13 years. That’s an eternity. 13 years ago, Greg Oden could barely grow a moustache. Edmund Dantes claims he spent 13 years on Chateu D’If, but he probably went crazy and rounded up after 11 ½. If you had a kid 13 years ago, it would already be asking for birth control or sneaking into your porn collection. I’m only 25, so for me, 13 years means I’ve spent over half my life supporting crap basketball- that’s almost too depressing for words. But now, after 13 years, it all seems worth it.
13 years. That’s how long it’s been since playoff basketball has been played in Oakland. But now that’s all about to change.Most Warriors fans are still too nervous to discuss the playoffs right now, worried that talking about it will somehow jinx our good fortune, scaring that elusive playoff berth back into its hole. But really, we’re the Warriors- what could possibly go wrong? Thanks to an aging-in-dog-years Sam Cassell and the murder death kill of Shaun Livingston’s career, the Clippers look like they’ve finally run out of gas, which means the 8th seed in the West is finally within reach. After that, everything is found money.
By simply taking the 8th spot and winning as many games as they lose, the Warriors have delivered Christmas in April, with the added wrinkle that we’re now likely to match up with the Dallas Mavericks in the 1st round, a team which inexplicably couldn’t beat the Warriors if their lives depended on it. Any other team in the league would be tripping over themselves racing to play us in a 7-game series (only cab drivers are worse on the road than the Warriors), but when they play Golden State, the Mavericks are just helpless. In fact, at some point this season, the Warriors finally paid off all their loans, and now own Dallas outright.
But as excited as Warriors fans are to play Dallas, there is a part of me that thinks we match up better with Phoenix, and hopes against hope that the Warriors can steal the 7th seed from the Lakers. Of course, 10 minutes later, I just go right back to looking past the Mavs and worrying about whether we’ll get the Spurs instead of the Suns in the Western Conference Finals.
A Warriors-Mavs series would provide some great matchups, too: Nellie vs. Cuban, Nellie vs. Avery, Nellie vs. Dirk…..really, Nellie vs. anyone employed by the Mavericks. And of course, the battle in the paint promises to be nothing short of titanic, providing sweet vindication for all of us who knew we would one day see Erick Dampier vs. Adonal Foyle in the NBA Playoffs.
(By the way, how did those two become best friends in the first place? I can’t picture them holding a single conversation that wasn’t along the lines of…
Damp: “Are you in a contract year?”
Damp: “Then why are you only having one doughnut?”)
And to think, none of this would have been possible without Mike Dunleavy, Jr. & Troy Murphy.
Now that Dunleavy is underwhelming fans elsewhere, there’s been a lot less talk around these parts about “intangibles” and “basketball IQ” and “solid outside shooting”. But that shouldn’t be the case. Since coming over from the Pacers, Stephen Jackson has been everything Dunleavy was always rumored to be. Jackson is the second-best point guard on the team, and simply by virtue of not being Mike Dunleavy, he guarantees that opposing small forwards aren’t even money to hang 40 points on us (see: Anthony, Carmelo). For those reasons and more, Jackson has improbably become the most beloved Warriors newcomer since Tom Gugliotta.
On the Warrior fan favorite totem pole, it’s hard for anyone to top Jason Richardson. J-Rich has been here his whole career, he pours his heart and soul out every night, and he’s played on some terrible teams. He’s our guy, we’ve raised him since a pup. Baron Davis is the franchise player, and by now we’re all pretty much willing to overlook his flaws. He’s in. Monta & Biedrins are like our children at this point, and there’s always a brief flash of concern whenever we see a picture of them out after sundown. But right now, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Warrior more popular than Stephen Jackson. In fact, the only person in the Bay Area who can even challenge him right now is Marco Scutaro. Put it this way: if a fight broke out during a game tomorrow, Warriors fans would probably run onto the court to help Stephen Jackson. Isn’t that ironic? Don’t ya think? (All those Warriors fans who wanted Ron Artest a year ago actually ended up getting someone even better. Sure, Stephen Jackson isn’t Ron Artest, but on the bright side…..he’s not Ron Artest.)
Of course, having Jackson playing in Oakland does feel a bit like Simon Phoenix being set free in San Angeles, but the element of danger almost adds to his appeal. We know he’s crazy, we’re pretty sure he knows he’s crazy, and we’re all OK with it. Anyway, it’s just fun to root for a redemption story, something Bay Area fans know all about after spending last year with Milton Bradley. And just about the time Jackson feels the need to remind us he’s a little loopy and decides to behead a ref, you know Nellie will be right there to jump in at the last second, bumping Jackson all the way back to the locker room with his enormous beer belly.
In fact, if Jackson becomes any more popular around here, there’s literally billions of marketing dollars just sitting on his doorstep. The man plays pro basketball, fights fans in the stands, frequents strip clubs, gets run over by cars, and fires his gun at the people running him over in said cars. “A Day in the Life of Stephen Jackson” has the potential to be not only the biggest-selling Nintendo Wii game of all-time, but perhaps the biggest-selling anything of all-time.
