For most of my life, the Golden State Warriors have been an NBA backwater.
As of 11:58 p.m. Eastern Time last night (10:58 Central, 8:58 Pacific), the Golden State Warriors are NBA champions for the first time since Gerald Ford occupied the White House.
The Warriors wrapped up the championship in Cleveland with a 106-97 victory over the Cavaliers to take the series 4-2.
Golden State won 67 games, the most in franchise history, during the regular season. It was pushed by Memphis in the second round and by Cleveland in the Finals, but each time, the Warriors erased 2-1 series deficits with three consecutive victories, each time winning two games away from Oakland, where the Warriors were an incredible 48-5. Do they really want to move back to San Francisco, even though this new arena is supposed to be the most modern on earth when it opens in 2017?
It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work by owner Joe Lacob, who bought the franchise in November 2010. Lacob loves basketball, having grown up near Boston and once owning a minority stake in the Celtics. His enthusiasm and business acumen were sorely needed by a franchise which most of the time was a doormat, and at others, a total joke for most of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. The only time the Warriors rose from their perennial status as a punching bag for the Lakers and other Western Conference powers was in the early 1990s, when they featured hte dynamic trio of Chris Mullin, Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway (Run TMC). But even then, Golden State could not get out of the second round.
After winning the 1975 NBA championship with a stunning four-game sweep of the Washington Bullets, the Warriors had the NBA’s best record in 1975-76. Instead of a return to the championship round and a match with 1974 champ Boston, Golden State was shocked itself when it lost the Western Conference finals in seven games to the upstart Phoenix Suns, losing game seven 94-86 at Oakland. The Warirrors lost in seven in the 1977 Western Conference semis to the Lakers in a series in which the home team won every game.
Then the bottom fell out.
Rick Barry, the centerpiece of the Warriors–with a brief detour to the ABA–since their loss in the 1967 championship series to Wilt Chamberlain’s 76ers, was wearing down. Clifford Ray’s effectiveness in the low post was declining. Robert Parish, a 7-foot-1 rebounding and shot blocking machine from tiny Centenary College in Shreveport, was a rising star, but the Warriors would soon blow that one, too.
The 1979-80 Warriors were the worst team in the NBA at 24-58. With the number one pick in the draft that June, they selected Purdue center Joe Barry Carroll, an All-American whom Golden State believed was the next Chamberlain, the next Nate Thurmond, the next Clifford Ray. That made Parish expendable, and he was shipped across the country to Boston, where Lacob must have been a very happy man.
Indeed, the Celtics won the 1981 championship with Parish in the pivot, providing the defensive ace Boston needed to compliment the offensive prowess of Larry Bird. Meanwhile, the Warriors were in the midst of seven losing seasons out of eight, bottoming out at 22-60 in 1984-85.
The Warriors made the playoffs in 1987 and stunned the Jazz in first round, but lost in the second round to the eventual champion Lakers. Golden State made the playoffs four seasons out of six between 1988-89 and 1993-94, but big time trouble was lurking.
In 1996, Golden State became the laughingstock of the NBA by dumping its iconic blue and gold palette and replacing it with a character who looked like a 1990s update of the old cartoon Voltron. I laughed so hard at how terrible the new logo looked, and for that reason, I vowed to never root for the Warriors as long as they wore this hideous uniform.
On December 1, 1997, the Warriors showed they were beyond hopeless.
That was the day when the volatile Latrell Sprewell choked coach P.J. Carliesmo during a practice. I was never a fan of the overbearing Carliesmo, who could belittle someone so badly Bobby Knight would blush. However, I also firmly believe nobody has the right to physically assault and choke someone without provocation. Sprewell was 100 percent in the wrong.
Sprewell was suspended for the remainder of the 1997-98 season without pay. I felt that was too lenient. He should have been fined at least another $2 million, and his suspension should have been for at least 164 games–the equivalent of two full seasons–with reinstatement solely up to then NBA commissioner David Stern.
I didn’t shed a tear when Golden State went 19-63 in ’97-’98 and ’99-2000, and 17-65 in 2000-01, then 21-61 in 2001-02. Golden State was getting what it richly deserved for Sprewell, for Carliesmo, for those disgusting uniforms.
The Warriors made the playoffs just once between 1994-95 and Lacob’s purchase of the franchise. In 2007, Golden State stunned top seed Dallas in the opening round of the playoffs, but didn’t return until 2013
With Steph Curry and Klay Thompson in their primes, with Draymond Green coming on, and with veteran savvy from Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, David Lee and Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, the Warriors aren’t going anywhere.
Cleveland gave it their best, but when Kyrie Irving fractured a kneecap in overtime of game 1, the Cavaliers knew that it was LeBron or bust. King James did his best, but he no-showed for most of game 6. By the end of the third quarter, it was obvious the Cavaliers would not be going back to Oakland.
And Cleveland’s wait for a championship continues. And I don’t see it ending before next June at the earliest. I don’t see the Indians getting back into playoff contention this season, and the Browns will be lucky to win more than four games.