Monday, April 23, 2007

Warriors Curse Lifted? (sports)

I guess you can go home again. The last time the Golden State Warrior’s played in an NBA playoff game, George Bush Senior was still president of the United States. The last time, they won a playoff game was before the first Gulf War. Most people did not have e-mail and yahoo was something one did through something called “Mosaic.” The following things did not exist-search engines-Ipods-HDTV-American Idol-commerical hybrid automobiles-steroids in baseball- Paris Hilton as a celebrity-high school and foreign players going in the lottery. Now for the truly mindblowing thing, Don Nelson was coaching the Warriors both back then and last night when the Warriors upset Nelson’s other former team, the Dallas Mavericks (in fact Mavericks coach was the Warriors point guard the last time Warriors made the playoffs).

I was nine years old when my older cousin Jeff took me to Golden Gate park to throw footballs. Two very tall dogs and an even taller man walked by and stopped for just a second to watch us. My cousin Jeff recognized him and said, “Hey, Wilt Chamberlain! I’m a big fan of yours.”

I shook hands with the tallest man I’d ever meet. His dogs’ heads came up to my shoulders. I was more than a little scared. Wilt must have been between sexual conquests that afternoon and we certainly didn’t discuss that part of his life. I did, however, become a San Francisco Warriors fan then. At the time, a lot of people still talked about some of the players having been better when the team was in Philadelphia.
Still, I never saw a Warriors game live until that second-round playoff game when Bill Bridges made like an early version of Dennis Rodman and helped the team turn around a 16 point deficit in a critical series with the Bulls. That was the same year that Rick Barry led the team to its only NBA championship.

Except for the Run TMC era in the first Don Nelson tenure here, I got into the habit of half-heartedly rooting for the Warriors to get better during the regular season then come the playoffs picking a team to root for. This is embarrassing to admit, but I usually rooted for the Lakers in the playoffs. Over the thirty years since Mike Riordan tried to mug Rick Barry in the finals and Derek Dickey got a tip slam on a free throw, the quinetessential Warrior was the rainbow shooting Purvis Short. Short’s claim to fame was simple enough. For the first ten years of his career, people used to debate whether or not Purvis Short was the best player in NBA history never to make it to the playoffs (btw, Short did see the playoffs the last 3 years of his career) Until about 10 days ago, I was beginning to worry that Jason Richardson was headed towards Purvis Short territory. Just to be clear, this is not Ernie Banks land. It’s more like being the best player whose team never had a .500 season.

After the trifecta of Rony Seikaly, Webber v. Nelson, and Sprewell v. PJ’s Throat the Warriors seemed quite literally cursed. Less than a season after the arrival of Baron Davis created some hope, there was talk that he was either too injured or lacked the attitude to take the team to the playoffs. When the team re-hired Nelson, it felt like the current ownership simply decided that it had to take the curse head on. Things went okay then Richardson went out and Davis went out. When Davis went out, it prompted more discussion of the fact that Baron Davis just never stayed healthy enough.

Diehard fans pointed to the fact that this particular version of the team had just never been healthy enough for any extended period of time. Skeptics though pointed out that the team’s record was no better under Nelson than it had been under either Mike Montgomery or Eric Musselman, the man who had been surprisingly effective with what all knowledgeable observers considered an under-talented team. Equally frustrating, Musselman, now the coach of the Kings the team that picked up Rick Adelman, another failed Warriors coach who turned the Kings into contenders, was doing about as well in Sacramento as Nelson’s Warriors. Over the course of three weeks all of that changed.

First, it’s difficult to underestimate the impact of the Jackson-Harrington trade. It’s not an accident that the Pacers at the time of the trade had a long streak of playoff appearances and were like the Warriors on the bubble of playoff contention just before the trade. Let me do the math for you, Stephan Jackson turned out to be a better player in every way than Mike Dunleavy. In particular, he’s got better court sense, passes better, and brings more intangibles to the floor. Given that Jackson was a prominent participant in the Auburn Hills fiasco and is currently in trouble for firing a gun outside a strip club, this is rather amazing. At the same time, Stephan Jackson was also a key player for the Spurs championship team not that long ago. Harrington turned out to be a big man who could score a little inside, something the Warriors haven’t had in a long time. Strangely, Harrington wound up contributing as a center when most wondered if he was too small to play the 4. All of this was Don Nelson’s doing. In the meantime, the Kings wound up firing Musselman.

With all the injuries, the team’s two youngest players Ellis and Biedrins had enjoyed breakout seasons. With the return of Richardson and Davis, Nelson did something quite remarkable. He reduced Ellis and Biedrinis role on the team, few coaches would ever mess with emerging stars. Up to this point, the benefit of Jackson and Harrington had been hidden by the fact that they’d been pushed into being the team’s go-to scorers. Once pushed back to more complementary roles, it became much more obvious how much Nelson had improved the team.

With the Mavericks, the team that Nelson helped rebuild, up by 5 in the third quarter last night, I was waiting for the inevitable. Instead, Baron Davis took over the game in virtually every way. First he got himself to the free throw line twice and made a layup to keep the score close, then he began hitting threes. The big play though in my mind came from Stephan Jackson. With the Warriors’ offense doing one of its occasional we only like to jack up threes on critical baskets turns, Stephan Jackson took a pass from outside the arc and then alertly found a cutting Jason Richardson for a huge momentum-breaking layup. Another key player down the stretch was Matt Barnes, a classic Nelson discovery, the very athletic tweener who hustles like crazy rescued from some NBA backchannel.

Maybe the Warriors will lose the next four games now and maybe this wasn’t the Boston Red Sox winning in seven against the Yankees, but the curse is over. I don’t have to choose a team to root for now that the playoffs have gotten underway. Thanks, Don Nelson. Somehow, I think even Billy Owens was sort of applauding this one.



At 4/25/2007 10:18:00 AM, Blogger None said...

I love it. Still in shock from the other night.

Nelson's second tour with the W's is something to behold. In Jan or Feb. he called his team dead. By April, it was a total love-fest. J-Rich saying he's the best coach ever. Even Nelson saying this was his best coaching job ever.

Having Ellis and Biedrins a year older has helped along the way. Not to mention dumping the dead weight (Dunnothin' and Murphy) in exchange for Jackson and that other guy. These are, essentially, four players Montgomery or Musselman never had.

Now they are finally healthy and playing well. I guess they could be called Run BJJ (Barron, Jason & Jackson). Tonight.. another game, I hope they stay on track.

I still lament the dumping of Arenas. Why? Why? (shaking my fist in the air).

PS: Musselman.. former coach of the Kings..

At 4/25/2007 10:35:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...


bottom line, this is a fun team to watch, a really fun team.

I heard for one semi-inside source that Arenas didn't have the greatest attitude. (hard to believe given how he's been with the Wizards)
Still clearly a mistake to spend the money on Dunleavy-Murphy instead of Arenas. I'm pretty intrigued by Ellis though....he's the one guy in the league who looks like he can run with Arenas or Barbosa.
I liked Musselman as the Warriors coach, but if you get arrested for drunk driving the day before the season starts it's hard to blame anyone for letting you go.


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