One of my favorite things I’ve learned about Steph Curry from his interviews is the value he puts on appreciating the moment.
As much as it could be all part of the public relations facade most sports players typically employ, I’d like to believe that slogging through the dog days early in his career really did help give Curry some perspective on success.
Ultimately, winning is a hard process and being on top is fleeting. So if there was ever an applicable lesson to be learned from being a Warriors fan, it is those exact words of wisdom that Curry spouts. Appreciate it while it’s here.
Coincidentally enough, being a millennial puts me in an interesting time frame of this franchise’s history to do exactly that.
I was born in 1988, which means that I was too young to fully follow or appreciate those Run TMC days. As part of the first generation born in America for my family, basketball fandom also wasn’t a household tradition naturally passed down to me like it was for many of my friends. I never had legendary stories, like Sleepy Floyd’s takeover, regaled to me before bedtime. I had no idea who Wilt Chamberlain or Nate Thurmond were. Hell, I was pretty much Scottie Smalls from The Sandlot until Wikipedia became a thing.
Instead I grew up a Warriors fan in the midst of a twelve year playoff drought, with very little to root for beyond sheer loyalty to the blue and gold.
There were moments peppered throughout, that gave us fans reasons to believe in the possibility of more. But Latrell Sprewell got handsy, Gilbert Arenas couldn’t be re-signed, and the front office almost perpetually struck out every year in the draft.
If that doesn’t paint the picture clearly enough, the first time I learned what the term basement-dweller meant, the Warriors were used to illustrate it.
This made that 2006-07 “We Believe” team all the more special. They say you always remember your first for everything. The fact that there was so much “magic” around that roster just embeds it that much deeper into the memory banks though.
Going on a 16-5 run to end the season and then squeaking past the Clippers into the playoffs was one thing. What came next was undoubtedly one of the best sports stories to arise over the last 20 years.
It really couldn’t have been written any better. The Warriors were a collective band of misfits and journeymen, with a lone identifiable star in Baron Davis. Meanwhile, the Mavericks that year looked like they were on a mission to dismantle the league, and were the clear favorites to redeem their collapse in the 2005-06 Finals.
Dirk Nowitzki was a shoe-in for the MVP award and Josh Howard became an all-star that year. But for everything Dallas had going for itself, the Warriors just had their number, owning a 3-0 record against them in the regular season.
There was reason to believe, but I think being a Warriors fan during the mid-late 90’s and early 2000’s also required you to hold a certain level of deeply-entrenched doubt. For sanity’s sake, I had to leave some room open for the other shoe to drop because I had seen it happen before all too often.
But that shadow of apprehension started to wane further and further into the series. And by the end of game 4, when the ring of the buzzer was all but consumed by the roaring mouth of that legendary Oracle crowd, the power of “We Believe” was in a full-effect.
Of course, the Warriors had to suffer a late-game comeback by the Mavericks a few nights later to extend the series. But it really wouldn’t be Warriors ball without that sort of drama.
Q1 - A savior is lost
Game 6 was not devoid of its own level of flair and dramatics. I know for myself, anticipation and anxiety ran at an all-time high from start to finish.
The Mavericks ended up drawing first blood, but the Warriors quickly responded with a 12-0 run of their own. The team was splashing early on with treys by Jason Richardson and Stephen Jackson, while the 3-2 defense Don Nelson employed continued to help keep Nowitzki uncomfortable and unbalanced.
If you watched this game live, you were probably feeling pretty good as a Warriors fan at this point. Everything was falling into place.
But as quickly as we had built that lead, so did it dissipate, as the Mavericks mounted a run of their own that was punctuated by four 3 pointers made by Jerry Stackhouse.
Whether or not Stackhouse had paid off a local psychic to channel the abilities of one Davidson collegiate player remains to be verified (c’mon, he was shooting 31% from the field for the series), but it was easy to see the gravity of Nowitzki put into use.
The 3-2 defense the Warriors were utilizing was a modified version that always saw at least one man directly on the German sharpshooter, regardless of which side of the court the ball was on. This gave the rest of the Mavericks’ players plenty of open space to take advantage of.
Then with 5:10 remaining in the first, the entire Bay Area let out a collective cry.
Baron Davis came up limping after losing the ball on a drive to the basket and had to be walked away into the locker room. He had been a big reason for why the Warriors were up 3-2 in the series, smoking the Mavericks to the tune of 26 PPG/56 FG%/52 3P%.
But beyond the searing offensive firepower he was providing, Davis was also the key to the Warriors’ defensive scheme noted above.
Being able to guard Nowitzki without help eliminated the Mavericks’ ability to run their pick-and-roll plays to isolate him on a smaller guard player. If Davis couldn’t return, Dallas would hold a huge advantage to exploit.
Now even for the most optimistic Warriors’ fans, seeing the team’s de facto leader go down had to have been hard to stomach. I’m about 90% certain that companies with acid reflux medicinal products saw record-breaking profits when our lead was cut to 1 shortly afterwards.
