How do you get an eleven year-old interested in basketball? I would suggest staying as far away from the fundamentals of the triangle offense as possible. Instead try serving the young hungry mind a steady diet of dunks.
I was eleven when I attended my first professional basketball game in 2001. My brother bought tickets to watch the Wizards play the Warriors in hopes of catching one final glimpse of Michael Jordan. Luckily for me Jordan didn't play that night due to injury, so he let me go instead. I don't remember much of that night outside of sitting in the lower bowl and the Warriors losing. But the one vivid memory that replays in my head from that night was watching my first dunk in person.
I remember standing up and letting out a loud "OHHHHH" in pure amazement of what I had just seen. My brother Patrick quickly grabbed my shirt and pulled me back into my seat. Popeye Jones threw down a boring two handed dunk. He also played for the Wizards.
"Wrong team idiot." I didn't care who dunked, I just wanted to see it happen.
The Warriors were bad in the 2001-2002 season, like really bad. But they had someone by the name of Jason Richardson who could dunk the shit out of a basketball. He even had a cool nick name, J-Rich. I was instantly hooked. Shortly after that season I began watching Warriors games more religiously, constantly hoping that the basketball gods would bless us fans with a Jason Richardson fast break.
Sports fans in the Bay Area suffered plenty of heart break in the early 2000's. Derek Jeter's flip play against the A's, heartbreak. The Giants blowing game 7 of the World Series, heartbreak. The Raiders getting shafted by a rule so terrible that it was later eliminated from the rule book altogether, heartbreak. But there was no heartbreak associated with the Warriors. They were never good enough to break your heart. It was more like heartburn rather than heartbreak.
My first real heartbreak as a Warriors fan came when Richardson lost his bid for three-straight slam dunk titles. How in the world can you throw down an off-the-backboard between-the-legs dunk and lose? They may have been a moot point to everyone else, but those dunk contests meant a lot to us Warriors fans. Richardson gave basketball fans in the Bay Area a glimmer of hope.
Kids like to simplify things. I started to get into the Warriors because I was fascinated by dunking. Jason Richardson was really good at dunking. Therefore I became fascinated by Jason Richardson. It was the flare of Richardson's soaring acrobatic dunks that lured me into watching the Warriors initially. But It was actually J-Rich's intensity and passion that he played with on a game to game basis that evolved my love of watching the Warriors and basketball as a whole. I remember I would mimic his fiery roar every time I blocked someones shot in my CYO basketball league. As I remember it, we were basically the same player.
The rest of Richardson's career is history. After the improbable "We Believe" playoff run in 2007, the Warriors traded J-Rich to the Charlotte Bobcats for a microwave oven and towel boy Brandan Wright. At this point of his career, Richardson was forced to fine tune his game after knee surgery reduced his athleticism.
To most casual NBA fans, Jason Richardson was a serviceable NBA player who will be remembered most for his high flying dunks. To Golden State Warrior fans, J-Rich helped usher in an era of Warriors basketball that has finally reached the top of the NBA mountain.
J-Rich will forever be a sentimental all time favorite Warrior for many of Warriors fans from my generation, myself included.
Thanks for the memories J-Rich! And thanks for playing the game with the heart of a Warrior!