Many things have changed since the Golden State Warriors last won the NBA Championship in 1975. President Gerald Ford had come under fire for his presidential pardon of former President Richard Nixon. The Pittsburgh Steelers were in the midst of one of the greatest football dynasties ever seen. Michael Jackson was the still the lead singer of the Jackson 5 and the price of gas at the pump was $1.69. Professional basketball wasn’t that popular in America as the NBA Finals in those days were seen on tape delay following your late local news. And being that the NBA and ABA had yet to merge, the NBA only consisted of 18 teams. The 1974-1975 Warriors finished the regular season with a record of 48-34 which was good for the top spot in the Western Conference as they were led by a pair of future Basketball Hall of Famers in small forwards Rick Barry and Jamaal Wilkes.
Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, Chris Mullin
Since then the Warriors have seen more downs than ups in the NBA. The Warriors have had 25 losing seasons since then and every time that they were on the verge of prosperity, things fell apart. There was the “Run TMC” era and the late 1980’s and early 1990’s where Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin became one of the best scoring trios in the NBA. The mid-1990’s produced power forward Chris Webber for the Warriors, but he went on to have greater success with the Washington Bullets and Sacramento Kings. Then there were the Warriors in 2007 that were able to sneak into the NBA Playoffs and they upset the defending Western Conference Champion Dallas Mavericks in the first round. But like the previous times for the Warriors, things fell apart rather quickly.
But things began to change in 2009 when the Warriors drafted point guard Steph Curry. Curry played his college basketball at tiny Davidson University in North Carolina where he developed a reputation of shining the brightest on the big stage. Curry’s first three years with the Warriors would see him play for three different head coaches, but in the process, Golden State was putting a team together. In July 2010, Joe Lacob and Peter Guber led an investment group to purchase the Warriors and they vowed to change the culture there. In 2011, Lacob brought in former Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies general manager Jerry West as a consultant along with giving him a minority stake in the Warriors ownership. West has always had a strong eye for talent as he was vital in the multiple championships that were won by the Lakers in the 1980’s and the early 2000’s. Bob Myers was named Warriors assistant general manager in 2011 and he was promoted to general manager a year later. The Warriors would continue to build their team around Curry which saw them use their first round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft on shooting guard Klay Thompson and in 2012 on small forward Harrison Barnes. And in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft, the Warriors got a steal when they drafted forward Draymond Green who was coming off of a highly decorated four-year stint at Michigan State University where he was named as the Big Ten Conference Player of the Year in 2012 and he has become a vital role player for Golden State as he does a little bit of everything at both ends of the court. Along with drafting, the Warriors became a playoff contender through trades and signing players in free agency, but the biggest move that Golden State made occurred last summer.
In three seasons as the Warriors head coach, Mark Jackson turned Golden State into a playoff contender. Under Jackson, the Warriors win total increased in each season and he had a hand in the development of Curry. But Jackson wasn’t on the same page with the Warriors front office and he was not a fan of West consistently showing up to team practices and giving his input. This led the the Warriors firing Jackson last summer and replacing him with another former NBA player in Steve Kerr.
Kerr was one of the better three-point shooters of his era and he won five championships as a player with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs. Kerr was also the general manager of the Phoenix Suns for three years, but he had never been a head coach in the NBA which brought with it some skeptics when the Warriors brought him on board.
But Kerr was able to push all of the right buttons this season as he used the lessons that he learned from his college head basketball coach at the University of Arizona in Lute Olsen, to his time with the Bulls under head coach Phil Jackson, and with the Spurs under head coach Gregg Popovich. Kerr also played with a litany of stars in the NBA as he was teammates with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman with the Bulls to being with unassuming stars with the Spurs in David Robinson and Tim Duncan. And what you saw from Kerr all season long was a guy that never lost his cool which dates back to the lessons of zen from Jackson with the Bulls.
The Warriors won a franchise best 67 games this season which is something that Barry nor Wilt Chamberlain were able to do during their respective runs with the team. And the Warriors did that in a Western Conference this season that was so difficult to accomplish such a feat. Curry averaged 23.8 points and 7.7 assists during the regular season as became the first player in Warriors franchise history since Chamberlain in 1960 when the franchise still called Philadelphia home to be named as the NBA’s MVP Award. And when the NBA Playoffs began this spring, the Warriors were out to prove the skeptics wrong about a perimeter based team being able to win a championship.
With little resistance, the Warriors swept the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. But the Warriors would be tested in the second round of the NBA Playoffs where they would meet the Grizzlies who possessed plenty of size in the form of power forward Zach Randolph and center Marc Gasol. After three games, the Grizzlies would have a 2-1 lead in the series which led Kerr to making adjustments defensively which didn’t allow Memphis to have their way in the paint. The Warriors would win the next three games of the series before taking care of the Houston Rockets in five games in the Western Conference Finals.
The Warriors would then meet the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals who were led by small forward LeBron James who himself is a four-time league MVP along with being a two-time NBA Champion. But James’ pair of NBA Titles came as a member of the Miami Heat and he was trying to do it now with the Cavs. The Warriors entered the series as the better team as the Cavaliers were without the services of power forward Kevin Love. The Warriors chances of winning would increase in Game 1 when Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving suffered a fractured kneecap. But James would will the Cavaliers to victories in Games 2 and 3 and the impossible instantly seemed possible.
And just like it was against the Grizzlies, Kerr adjusted. Throughout the season and into the playoffs, swingman Andre Iguodala had come off of the bench for the Warriors. Kerr inserted Iguodala into the Warriors starting lineup in Game 4 and his length and strength gave James problems as he had to work harder. And just as the series went versus the Grizzlies, the Warriors would win the final three games of the series against the Cavaliers: only this time there weren’t anymore games for Kerr and Golden State to adjust for.
The Warriors have learned how to succeed in the new NBA. A new ownership group changed the basketball culture in the Bay Area while this time, they built around their young stars instead of trading them away. This new philosophy has led to the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California being a tremendous place for the Warriors to play basketball this season as they only lost two games there in the regular season along with two more in the playoffs as the fans in the Bay Area have come out in droves to support their new favorite basketball team. This new found commitment to winning by the Warriors has set them up to contend for the foreseeable future in the NBA.
The “Splash Brothers” in Thompson and Curry along with Green and Barnes are all in their early-to-mid 20’s. Green is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, but there is a strong possibility that he’ll return to the Warriors next season; especially since the team is ready to shop power forward David Lee and his expiring contract next season of nearly $15.5 million. Barnes is set to become a free agent following next season while Curry still has two years left on his current contract and Thompson is signed through 2019. The NBA’s salary cap is set to expand with a new television deal and due to the culture change in Oakland, players will be lining up to play for the Warriors which was something that was unheard of not that long ago.
It took the Warriors 40 years to climb back to the top of the NBA mountain. But with Lacob, Guber, West, and Myers running things for the Warriors, it might not take another 40 years for Golden State to claim another NBA Championship.