What is the most appropriate term here? Complacency? Boredom? Spoiled? Frankly, when the league’s most entertaining team is on a roll and overwhelming favorites to reach the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year, keeping fannies in the seats and eyeballs on the screens are difficult tasks.
Attention spans are not what they used to be.
Neither are the Golden State Warriors, which is why Tuesday’s opening game of the conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz featured a few extra twists and shouts. Nostalgia apparently sells. With the Warriors expected to cruise past the Jazz, while fighting off boredom during their weekend visit to Salt Lake City – as suggested by some of the players – Golden State’s ever-active marketing department turned back the clock and attempted to stir things up again.
Unofficially, Golden State’s 13-year playoff drought ended in April 2007, when the Warriors secured the No. 8 seed and then shocked the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in a six-game series that ended May 3 – 10 years ago Wednesday – with confetti flying, Oracle Arena fans in a frenzy, and “We Believe” emblazoned on the front of their T-shirts.
One can only imagine what awaits fans in Golden 1 Center when the Kings finally put an end to their own prolonged playoff absence (11 years), whenever that happens. Free rescue animals for all loving families, perhaps? Purple carpets for the first 2,000 attendees? A parade down J Street? These events generally tend to be a little schmaltzy, but the feeling around here Tuesday, much as it was during the “We Believe” postseason, was that better days were ahead.
“Even when we were losing, we were averaging, 13,000, 14,000 fans,” Jason Richardson recalled before festivities honoring the 2006-07 team after the opening quarter. “That’s one of the reasons I think we played so hard. Once Baron (Davis) came along, Stephen (Jackson) and Al (Harrington) came, that’s when things started turning around. We got some veterans in here, guys that wanted to win, not guys that just wanted for this to be a platform to start their career somewhere else. I thought that was special, the start of what is today. Guys actually want to be here, whereas my first five years, guys just wanted to get points, get contracts, get numbers, get out of town.”
The squad that became the first No. 8 seed in NBA history to eliminate a No. 1 seed in a best-of-seven series also featured the dynamic games and strong-willed, occasionally difficult personalities of Davis, Monta Ellis, Jackson and Matt Barnes, the Sacramento native who emerged as a valuable all-around player in the latest reincarnation of Don Nelson’s “small ball” system.
For all the love and affection showered on the former players during the series opener, Nellie’s earlier “Run TMC” Warriors of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin are every bit as memorable, if only for a too-brief period (two years).
“A lot of the things we did with the last group, we did previously with our Run TMC team,” said Nelson, who missed Tuesday’s celebration because of a previous commitment on Maui. “Even with some of my Milwaukee teams, we played small. But winning a seven-game series is really hard, which is why, even today, I consider that win over Dallas one of the highlights of my career.”
The additional motivating factors, of course, included the fact that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had once fired Nelson; that Jackson and Davis, in particular, were eager to reinvent their careers; that the diminutive Ellis averaged 16.5 points and was named the league’s Most Improved Player; and that the fast-paced tempo and late-season performances further energized a long-suffering fan base. The Warriors captured 16 of their final 21 games, 9-1 over the final 10, and 5-0 to close out the regular season and earn the eighth spot.
“I think the biggest thing was that the fans were looking for something positive after so many years of not making the playoffs,” Nelson said. “Here we came, made a couple trades and got on a roll.”
Nelson, who coincidentally was the Warriors’ coach prior to the 13-year drought, is a major partisan of the current players and coaches as well.
“They are what they are,” he said. “Love them or whatever. I love them. Houston looks like the real deal, but I don’t see anybody beating the Warriors, especially now that they have a healthy (Kevin) Durant.”
Richardson, Ellis and Jackson smiled and confessed to having one regret: They always wondered, they said, what would have happened if the roster had remained intact for another year. Would they have reached the heights of the current Warriors? No one will ever know, but the question makes for interesting conversation.