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A Fan's Road to a Champsionship

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Memories from over the years. A life as a Warrior fan.

CHAMPIONS!!!!!
CHAMPIONS!!!!!
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

It's 1987. My first Warrior memory isn't actually a game, it's of talking about a game. I'd watched plenty of Warrior games before then, played plenty of pick-up hoops, but my first strong memory of the Warriors isn't watching them play, it's talking about them the day after, a Monday on the school yard. I mean, I must have watched the game, but I don't remember watching it.

I do, however, remember talking about the Sleepy Floyd Game.

Sleepy!

(Incidentally, isn't it crazy how skinny the players look in that video?)

My friends and I told each each other that this was the real thing. That we were going to defeat the mighty Lakers, that we were really as good as them! Sleepy was secretly as good as Magic, he just needed a chance!

That's the kind of thing you tell yourself, when your team just isn't that good. Also, when you're young and stupid and don't realize just how good Magic Johnson is. In retrospect, that looks like a classic "backs against the wall and weren't ready to die" game that we see all the time, when a team with a big lead in a series takes their foot off the gas in a road game to clinch easily at home, but at the time, man ...

It's 1991. The Warriors have just traded Mitch Richmond, one of my favorite players for Billy Owens, and I'm excited. Billy, you see, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was recruited out of high school (he shared the cover with Alonzo Mourning, if I recall correctly). He's going to be the next Magic Johnson. He's the big man we really need to contend!

It's 1992. The Warriors have drafted Latrell Sprewell. While this generates a chorus of "who?" "what?" I'm quietly confident. I mean, yeah, we need a big man, but if there's one thing I know, it's that Don Nelson knows how to scout guards. What could possibly go wrong?

It's 1994. There are a lot of memories I could share about Chris Webber's brief stint with the Warriors, but this is the one that sticks with me. Not Barkley's demolition of Webber in the playoffs, no. Not the argument that "who cares how many first round picks we have to give up, with Webber on our team, they'll be terrible picks." No, the crystal-clear memory I have is of the next season, when the Warriors started 5-0. Look at how good we are! We're going to win the title! (I was only off by 21 years.)

Smarter, sager basketball minds talked about how, no, we weren't actually that good, and Rony Seikaly wasn't the solution to our problems, but I wasn't having it. We were 5-0. Then we were 7-1. Who knew that eight games in, we'd have over a quarter of our total victories for the season? Not me.

It's 1996. I'm at a newspaper kiosk in Frankfurt, Germany, with fellow future GSOM-mod Jae. We're happy to buy the paper, if it has the draft lottery results in it. But we can't tell that without looking at the paper, and the Turkish kiosk vendor is yelling at us in German and English. We peeked, despite the angry Turk.

That paper didn't have the information we wanted, but a few days later (this was before you could get the internet anywhere) we learned that the Warriors had the #1 pick. Jae and I are ecstatic. We're convinced the Warriors will pick Jae's fellow Tar Heel Jerry Stackhouse.

We won't. We pick Joe Smith, who has one decent year and then decides he wants to be a perimeter player. I learn, painfully, to be wary of big guys who want to play like little guys.

It's 1998. I'm rooting for Donyell Marshall. I still feel that Donyell never got a fair shake from Warrior fans. As the last piece of detritus from the Chris Webber debacle, he was fighting an uphill battle. I remember his silky smooth baseline turnaround. I remember that he surprised everyone by turning into an excellent one-on-one defender who knew how to use his length.

But it's surprising, too, what hind-sight shows. Donyell's TS% was terrible in those years. Of course, I'd never heard of that stat yet. I already had some rudimentary sense that efficiency mattered, though, and my shorthand when looking at box scores was "does he have more points than shots?"

Donyell usually did. But he also had a bunch of free throw attempts, which, as we now know, go into the denominator. In retrospect, Donyell was yet another player who isn't as good in retrospect as I thought at the time. But that's what happens when your team sucks. You look at decent second tier guys like Donyell or Dunleavy or Magette, guys who can play a role on a good team, and you start convincing yourself that they're good. Mitch Richmond, I was convinced in the early 90s, was nearly as good as Jordan. We could get titles with him if he just had help. Chris Mullin was only a hair worse than Larry Bird.

