By Justin Taylor
I’ve been a Warriors fan for as long as I can remember, literally. Some of my first clear memories are of going to games starring Joe Barely Cares and Sleepy Floyd at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena with my Dad and brother. I was there when Mitch Richmond held Michael Jordan to 14 points. Present when Chris Webber threw down behind the back on Charles Barkley and also an hour and a half before tip off chanting Dallas sucks before we closed them out game 6 of the 2007 playoffs. I supported Chris Mullin all the way from an alcoholic bust to hall of famer sitting in the rafters of Oracle Arena.
Two of the best years of my life came watching RUN TMC run Don Nelson’s offense like a perfectly tuned Ferrari. Then witnessed that beautiful machine turn into a Honda or a Billy Owens in the blink of Nellie’s eye. I loved screaming MANUTE as our personal 7’7 freak show launched threes with the fans, coach’s and marketing department’s blessings. I was cheering on draft day when Nellie swung the trade of Anfernee Hardaway for Chris Webber to rebuild his Ferrari and then watched in horror as management allowed him to ghost ride it out of town after one year. Even though it had nine years left on a 10 year lease. All that was left behind was a Datsun named Tom Gugliotta which magically became a Yugo known as Donyell Marshall after Nellie had already left on foot. I can’t remember a franchise choosing a coach over a budding superstar like that since. We bottomed out again only to get the number one pick in a year when Joe Smith was the consensus number one guy. Anyone who says they advocated Kevin Garnett is a revisionist historian.
Bay Area royalty
I was there to see hundreds, if not thousands, of UTEP two steps and killer crossovers and paid dearly for those days via my experiences with Bimbo Coles, Mookie Blaylock , BJ Armstrong, Mugsy Bogues, and Vonteego Cummings. I followed the team down to San Jose yelling SPREEE for THREEE the whole way because the team was absolutely terrible and there was nothing else to root for. I followed them back to the Arena in Oakland the following year and even though I may have secretly wanted to strangle PJ Carlesimo and kick him back to Seton Hall I would never have advised Latrell Sprewell to act on the notion. That was all part of a magic trick that turned our best player into Chris Mills, John Starks, Terry Cummings, two more years of PJ plus Adonal Foyle and Todd Fuller instead of Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady.
I Choose to remember this guy instead of the version that choked his coach or
turned down $21 million because he "had to feed his family"
I was beyond pissed when we got screwed in the lottery again after winning 17 games and paid cash for the right to swap Vince Carter for Antawn Jamison. After all that misery and another dismal 20 win season I was actually happy to trade the 7th pick in a crappy draft for the rights to Larry Hughes and some of the most spectacular bricks the league has ever seen. That combination led us all the way back to another 17 win season and yet another screw job in the lottery. Maybe we were better off for it since we probably would have just ended up with Kwame Brown or Eddy Curry had we landed the number one pick instead of Jason Richardson at number five. I was over the moon about getting Gilbert Arenas in the second round but came crashing right back to earth when NBA rules prevented us from keeping him after two lousy yet promising seasons. Is this bio starting to sound like a suicide note or is it just me? Anyways, after all that the only thing I had to look forward to was J-Rich in the dunk contest, Troy Murphy getting his nose broken repeatedly and booing Mike Dunleavy as he would hide from the action 30 feet from the hoop.
Being the sentimental guy that I am I have to say that I was pretty excited to see Chris Mullin come back as general manager in training then GM of the team if only because he made the fan base feel like we deserved to be winners again. It was either that or maybe just because Gary St. Jean was gone for good. All those good feelings went away pretty quickly when his first moves as executive were overpaying Foyle, Murphy, Dunleavy, DEREK FISHER and hiring Mike Montgomery to coach them. Personally I kind of liked Eric Musselman during the RUN GilRichLeavy era (Did that sound forced?) but apparently having a coach with expectations kind of wore on the players.
Even though he wasn’t the best executive in the league by any stretch, Mully wasn’t afraid to take risks or admit his mistakes. Those are qualities that most GM’s don’t possess because they are always on the hot seat. He took one low risk high reward swing for the fences at the trade deadline that year when he traded Speedy Claxton’s bad back and Dale Davis’s carcass for a mercurial, overweight, oft injured malcontent point guard named Baron Davis. Even though you could feel a culture shift coming, Mullin dispatched Montgomery back to the college ranks after one underwhelming season and brought back the guy who kicked off the trip down the rabbit hole 15 years earlier, Don Nelson.