All of this is a sore spot for the Indiana Pacers, who appear to have made their season-defining trade with the Warriors simply because they wanted players who were, as Borat might say, “NOT BLACK”. And while trading the Pantene Pro-V All-Stars for a certified crazy person (Jackson) and a guy with neck tats (Harrington) has definitely upped the Warriors’ street cred, it’s also helped them immeasurably on the court. Al Harrington was the marquee player from the Warriors’ side of the trade, though he’s proven to be only the second-best player in the deal. Still, he’s much better at spreading the floor with his outside shooting than Murphy ever was, and he’s proven to be a solid multi-tasker, starting as an undersized center and somehow still finding time to promote his role as one of the turtles in the new “TMNT” movie.
Harrington has also established himself as the streakiest player on the team, capable of going 11-for-12 or 1-18, depending upon whether he’s selected the correct sock-headband-armband combination for the evening. But when Big Al’s looking for his shot, he doesn’t share Murphy’s tendency to turn into a black hole and play 1-on-5. The one trait Harrington and Murphy do share is their inability to jump over a dollar bill, which caused Murphy to get every other shot thrown back in his face, but somehow doesn’t seem to hamper Big Al`s game one bit.
But perhaps the best part about swapping Murphy for Harrington is that when Al is having one of his off-nights, he’s still the biggest cheerleader on the team. When Al’s not in the game, he’s always the first one off the bench, waving a towel, getting excited about a teammate’s play. This is in stark contrast to Murphy, who always looked like he’d been up for 86 straight hours eating cigarettes whenever he sat on the bench. It may not seem like a lot, but it’s these little things that have endeared the new guys to the Oakland fans, acting as a spray of Febreeze to mask the scent our old frontcourt left behind.
If this all seems a bit overly negative towards Dunleavy and Murphy…..well, it’s because they`ve earned it. Dunleavy was the 3rd overall pick in the Yao Ming draft, a draft in which the Warriors should have had no lower than the 2nd pick. For the first few years of his career, we never forgave him for this, and in return, he played scared (more specifically, he played not to get booed).
And now that he’s gone, when people talk about why Dunleavy failed as a Warriors, it’s always mentioned that Warriors fans never got over his draft status, or that we expected him to be a superstar. But that wasn’t really the case. We knew he was a role player, and we eventually accepted it. What we couldn’t stand was his lack of passion and effort and aggressiveness, combined with his perception that he was supremely more valuable than anyone else realized.
Even as teammates like Earl Boykins and Brian Cardinal became cult heroes simply by trying harder than anyone else on the court, Dunleavy stuck to the belief that Warriors fans just didn’t know basketball. He really was trying, and he really was playing well, we just weren’t smart enough to realize it.
So eventually Warriors fans decided enough was enough, and we decided to boo Dunleavy all the time, rather than sitting around and waiting for him to do nothing. And because he’s not exactly the master of accepting individual responsibility (as anyone who’s seen him play defense can attest), Dunleavy still blames Warriors fans for not being “knowledgeable”, an adorable little phrase that Murphy has also started to use. Of course, Pacers fans now figure to get a whole bunch dumber pretty soon, cause there’s really only so much suck knowledgeable folk can take `fore their brainsmarts shrink and they start a-booin’.
And the man least knowledgeable of anyone, Don Nelson, is also the man who deserves the most credit for the Warriors’ turnaround this season. In addition to shipping out Dunleavy and Murphy, Nellie has completely transformed the entire franchise, to the point where players are actually happy to come play for Golden State. Just a few weeks ago, Stephen Jackson said he never wanted to play for any coach other than Nellie, and even if Jackson is schizophrenic and stabs the personality responsible for that quote, it’s still something no player would ever say about Mike Montgomery.
But just like the rest of the team, it’s the little things that set Nellie apart. Things like showing up on the sidelines wearing a two-sizes-too-small flourescent pink silk t-shirt, or wearing a gray Warriors practice polo shirt under his blazer, a distant cousin of the famous tie & short-sleeved dress shirt combination. Or things like pulling off the upset of the millenium, by managing to avoid a DUI longer than Tony LaRussa could. Nelson has made the entire difference this year, and the reason we’re headed for the playoffs is Nellie’s ability to draw up a genius game plan with the help of nothing more than a cigar, a bottle of scotch, and whichever stray dog he’s rescued happens to be nearby (with names like Lucky, Scrap Heap, and Matt Barnes).
The best part is, Warriors fans were dreaming of the playoffs the minute Nellie was hired, and it looks like he’s actually going to redeem our faith in him. Finally, someone has come along and managed to take us where greats like Mookie Blaylock, Danny Fortson, and Felton Spencer could not: to the 8th spot in the Western Conference, graduating from “lottery team that doesn’t really matter” to “low playoff seed that doesn’t really matter”. See, dreams really do come true.
