyle. They even snuck a few second round steals in there, just to tease us. Maybe they were mildly competent? Gilbert Arenas was a second rounder in 2001, eventually leading to a change of free agent rules because the Warriors couldn’t even resign him after his rookie deal. Then Monta Ellis was a mid-second round pick in 2005, but any even mildly rational/ intelligent fan knew Monta Ball was not the answer to any championship dreams. If you want the whole draft debacle history of the Warriors in all its gory detail, or to give yourself some Cohan-era PTSD, here is the full rundown: Warriors Draft History.
From 1995-2006, the team went a combined 298-570. A robust .343 wining percentage. For those 11 years, there were exactly zero playoff appearances, and a single first overall pick as a reward for all that losing: the eternally mediocre Joe Smith. That’s a lot of losing without any reward.
Additional lottery picks were wasted on the likes of Patrick O’Bryant, Ike Diogu, and Mike Dunleavy. Coaches like Dave Cowens and Mike Montgomery and Eric Musselmann were brought in to help right the ship. More losing. More bad draft picks.
Eventually, after all those hopeless seasons, in 2005 the team actually made a good trade. They acquired Baron Davis from the Original Hornets, and gave us a glimpse of what COULD happen if the team figured out how to win. Along with Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, Monta, Andre Biedrins and coach Don Nelson, the team peaked in 2007 with the magical “We Believe” playoff run. For the first time in my ‘fan life’ with the Warriors, they made the NBA post-season, and had a glorious few weeks in which they even won a playoff series: an epic upset of the one-seed Dallas Mavericks. Making and winning a single playoff series was the best thing that had happened to the Dubs and the fan base in almost thirty years. By far. We will always have ‘We Believe’ (you may recognize the voice of the color analyst at the beginning. Yes, it's Steve Kerr) and Baron Davis dunking on Andrei Kirilenko.
Finally, in 2009, while still under the horrific leadership of Chris Cohan and Bobby Rowell, the team actually made a good draft pick! Seriously. That man’s name: Stephen Curry. For the first time since Chris Webber, I was actually happy with the pick. No one, including myself, could have known that Steph would be an MVP someday, but at least he had the potential to be something special.
The Steph Era got off to a rough start, but then the Sports Gods forever changed the history of a franchise with a truly magical moment. Something that almost never happens in sports. The horrific owner, Chris Cohan, FINALLY sold the team!!! The wicked witch was gone! In 2010, the ownership group of Joe Lacob and Peter Guber came in to, hopefully, resurrect the franchise from it’s previous thirty years run of awfulness. The owner-fan relationship got off to a rocky start when Lacob got viciously booed while stupidly trying to be the last person to speak at Chris Mullin’s jersey retirement ceremony. The blame of that booing vitriol is always for Lacob trading Monta Ellis, but the new owner came in as arrogant and pompous to a LONG suffering fan base. We didn’t want to hear HIM speak at Mully’s jersey ceremony, and definitely not last. You just showed up, buddy. We have been watching this team suck our entire lives. You don’t get to take credit for Chris Mullin and any other remotely positive thing about this franchise just twenty minutes after showing up. Get in line.
Thankfully, despite the early boo-session, the new front office started putting together a solid team. Klay Thompson was drafted in 2011. Then the team really started to show some promise when Preacher-slash-Annoying-TV-Commentator Mark Jackson was hired as head coach. It was a rough first year with The Preacher, but 2012 brought a motherlode draft haul: Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, and Draymond Green. After that bad first year with The Preacher, the team actually made the playoffs the next year, winning a first round series upset against the Nuggets before getting bounced by the mighty Spurs.
In the 2013 offseason, the Warriors traded for Andre Iguodala, which was hailed as the move that put the team ‘over the top’ as a title contender. There was another playoff appearance (two playoffs in two years??), but it ended quickly with a first round, game seven loss to the Clippers.
After that early playoff exit, which was seen as a disappointment, the toxic, but fairly successful, Mark Jackson, was fired, and Steve Kerr was brought in to coach this talented team. Kerr hired an experienced, smart coaching staff, and the team had the highest expectations ever. The team was shot out of a cannon to start the 2014-15 season, looking like the best team in the NBA. I had a very hard time believing that the Warriors were actually the best team in basketball. Seriously? The WARRIORS? After a 67 win season, the team was the title favorite going into the playoffs. For a team that hadn’t won more than a single playoff round, it was extremely weird to be the TITLE FAVORITE. The Warriors were the title favorite? Get out of here.
Then they swept the Pelicans. After a solid scare from a tough Grizzlies squad, the Warriors won the second round series in six games. The Rockets put up a solid fight in the Western Conference Finals, but were dispatched in five games. And, just like that, for the first time in my life, the Warriors were actually, factually, in the NBA Finals. The dream was becoming real.
Standing in the way of a title was LeBron James, by far the best basketball player on the planet. No matter how much you love or hate him, that is a fact. LeBron was super human in the finals, carrying a below average Cavs team to two improbable wins, averaging almost 40 points and a triple-double against the best defense in basketball. But, it wasn’t enough, and the Warriors health and depth proved to be too much for the depleted Cavalier team.
So, last night, the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Title. Seriously. The really did it. After all that hoping and wanting and wishing and complaining, they won a title. After Mike Dunleavy and Chris Cohan and Eric Musselman. After Ike Diogu and Mickael Pietrus and Marco Bellinelli.
It started in 2009 with Steph. Then continued in 2010 new owners. Then Bogut and Klay and Dray and Harry Business and Iggy over the next four years. Then Kerr and the new coaching staff pushed this team over the top.
Then, they did it. The Warriors actually won the title.
I went to bed last night with a big smile on my face. For the first time in my life, I could say that the Golden State Warriors are NBA Champs.
And when I woke up, it still wasn’t just a dream.