(Hard to understand how if we had a guy who was almost as good as Jordan and a guy who was almost as good as Bird, we weren't winning multiple championships. We probably just needed a big man.)

It's 2002. The only non-Warrior item on the list. Game Six. Lakers-Kings.

This game turned me off of the NBA for a couple of years. I actually stopped watching. I lost my faith in the NBA's officiating and took a couple of years off. As mad as we get when the NBA suddenly decides that slide tackles are legal, or lets Z-Bo run over and knock Curry to the ground to get Conley an open shot, that was nothing compared to 2002.

But I couldn't stay away. I would come back. I mean, it's not like the Muselman-Montgommery era teams were giving me much reason to tune in. Until -

It's 2006. Funny, here, that the first thing that comes to mind for me here is Carlos Boozer getting another damn offensive rebound against us in the playoffs. Yeah, I remember Baron being Baron. I remember a lot of fun games. But the enduring memory for me will be Carlos Boozer bullying his way past Andris Biedrins for another easy score in the second round.

It's 2007. 48-win teams always make the playoffs, right? We're better than we were last year, right?

I remember noticing that Baron was checking out on defense. I remember noticing that Nelson didn't seem to have the same laser-like focus on the sidelines, and, honestly, he seemed like a bit of a grouch.

The next couple of years are really just a blur. It's a lot of Stephen Jackson and Monta Ellis chucking, and arguing about efficiency, and how assists don't equal unselfishness.

It's 2009. I have to admit, I haven't watched college basketball since the late '90s, about the time I moved to Los Angeles. My Bay Area friends invariably do a tourney pool and well before 2009 they'd already started mocking my "I didn't watch any games this year," protestation before I make it.

When Steph Curry fell to the Warriors, that's when I start doing research. And I like what I see. Yeah, I have concerns about defense, but I remember, specifically, how much Simmons liked him in his draft diary. If there's one thing I trust Simmons on, it's recognizing a player is special. A few quotes from that article:

"If I had to bet my life on any 2009 prospect becoming a top-three player on a championship team, I'd bet on Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio and Stephen Curry." (Blake clearly could, with a little more help, so, um, 2 out of 3 ain't bad?)

"my favorite college player of the past two years"

"There is no bigger Curry fan than I am. He's going to be a star. I have no doubt."

I am encouraged. That encouragement is tempered by rumors of a trade for Stoudamire. Many fans, eager to be rid of Biedrins (and who can blame them, though I was late to the party on that one) want to make the deal. "He's the big man we really need," they say.

I've heard that a few too many times. Webber. Seikaly (who is not autocorrect's favorite player). Owens. And that's just the guys I've mentioned in this article already. Amare is balky with bad knees. He doesn't want to be here. He's due for a massive contract.

That's a classic Warriors move. It might be the most Cohany move that ever Cohaned. You're a bad team, so trade a potential future star for a disgruntled, injured vet. (Shades of Mookie Blaylock, among others).

No. No. No. I don't remember knowing much about this Curry kid, and I certainly didn't know he was going to be what he became, but I remember being adamant. Trading him for Amare would be a disaster, on principle.

Somehow, some way, the team didn't do it. Rumor is Don Nelson pulled the plug at the last second - a final gift to this franchise - denying some ex-role-player GM in Phoenix who was struggling to distinguish himself. You know, the kind of guy who bounces around the league from team to team for 15 seasons, maybe hits a few big shots, but nothing special, hardly ever starts. Hey, I wonder what ever happened to that guy?

It's 2010. Chris Cohan is selling the team.

Everybody expects Larry Ellison to get the team. GSOM'ers RAGE against this Lacob fellow, who none of us have heard of, but who most certainly isn't one of the five or six richest people in the world.

But I remember thinking - and arguing - one thing:

Larry Ellison is a guy who could have closed the deal months before, but misjudged the market while trying to save a few bucks. Joe Lacob is the guy who worked behind the scenes, played possum, and struck out of nowhere, grabbing the franchise right from under the hands of somebody who could have outbid him.

