With the ongoing truth-bending debate about the sweeping power of the almighty Warriors, it’s time for the bi-weekly history lesson, with contributions from those who actually lived it.
That would be some of the men who recall year after year when a trip to Oakland was perhaps the surest victory in the NBA.
“You could be out all night, and still you were going to get ‘em,” says Jermaine O’Neal, who spent 17 seasons as an opponent before ending his career as a member of the Warriors in 2014.
“You see the Warriors on the schedule, that’s a ‘W’ — and it didn’t stand for ‘Warriors,’ ” says Clyde Drexler, the Hall of Fame guard who spent his entire 16-year career with Western Conference foes Portland and Houston.
For a more measured commentary, we turn to Jim Jackson, who has some of the broadest perspective in league history. During his 14 seasons, he played for 12 franchises, a number no one has surpassed. He was a Warrior for the final 31 games of the 1997-98 season, after which he became a free agent.
“It was always a great place to play because they had passionate fans,” he says. “But the balance of power — the ability to get that true superstar — escaped Golden State for some time after Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond and Chris Webber left.
“So now it’s good to see where they are because they’ve got such passionate fans.”
The Warriors were 19-63 in that ’97-’98 season, 30-52 the year before and 21-29 in the lockout-shortened following season. They were in the midst of, as long-suffering fans have memorized, a woefully pathetic run of 12 consecutive losing seasons, during which they finished an average of 24 games below .500.
One international media outlet (OK, ESPN) in 2006 posted a column by our man Brian Murphy, now a sports-talk show host at KNBR, nominating the Warriors as the worst franchise in American sports.
“I’ve seen the Warriors through the dog days, the ups and downs,” says Drew Gooden, who was born in Oakland spent his entire childhood in the East Bay before embarking on a 14-year in NBA career that ended in 2016.
“To see where they are now,” he adds, “they’ve basically created a dynasty, and they’re going to continue to add on to that. It’s night and day.”
The Warriors’ last trip to the lottery, in 2012, was their fifth in a row and 21st in 28 seasons dating back to 1985, when they drafted Mullin seventh overall. They struck gold with Curry in 2009 and Thompson in 2011. They found a solid player, Harrison Barnes, in 2012 but whiffed on Anthony Randolph in 2008 and Ekpe Udoh in 2010.
So, clearly, the Warriors, even as they have rebuilt the franchise almost from the ground up, haven’t always gotten it right. But their 40-percent success rate was enough to give them conceivably the most dangerous backcourt in NBA history.
“Jerry West was there for a while and he knows how to build a contending team,” says Michael Cooper, a defensive specialist who earned five championship rings with the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s, when West was the architect.
The Warriors are where they are due to a variety of forces. When CEO Joe Lacob hired Mark Jackson as the coach in June 2011, it was the right move, at that time, just as replacing him with Steve Kerr in May 2014 was the proper decision.
None of this would have happened without Lacob and co-owner Peter Guber setting the bar impossibly high, vowing to bring a new and brighter day to the Warriors.
“The guys they have now have righted all of the wrongs, getting three championships in four years,” Drexler says. “And they look like they’re going to get two or three more.”
In a league where power can be cyclical, maybe it’s time for the Warriors to have their turn. It was, to be fair, overdue. And some folks are OK with its arrival.
“I’m from Cali, so I like everything they’re doing,” says DeShawn Stevenson, a Fresno native whose 13-year NBA career ended in 2013. “I support it.
“I wish they’d whip everybody’s butt.”