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Golden Moment: When Baron Davis punished the Lakers bandwagon

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Baron Davis emphatically (and temporarily) halted the L.A. Lakers’ dominance over the Golden State Warriors.

Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

One team has long been associated with glamor and celebrity and, of course, annual playoff appearances that often end with an NBA championship. That would be the Lakers, kings of California basketball. The other team was routinely browbeaten and bullied, so vastly inferior for such long stretches that rare trips to the postseason felt like a trip to nirvana. That would be the Warriors, humble NBA laborers who became downright subservient in the presence of the Lakers.

Or so it used to be.

—Monte Poole CSN Bay Area

In preparation for this Golden Moment, I did a lot of meditation. I needed to travel back in time and space to analyze the first game I attended wherein I actually expected the Warriors to win. I teleported back to a not-so-distant past in which the Los Angeles Lakers were actually feared. A time period where the Golden State Warriors were a franchise so shabby that The Ringer’s Bill Simmons wrote a investigative piece on how tortured our fanbase was.

As I reflected on those echoing “Beat LA“ chants which still ring in my memories, I was startled by a thought: What happened to all the Laker fans in the Bay?

The Lakers Dominate Golden State

Back in the early 2000s when my basketball consciousness was blossoming beyond “Me LiKe MiChAeL JoRdAn!”, I started becoming aware of the epic power struggle between the NBA “haves” and “have nots”. The Lakers were firmly at the head of the ruling class with the rapping behemoth Shaquille O’Neal and the “Evil MJ Clone” Kobe Bryant. At that time, their three-peat championship dynasty established them as the most powerful force in basketball post-Jordan. On the other end of the spectrum was the Antawn Jamison/Jason Richardson era Warriors, a team so reprehensibly inept that Richardson felt compelled to pen a letter apologizing to the fans .

The biggest hope for the fanbase was that a savior might one day come resurrect the dried cadaver that was Warriors basketball. It’s no WONDER tortured Bay Area fans let their eyes wander lustfully toward other basketball teams. How much can people suffer?

The Lakers dominance over the Warriors between the 1999-2000 and 2007-2008 seasons was absolutely silly. They went 26-6 during that time period with three season series sweeps over the gutter rubbish that was Golden State basketball. When the Lakers came to town back then, the allegiances of traumatized Bay Area fans viciously splintered. I would stand in the concessions line in the arena, grimly recognizing the sea of Shaq and Kobe jerseys around me.

The games themselves were eerily similar to the orchestrated humiliation the Washington Generals endured vs the Harlem Globetrotters. The feeble but plucky Warriors would cling close momentarily, spurred on by a maybe 55% percent hometown partisan crowd. The other 45%? Smirking, unconcerned Laker fans waiting for their adopted champions to deliver a hellacious onslaught to snuff out the Bay’s team.

Shaquille O'Neal humiliating the Warriors
Shaq Dominating Erick Dampier
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Lakers had too much starpower, coaching, and championship pedigree to give any life to the despondent Dubs. Inevitably, they would choke-slam Golden State into shame and defeat in front of a boisterous contingent of L.A. support. The dudes I grew up with in Oakland, who went to my elementary or high school, were whooping it up in the Purple and Gold. The glum Warriors fans half-smiled, absorbing their team getting beat down like a lowly thug in a Batman comic. The bandwagon Laker fans would shrug like, “I really don’t know why you subject yourself to this pain.”

It was macabre. It was like the exact opposite of the current Warriors rally cry of “Strength In Numbers”. They had two Hall of Famers in their prime kicking our asses, and we no had no answers on our roster. The Lakers owned us like unreturned Blockbuster VHS tapes after the video store went bankrupt.

Baron Davis: Someone To Believe In

That is... until a ferocious, charismatic, bearded Warrior rose from the smoldering dumpster fire of Oakland basketball with an army of devil-may-care marauders. The 2007-08 season was Baron Davis' first and only full season with the We Believe era Warriors (minus J Rich Da Icon) as Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington had joined the previous year mid-season.

The team was coming off a captivating playoff run, ending the franchise’s 13 year postseason drought. The Warriors absolutely incinerated the #1 seeded Mavericks and MVP Dirk Nowitzki. The new band of brash, hungry castoffs was hellbent on following “B. Diddy” to upheave the NBA’ s power structure.