It was a nervous time that gave me a queasy feeling deep down but it couldn’t get any worse and at least we had a legitimate NBA coach. In a way, it kind of felt like we were getting the band back together. Mullin even brought Mitch Richmond back to assist around the front office and help the fan base forget that Chris Cohan still owned the team. Around the next trade deadline Mullin took his biggest risk yet by swinging a trade for Stephen Jackson of Malice at the Palace fame along with other hits such as firing a hand gun outside an Indiana strip club and tattooing praying hands holding a gun because “he prayed he’d never have to use a gun again.” That trade also netted them Al Harrington and successfully cleared out all of his previous mistakes not named Adonal Foyle’s 5 year $41.6 million contract. (Derek Fisher was traded to Utah for the type of pupu platter you could expect in return for Derek Fisher)
That was an amazing time for Warrior fans across the Bay Area and a period of validation to me for all the time invested in previous years. People everywhere remember the Warriors We Believe team for taking down the one seed Mavericks but the way we got the opportunity to challenge them often gets overlooked. The team was 26-35 at the time of the trade and the playoffs were not in the cards even with significant improvement. The rest is history. The newly formed squad went on a tear, a local restaurant owner brought a sign that read “We Believe Playoff” and we closed out the season on a 16-5 run including nine of their last ten in the loaded western conference. The stars aligned perfectly but we still needed a win and a halfway decent Clippers team to lose to a terrible hurricane refugee New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets team on the last day of the season or it was all for nothing. With that we punched our ticket to face MVP Dirk Nowitzki and his league leading 67 win Mavericks squad that we just happened to own over the last two seasons in what equaled a couple of the most enjoyable weeks of my life.
Everyone knows what happened next. Nellie used his intimate knowledge of a Dallas team he built and the coach he trained to completely dismantle the best team in their franchise’s history up until that point. It took the psyche of that team and it’s star years to recover from that. Being at game 6 of that series was no doubt a high point in my life. I was so geeked up my brother and I had to leave work at 3pm just to be at the gates of the parking lot when it opened. Starting Let’s Go Warriors chants before the team’s even came out for shoot-around and joining in on the Dallas Sucks and Nowitzki Sucks chants before they even hit the layup line is something that only happens in rabid college towns, not corporate hijacked NBA arenas. We stood as a crowd going ballistic for the final three quarters of that game and no one will ever be able to convince me that we as a fan base did not dramatically affect that game and the series as a whole.
Still gives me chills...
I spent the following series against Utah huddled with my entire family around a 27” tv in my grandma’s basement in beautiful Hastings, Nebraska. Who knew when the trip was planned month’s earlier that we’d be forfeiting a chance to be there to see our team fight for a chance to play in the Western Conference Finals? We were going absolutely berserk as Baron Davis posterized Andrei Kirilenko (I swear I could hear Oracle exploding from 1500 miles away) but a couple of bad breaks left that as the sole highlight of a series that we could have and probably should have won.
Nellie followed the triumphant return of the Warriors and the best fans in the league by convincing Mullin to recreate the Mitch Richmond for Billy Owens trade by sending J-Rich to the Bobcats for a 19 year old toothpick named Brandan Wright. It might have been a decent trade if ownership had allowed Mullin to use the $10 million dollar trade exception for another contributor, but they showed that their favorite part of the swap was dumping J-Rich’s perfectly tolerable salary. We won 48 games in a fun afterglow of a year in 2008 to earn the honor of greatest team ever to not make the playoffs. By the time a free agent Baron walked to the Clippers because they offered about 25 million more hot fudge sundaes than us plus an opportunity to focus on producing movies instead of basketball our return to relevance was over.
The team’s deconstruction continued with the panic signing of Corey Maggette (A guy who was a ball stopper the minute he came out of the womb.) because Elton Brand and his surgically repaired knee wanted no part of this team. Monta Ellis celebrated his newly signed $66 million contract by wrapping his moped around a tree, mangling his ankle and getting suspended without pay for it while he recovered for something like 70 games of the season. Between Mullin advocating the resigning of Davis, protesting the signing of Maggette, sticking up for Ellis after he destroyed his ankle as well as our season and Nelson’s back room back stabbing that was the end of his short return as the king in Golden State. The only enjoyable thing worth watching since was Monta’s highlights and growth and, and, yeah, Monta growing up…that’s it.
I was booing Cohan in 2000 and was starting chants begging him to sell the team from 2009 until my wish finally came true in late 2010. I was there to witness Joe Lacob getting booed in 2012 for the sins of his predecessors, the trade of Ellis, the toothless stripped down team on the floor and the awkward pause that begged for an ass kicking. That wasn’t me though. I’ve got thick skin and an eye on the future. He sent Nellie out to pasture, brought in a management team that finally knows more about basketball than me or even the average fan and showed the balls necessary to be something more than mediocre. As for me, I think it’s obvious at this point I’m not going anywhere. My lifetime of torture has driven my Dad to care more about the Lakers of all teams and my brother to indifference but I’m here watching every word and move of our new owner and regime. Gary St. Jean telling me how great things are on the pre and post game is a tough pill to swallow but I’m granting them the opportunity to SHOW me. I have been through more than enough to just laugh it off when they TELL me we are a playoff team. I’d only be lying to myself and anyone who reads my life story if I pretended I wasn’t going to be right there going crazy next time we are a contender whether it’s next season or 30 years from now.