Monta Ellis came in to replace Davis at this point. Although he had been struggling all series long with his shot, he ended up responding with two big ones to help keep our lead intact as the Warriors finished the first quarter up 28-25.
Ellis also stole the ball away and made a 3/4 court heave a second after the buzzer sounded. And although it didn’t count, it felt like the proper response to all the “experts” who considered us a long-shot at best.
I’ll be sure to fact-check his true intent with Stackhouse’s psychic.
Q2 - Our savior returns
To the team’s relief, the start of the second quarter saw Davis return from the locker room to the bench. Reporters noted that it was a strained hamstring, but it wasn’t serious enough to restrict him from coming back into the game.
Once the quarter started, Dallas would end up tying the game at 29 a piece before Stephen Jackson suddenly wounded up on the floor holding his face with 9:45 to go.
It was a confusing series of events since neither the cameras nor analysts caught the action in order to give an explanation. Luckily it turned out to be a mere eye-poke.
But for a split-second, it sure felt like the gods were laughing down on us Warriors fans whilst whispering, “I grant ye’ another injure’ ”.
At this point, Davis was substituted back in to a thunderous cheer that, even through the broadcast, felt like it had consumed every inch of space above the high-rafters of Oracle.
Our savior had returned.
But reality of his injury quickly settled in during the sequence that followed, in which he turned the ball over on an ill-advised pass before failing to cover his man on the opposite end due to a noticeable limp.
I don’t quite remember the thoughts I had at this point of the game, but I’m pretty sure there were some components of fear and dread mixed into it all.
I mean, I still believed. We believed. But dammit, did the universe try its best to compromise it all.
It would’ve been one thing to have seen the Mavericks beat us by sheer talent and skill. But seeing us go down due to fluke injuries would have been almost impossible to accept considering how far we had come. It was almost as if the magic had begun to evaporate.
On the very next possession, Davis smartly recognized his own limitations, and relegated the duty of taking the ball up the court to Richardson.
Posting up on Devin Harris, Davis ended up making a fadeaway jumper over him to tie the game at 31. Both teams would then go on to trade a number of buckets and empty possessions, unable to pull away from one another.
Then at the 4:30 mark, Davis who for the most part had been struggling all quarter long, drained a three from the top of the arc to put the Warriors up 41-40. He would follow that up by hitting another one from range, and then by landing a fadeaway jumper a few possessions later.
He finally capped it all off with what can only be described as one of the iconic plays from that “We Believe” run with a backbreaking, across the body three point shot over Nowitzki, as he was looking to draw a foul (ironically no photo could be found of this in our photo gallery, so maybe it’s just iconic to me).
Davis would end up scoring 11 out of the Warriors’ final 13 points before the close of the half. And although we were only up 50-48 going into intermission, you could feel the electricity in the air once more.
It was palpable to the touch. The magic was back.
Q3 - The splash godfather (for a quarter at least)
If the second quarter magic belonged to Davis’ improbable showcase despite his visibly limiting injury, the third belonged to Stephen Jackson.
Some might have believed Jackson had delivered his hardest punches during the Malice at the Palace, but he was clearly saving the best haymakers for this game 6.
Performing as a solo act, he would drain four more bombs over two and half minutes to give back the Warriors their double-digit lead, and in doing so would set the franchise’s record for most 3-pointers made in a playoff game (he was an incredible 7/7 at this point).
That record would stand for close to a decade before of course being broken by both of the splash brothers as well as Draymond Green.
Dallas began to fade around this mark as the Warriors started to pour it on. That frustration boiled over a bit as Davis got entangled with Austin Croshere on a drive to the basket, which lead to some shoves and finger wags but nothing more serious.
I mean, despite standing close to seven inches taller than him, I don’t think Croshere really wanted any bit of Davis.
It all came to a head at the 2:40 mark when Matt Barnes threw down a posterizing dunk over Nowitzki to give the Warriors a 80-57 lead.
This would cap an 18-0 run that the Dubs went on, and it looked like barring any miracles, we were well on our way to one of the biggest upsets in league history.
Q4 - Can’t stop me now
It’s easy to watch the game now and know it was in the bag at this point. But I can still remember watching as intently as ever during those last 12 minutes and feeling every bit as anxious as I did at the start of the game.
What’s interesting to me is that despite the lead never coming close to being vulnerable, the Warriors continued to put on a show for an Oracle crowd who had remained standing for the majority of the second half.
The crescendo came during a sequence by Richardson, when he threw down a ridiculously nasty dunk, stole the ball on the other end and hit a three, all before hitting another dagger from downtown to send the crowd into a frenzy.
It was great to see one of our guys — meaning one of the long-term Warriors players who was around during the bad times — get his moment in a game like this.
Oracle was fully buzzing. And it would continue well past the point of the game clock finally ticking down to zero. The final score was 111-86. And just like that, the Warriors etched their names into the history books as the first 8th seed to upset a 1st seed in the seven game format.
It was time to celebrate. It was time to let the confetti fly. It was time to believe. And as a young man who had been waiting for a moment like this with his beloved team for close to 15 years, I couldn’t have asked for a better first taste of Warriors’ glory.