Golden State Warriors v New Orleans Hornets
Baron Davis Carrying The Franchise On His Back
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Funny enough, at this time the mighty Lakers had fallen from grace. Kobe and Shaq had an acrimonious power struggle that ripped the fabric of the team apart. Shaq got banished to the Eastern Conference, leaving Kobe in his own personal hell of unrestrained shot jacking whilst losing hella games. With the teams sharing the Pacific Division, an actual rivalry was surfacing with whiffs of playoff implications.

L.A’.s furious rebuilding process focused on creating a roster of rim rattling giants around the defiant Kobe. This included a repurposed Lamar Odom and an emerging young Andrew Bynum developing into all-star caliber players. Golden State’s strategy was the polar opposite: Baron’s salty band of pirates were small in stature but possessed blazing speed and deadly three-point marksmanship.

The first game against the Lakers of 07-08, Davis went head to head with the Black Mamba. Despite Baron helping to force Kobe into 9-23 shooting with 3 turnovers, the Lakers prevailed 123-113 for their 9th straight victory over the Dubs at the time. When teammate Stephen “Captain Jack” Jackson offered effusive praise for Davis’ effort on Kobe, the Bearded One shrugged it off. “We lost, ain’t nothing to be happy about there,” Davis remarked. “We could have played harder.”

“They’re a big team, and we just got outhustled,” Davis quietly burned after tallying 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists in the loss. “We feel we have an opportunity to be one of the elite teams in this league. Ain’t no mental block. We got to see them Friday and put all this to rest.”

Showdown In Oaktown

“Friday” happened to be a nationally televised rematch of the Lakers (13-8 record at that point) vs Warriors (12-10) at Oracle that I had tickets to. That evening, I proudly donned my “We Believe” shirt and marched into a concessions line for beer at the arena. As I peered around the lines, I noticed the optics had changed since the old days.

There were a majority of Warriors fans proudly clad in team apparel, heartily woofing at pompous Laker fans who appeared amused by the renewed Dub Nation spirit. The split between allegiances seemed to be about 65% Dubs/ 35% Lakeshow. The noise in the concourse from the jeers and hoots of the dueling fan bases snowballed into a mighty Beat LA chant that reverberated off the concrete walls. It hit me: I never wanted to see the Lakers lose so much as on this night.

The game itself? A BARNBURNER. In front of a raucous crowd these two teams went to war like it was a Game 7. The Lakers methodically used their massive size advantage and pounded away at the smaller Warriors defense. Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, and Kobe Bryant took turns posting up and wearing away at the little Dubs. When shots missed, the LA giants crashed the glass for a +10 offensive rebounding advantage. The quicker Warriors harassed the Lakers into 20 turnovers, which were speedily turned into showstopping highlights on the other end.

Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers
Baron Was No Stranger To Highlights Against LA
Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

The pace, physicality, and showmanship on display thrilled the sell out crowd. When the Lakers scored, a smattering of pro-LA cheers would rumble. When the Warriors emphatically responded, Dub Nation would fill the air with booming “Let’s Go Warriors!” chants. I was going hoarse shouting for my team, booing Kobe, and trash talking the LA fans in the row above me.

Baron’s Heroic 4th

Early in the final quarter, Kobe doubled over in pain, after pulling his groin firing up a terrible shot in traffic. It was the first time in Oracle Arena that I saw Warriors fans smell blood. They fiendishly mocked and laughed at him as he grimaced and struggled to keep up with the Dubs breakneck pace. Finally, the great Kobe appeared to be mortal after all!

Even with him wounded, the Lakers were going toe to toe with us, waiting for us to succumb to their pressure. Bynum (17 points and 16 rebounds) and Odom (18pts/15reb/5ast) bullied us like King Kong and Godzilla. When Baron received his fifth foul with 9:17 left, the heart almost left the Warriors crowd. As our team started to flag in the waning moments, I got that uneasy feeling again. How does a team that always lost learn how to win? The Lakers took control late in the 4th and their lead ballooned to 8.

“A lot of times, you get down eight with (3:29) to go, especially against a team like the Lakers, and they’ve got a closer like Kobe, you tend to hang your head,” Davis quietly reflected after the game.

B. Diddy refused to let his head hang this night however, as he emotionally unleashed a closing sequence of basketball brilliance. Scowling and snarling, the Warriors leader took over late, notching eight of the Warriors’ last 14 points in hyper frenetic sequences that left both fan bases mesmerized.

“He told me at the 7-minute, 38-second mark, ‘Give me the ball, every single time,’ ” teammate Al Harrington said. “Obviously, he realized it was his time to take over and he did that.”