Thanks to Nellie, the Warriors are still interesting deep into April. This time of year is usually ripe with comedy for Warriors fans, even if we`d rather not laugh about it. In an ordinary year, most of the events that transpired this season would have bothered me, like the team cutting the only player who lived in my building, or shipping their rookie center off to Bakersfield every other week (presumably to work on his meth tolerance).
But now, you almost don’t even notice the little late-season peccadilloes that losing teams can`t help but focus on. For instance, Zarko Cabarkapa has apparently donated all of his body hair to science and gone into hiding. Where’s he been? No one knows, and no one really seems to care. And even though the Warriors appear to be the worst-rebounding team in NBA history (Andris is still the only one who likes inside) and would probably do better on the glass if they sent their wheelchair team out on the court, we seem to take it pretty much in stride. “Maybe they can recruit someone from prison next year”, we say. “Someone tall, someone who can rip a phone book in half. Or maybe just work out a time-share with the Raiders and get JaMarcus Russell to play power forward.” These are the kinds of things you think about when Nellie’s your coach. The world is your canvas; nothing’s too far-fetched.
And while we’re on the subject of things that have gotten better this year, let’s run down a quick list of the 5 most improved aspects of watching a Warriors game this season:
- The Warriors are now less likely to lose, and are therefore less likely to be losing heading into a commercial break. This doesn’t sound like much, but it means that once Sandy from Fremont Bank shows up to talk to me about a new home loan for the 8,000th time, I’m less likely to buy an axe and Google her address. Really, a win-win for everyone.
- Baron is now less likely to decide that no one’s open with 17 seconds left on the shot clock, call play number one, and heave an off-balance 3-pointer from the scorer’s table. Really don’t miss this one at all.
- With all this winning going on, I don’t mind the neon tangerine uniforms anymore. And now I hear the team is working on securing Zubaz as a sponsor for next season. Always the height of fashion, these Warriors.
- Bob Fitzgerald is less likely to try and hide a complete lack of defense with gems along the lines of, “the Grizzlies can’t shoot any better! Memphis is shooting 98%, there`s just no way they can continue that for 4 quarters. If they do, you just tip your hat.” When you don’t play defense, you give up dunks. When you give up dunks, the other team shoots a high percentage. The Grizzlies are not playing NBA Jam. They are not on fire. They can, in fact, miss. But only if someone defends them.
- The Comcast commercial where host Deion Sanders takes you through Baron’s house in San Francisco . This would be higher up on the list if I wasn’t 100% positive Baron skipped practice to film this segment. But the best part of the video isn’t just the fact that Baron pies his manager, it’s that his manager is none other than former UCLA teammate, Rico Hines!
Considering that Baron’s UCLA nepotism is how Barnes ended up on the team and how Ray Young scored a tryout a few years back, it makes you wonder how many people from that team Baron is taking care of. Does he pay Cameron Dollar to trim his beard? Does Toby Bailey handle his drycleaning? Does J.R. Henderson hold an umbrella over his head when it rains or lightly mists? We have questions, and only Deion Sanders has access to the answers. Usually pro athletes have their mantourage pretty much set by the time they graduate high school, so it’s interesting Baron waited until college to assemble his. Just a more qualified pool of applicants, I guess.
And now back to jinxing our playoff chances:
There’s a chance that by the time the Warriors close out the Mavericks Tuesday night, the Clippers will have also lost in Phoenix, in which case the Oracle Arena will turn into Carnivale. All of our bitterness can finally wash away, and names like Tim Hardaway, Latrell Sprewell, and most of all, Chris Webber, won’t hurt as much anymore. It might even be fun to joke about how bad we used to be. There’s a decent chance that Adonal Foyle will make an appearance as some sort of mascot, and the fans will applaud wildly, which is a bit like cheering when Lisa shows up on “The Simpsons”. I’ll never understand that one.
And there’s also a chance that come Wednesday morning, Oakland will be a town with roughly 15 new mayors, none of whom would be overstepping their boundaries should they demand the first-born daughter of every family in the Bay Area. And there’s definitely a chance that once the 8th spot is all wrapped up, for the first time in my life, money will be no object. No price would be too high to pay for a single ticket to Game 3, the first playoff game in Oakland since 1994.
But these are all possibilities. The only thing I know for sure is that if the Warriors grab a spot in the postseason, I won’t be at work the day of the first home playoff game. I won’t even bother faking an illness. I’ll just call my boss and tell him, “I’m sorry, boss, my basketball team is just too good for me to work today”. I’m calling in with playoff fever.
Before the trade that proved God does exist, the Indiana Pacers were 20-18. They were the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. They’ve gone 15-27 since. They are now the 9th seed in the Eastern Conference.
Before the trade that proved God does exist, the Golden State Warriors were 19-20. They were the 9th seed in the Western Conference. They’ve gone 21-20 since. They are now the 8th seed in the Western Conference. And very knowledgeable.