That's a good first sign. I'm cautiously optimistic. But how much good can an owner really do? Who knows, but at least he's not Cohan.

It's still 2010 and the Warriors acquire David Lee.

For a day or two I was thrilled. He's "an all-star big man." He's a "double-double machine." However, it takes only a day or two for this to start looking like a very Warrior move. Knicks fans pop up, and they seem remarkably okay with letting him go, with talk about his poor defense and empty rebounding.

There is no wailing and gnashing of teeth in Manhattan. (Wilson Chandler's tooth will come later). This is a bad sign. Also, wow, it seems like maybe we didn't have to stick that sixth year onto that contract.

It becomes apparent that Monta Ellis and David Lee have spectacularly bad chemistry on the floor. Lee, who thrives on ball movement, clearly gets frustrated when he give the ball up and it never comes back to him. He starts taking too many long twos. I'm becoming a savvy enough basketball fan to know that even though he's relatively good at that shot, it's a bad shot.

David Lee, whose career as a Warrior is probably now over, was a net plus for us over his tenure, no doubt. There was good and there was bad and there was in-between, but his work ethic and attitude and solid above-average contributions helped turn the Warriors into a team that could attract a player like Andre Iguodala. I'll save the full retrospective until he's traded, but surely Lee deserves some credit for helping turn the Warrior culture around, even if the end result was the team getting good enough that there wasn't a lot of room left for him to contribute.

It's 2012 and the Warriors trade Monta for Andrew Bogut.

I am thrilled. Not because I expect anything out of Andrew Bogut - to my mind that's house money. But because I'm sick of Monta Ball, I want the ball in Curry's hands, and this Klay guy looks like he might be good. It's pure addition-by-subtraction for me.

And then Bogut. Well, I remember one play, from early the next season. He's overweight, substantially heavier than he is now. Outside of games, he hobbles, rather than walks. We'll later learn that he can't even drink beer or else his ankle will swell up like a watermelon. But there was one play.

Bogut blocked a shot ... and a few seconds later somehow got in position and drew a charge.

Wait, what?

This is when I realized that we might have a special player on our hands. How can a guy who can barely move have that kind of timing? Those recovery instincts? And be so smart about keeping the ball in-bounds? A few weeks later he'll go on the shelf for a couple of months, but I don't care. That play was enough. (I couldn't find video of it, alas. I don't remember what game it was).

Most players can't do that. They have to commit the block hard enough that they take themselves out of whatever happens afterwards.

I haven't seen Tim Duncan do that. (Not saying he never has, just, that I've never seen it.) I haven't seen Dwight Howard do that (he likes to swat the block into the third row). It feels like the kind of play old-timers talk about Bill Russell making.

This guy ... might be something special. And Curry is clearly turning into something special on offense.

I dare to hope.

It's 2013.

At the end of that season, we'll put a scare into the Spurs. Injuries to Bogut and Curry stop it from really being a series, but you know ... there was something there. The Denver series didn't impress me that much (a lot of Warrior fans under-estimated Gallinari's impact, and we lost Lee but had Bogut) but that Spurs series ... wow.  You can safely say that nobody in the West looked as good as we did against San Antonio.

I dare to hope.

It's 2014 and in the time it took to write this sentence, DeAndre Jordan just grabbed three more offensive rebounds. Those long arms reaching over our center-less team, that's what I remember even more than Paul's uncalled foul on a Curry game winner or our cavalcade of turnovers.

But we took them to 7 without, arguably, our second-most important player. And everybody considers them a title contender.

Hmmmm.

Joe Lacob takes my advice, and then gets his man.

(ps - that's a joke. Joe Lacob doesn't listen to me. Unless he's hiring. Joe, are you hiring?).

The team doesn't trade for Kevin Love.

We all learn the term Small Ball Death Squad.

It's 2015

This is too fresh. It's too new. I honestly don't know what I'll remember from this season.