The Lakers were stunned by the Baron led 11-2 run, and found themselves down 1 with a minute on the clock. The Warriors frenetic defense forced a stumbling Odom to throw up an errant brick that was recovered by Harrington. As the Warriors fans stood on their feet in exhortation, the Laker fans silently stared at the court in nervous disgust. Captain Jack’s demands for the ball were ignored by Harrington, who wisely shoveled the ball into Baron’s hands.

Baron slowly dribbled near half court, one eye on the clock, the other on the ornery Derek Fisher. It was so loud in there I couldn’t even hear myself scream. I didn’t even expect us to make a shot at that time, I was just hoping that Kobe would be too injured to give us a dagger when they inevitably got the ball back. As he slowly pawed the ball, Baron subtly motioned for Andris Biedrins to deliver a screen. The Lakers diagnosed the pick and roll perfectly and snuffed it out. My heart sank as I watched Baron turn his back to the hoop at the top of the circle. He looked tentative, unsure, and too far away from the basket to make a play.

That’s when he hopped back behind the three point line like a jackrabbit for an extra few inches of space and cruelly launched a bomb in Fisher’s face that sank through the net like a knife through hot butter. WOW! The roof came off of the arena as Warriors fans lifted both arms in the air and bounced up and down like we were at a rave. You gotta check out this 4th quarter!

I could literally feel the building shaking as the demoralized Lakers called timeout. I gave about 30 hugs and high fives in 10 seconds before lifting my misting eyes to the jumbotron. There, was Baron Davis stomping down the court BLOWING KISSES WITH THREE FINGERS TO THE CROWD. As his teammates mobbed him, B. Diddy turned to the camera, held his gaze, blew one more kiss, and winked like Willy Wonka. I kept incredulously looking up at the score: “Did he put us up FOUR with 16 seconds left? Is the game already OVER?!”.

The Warriors ended up holding on for the victory. It was cathartic seeing the Lakers taking an L for the first time in what seemed like forever. “This team has been dominating us for the last three or four years, so it’s a burden lifted off of our chests and off our backs,” Baron said after the game. The shaken Laker fans in the building weakly congratulated their Warriors companions. I wonder if that was the first time many of them considered abandoning their foster team and returning back home to Dub Nation. At any rate, the Bay Area fans knew they had a superstar in B. Diddy who would lead them in the fight against L.A.

Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers
Baron Goes Mano Y Mano With Mamba
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

A Rivalry Enflamed...And Then Extinguished

The Warriors and Lakers would go on to have two more epic battles that season. One ended with a Stephen Jackson dagger in L.A. for the win and the other with Kobe Bryant overpowering us in overtime in Oakland (while bleeding from his face after a dust-up with Davis). The teams split the season series at two a piece while sharing a newfound level of mutual respect.

As the Lakers traded for Pau Gasol and secured the #1 seed, many hoped the Warriors would snatch the 8th seed and square off in a playoff battle for the ages. Unfortunately, as was customary for our franchise back then, we couldn’t finish the job. Despite winning 48 games, the Warriors failed to make the playoffs. The Lakers would start the beginnings of a new dynasty by going to the Finals, while the Warriors blew up the “We Believe” team after Davis’ departure to Los Angeles….to play for the Clippers. This still hurts. Kobe would have his vengeance over us after Baron left, winning 16 out of the next 18 matchups.

#GodsTeam Rains (Reigns)

The Lakers’ reign of terror only ended when the Splash Bros reached their potential: the Dubs are 12-4 over the last 4 years against L.A. Kobe’s career effectively ended in our arena when he went down with an Achilles injury. Now, the retired Mamba makes creepy YouTube puppet shows admiring the power and glory of the Golden State franchise. Many bandwagon Laker fans are sheepishly returning back home like the Prodigal Son. Can you blame them?

LOL.

Gone are the days where Lakers and Warriors fans would taunt back and forth en masse inside Oracle. The Lakers are no longer the sneering NBA bourgeoisie; they are presently clawing out from the bottom.

Nowadays, the “superteam” Warriors mopping up the Lakers is the equivalent of wiping a trail of ants off of your bedroom wall with one swoop of a damp paper towel. It’s a swift, powerful extermination of an annoying pest from your abode. The Lakers’ addition of young talent such as Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram may make this a competitive series again in the near future. Maybe.

Until then, let’s all enjoy this current era of perennial dominance over the Lakers because we can appreciate that it wasn’t always this way. Let’s also welcome back the fans who abandoned the hometown team to root for their division rival. They deserve to come home. Strength In Numbers, amirite?