I suspect it'll include this:

Klay goes for 37! watch.0.html

Fitz screaming "Give it to Klay!" Just bursting into laughter because what is happening is something that just shouldn't happen.

I suspect it'll include this:

Some time this season I realized I'm not surprised by this. I can tell when Curry releases it that it's going down. I just know. And if I can tell, I'm sure he can, too.

It's the playoffs.

I could point to specific plays I'm going to remember — probably this one:

TTie game!

So much about our season is encapsulated in that play. The coaching staff, for example, just made a smart situational substitution to put Speights — our best offensive rebounder — in, and he makes a play. Speights himself is an example of what our coaching staff can do — they got him motivated and in shape, and gave him a chance to contribute. (I could point to Lee setting picks, challenging shots, or giving LeBron a hard foul as examples of that, too — our coaching staff did what many others couldn't).

Of course it's an impossible shot that Curry nails despite getting fouled.

It's an uncalled foul, of course.

I could point to Iguodala crossing over LeBron or our out-of-the-box coaching maneuvers, Curry murdering Dellavedova, Draymond running the 4-on-3 - but that play is probably the one single play that captures this team best.

But it's not, I don't think, the real thing that stands out about this team. I think what I'll remember most from this team is the fearlessness. We could be down 17 points and, you know, we just never felt out of it. We always knew this team could make a run.

Not even the Niners, at the height of their mid-80s powers, gave me that feeling. "It doesn't matter what the score is, we're not out of it."  The only other time I felt like that watching a team was with the Jordan Bulls. You just knew you couldn't sleep, even for a second.

So in a way, it is perhaps summed up by this:

The team knew. They just knew. And even though in my mind that line is spoken by Maurice Speights in one of his incomprehensible Mo-Buckets postgame joysplosions, it's Leandro's calm claim that doesn't even feel like a brag. (It might feel like an attempt to flirt with the beautiful and talented Ros Gold-Onwude). Ros laughs. She doesn't know what to do with it.  But ... these guys knew.

They had something special. And we fans got to feel it, too.

And that's one of the big things I'll remember from this season. But to end there would be to leave something important out.

Because there's Golden State of Mind itself.

I joined GSOM in 2008, because of Jae's encouragement. My old Warrior's online stomping ground (the usenet rec.sport.basketball.pro.gs-warriors group) had been dying a slow death along with the rest of the usenet. I live in LA, which means that watching a game with other Warrior fans isn't easy. I became a regular, wrote for SBNation for a while (and got paid for it!) and when they folded their regional affiliates, become a mod on GSOM.  A tremendous number of my memories from this championship, and the years running up to it, are about this board: discussions that pushed me to be smarter about basketball. Arguing with Atma about Biedrins (whoops) and Evanz about Barnes (whew) and this team's title potential (there is no emoji with a big enough grin to be appropriate in this space). Being invited to contribute to the front page. IQ's links threads. Celebration threads where everything is green.

And game threads. Shells typing LGW after every play. CURRY 3333333 or TR3YMOND GR33N after made triples. A running commentary that I somethings had to massage to avoid spoiling plays in advance when I was watching online with a 15-second lag.

But as a Warrior fan watching in Los Angeles, it meant that I was never alone. I was sharing the joys, the frustrations, the excitement.

And, oh yeah, the championship. With you guys. That's one of the things I'm going to remember, too.

And because of all that - the history of loving a losing team, the community, the friendships, there's no doubt in my mind that this title, more than any won by the 49ers or the Giants or A's, is going to be the one I remember. This is the one I feel like I earned.

Thank you, GSOM. Atma, Nate, IQ, Jae, Andy, Sleepy, Onixn, and regular posters past and present.

Thank you, Bob Fitzgerland, Jim Barnett, and Ros.

Thank you Joe Lacob. Bob Myers. Jerry West.

Thank you Steve Kerr. Alvin Gentry. Ron Adams. Luke Walton and Nick U'ren, too.

Thank you Steph Curry and David Lee. Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut. Klay and @Andre (seriously, how do you get your first name for a twitter handle?) Harrison Barnes. Leandro and Mo' Buckets. Festus.

One more time: