“We Believe Playoff” – A sign held by a fan at every
Warriors home game during the stretch run of the 2006-07 season.
The simple to-the-point phrase “We Believe” has been
overused and beaten to death by sports marketing departments over the
years. After all, it is easier to play on the faithful’s emotions and
elicit belief (which only requires an individual to have a particular
thought) than to put together a team that demands and earns that belief
from its fan base. But few overplayed clichés, summarize the Golden State
Warriors fan base, described by NBA commissioner David Stern as the
league’s most loyal and one that was setting franchise attendance records
despite one of the longest playoff droughts in league history, as well and
succinctly as “We Believe.”
For over a decade, all Warriors fans had was false
belief. We believed that Joe Smith, Antawn Jamison, and Larry Hughes would
become franchise cornerstones. We believed that Rick Adelman, PJ Carlisimo,
and Eric Musselman could coach the team to the playoffs. We believed we had
one of the best drafts of anyone in 2002, securing Mike Dunleavy, Jiri
Welsch, and Steve Logan. We believed that Gilbert Arenas had an honest bone
in his body and would keep one of his countless promises to stay.
This season looked to be the thirteenth consecutive
built on false hope and it again appeared that all optimism had been based
on the view from gold and
blue colored glasses. A midseason trade had rid the team of franchise
cancer Mike Dunleavy Jr. and plodding stat-whore power forward Troy Murphy,
but the team was floundering and head coach Don Nelson made a public
concession speech. The team was nine games under .500 and facing another
long summer of building false hope.
Out of nowhere, the team caught fire. Baron Davis came
back quickly from knee surgery and Jason Richardson showed signs of his old
self after having knee surgery and breaking his hand. The Warriors, owners
of one of the worst road records in the NBA, went into Eastern Conference
leading Detroit and blew out
the Pistons. Playing with a healthy starting lineup for the first time
since the trade, the Warriors went on to win 15 of their remaining twenty
games and edged the Clippers for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
Playoff fever gripped the Bay Area. A fan printed and distributed thousands
of We Believe signs at home games, refusing help from the organization.
Four thousand fans showed up at Oracle Arena to watch the Warriors’ final regular
season game, which was played seven hundred miles away in Portland.
The Warriors’ reward for their amazing finishing kick? A
series with the Dallas Mavericks, owners of one of the best regular season
records in league history. There was a strange twist to this though – the
Warriors had taken all 3 meetings during the regular season and had won 7
of the last 8 against the Mavs. Additionally, Don Nelson had built the Mavs
and was intimately familiar with most of the Dallas
The series got off to an awkward start for the Warriors.
They were tied with Dallas
after the first half of game 1, but no one was playing particularly well
and the game was being played at Dallas’
pace. The third quarter began with the teams still feeling each other out.
Several minutes in, it appeared that Dallas
had gained the upper hand and would slowly pull away. Then Baron Davis
showed the Mavs why they needed to fear the beard. The Warriors’
tempestuous leader took the game over and Dallas
fell with a whimper ill-befitting of a team that considered itself destined
to take a place beside basketball royalty. The game had been played at
preferred half court pace, three GoldenState starters were offensive
no-shows and had almost as many turnovers as field goals, and yet Baron
Davis (with some help from Steven Jackson and Matt Barnes) drove the
Warriors to a surprisingly easy 97-85 win. The home court advantage
worked all year long to earn was gone.
Game two was another one man show, but this time center
stage belonged to referee Bennett Salvatore. Monta Ellis led the Warriors
to a hot start and a 15-7 lead, but everything degenerated in a series of
mystifying whistles. The Warriors hung tough playing 5 on 8 until a 3rd
quarter Dallas run gave the Mavs a double digit cushion and Salvatore
prevented any thoughts of a comeback by ejecting Golden State’s two best
players. Baron Davis was sent off for clapping, and Steven Jackson was
given an early shower for having a bad reputation. The Dallas
ushers then refused to let Jackson
leave through the normal visitors’ tunnel by the team bench and forced him
to take a lap around the court in an effort to incite Jackson
to do something that would get him suspended for game 3. Home court
advantage indeed. The Warriors, now playing 3 on 8, could do nothing but
wait to get home knowing that they accomplished their mission – they had
split on the road.
It was a homecoming thirteen years in the making,
perhaps longer. The Warriors hadn’t had a home playoff game since 1994, and
then it was a team facing elimination down 2-0 in a best of 5 series to a
heavily favored Phoenix team.
Warriors fans, who had filled the Arena for over a decade of lousy
basketball, came ready to unleash all that frustration and anguish onto the
I was in my seat 75 minutes before tip-off, and was
nowhere near alone. There were hundreds of people in their seats and
thousands roaming the Oracle (the new corporate name of the Arena in
and the surrounding parking lots. Over an hour before tip, Jason
Richardson, one of the longest tenured and most popular Warriors, came out
to shoot around and drew a roar upon emerging from the tunnel. Half an hour
before tip the majority of fans, clad in new yellow “We Believe” shirts,
were in their seats and chants of “Let’s go Warriors!!!” (clap clap
clap-clap-clap) rolled through the Oracle. The game 3 crowd set a record
for most people to ever attend a basketball game in the state of California
(remarkable considering that the state houses 4 NBA franchises and 3 major
college basketball programs plus another that has won a national
championship). We, the fans, were ready. The Dallas Mavericks were not.
Behind the energy of a crowd that was so loud and
energetic that ESPN’s microphones repeatedly malfunctioned due to an
overload from crowd noise, the Warriors ran Dallas
off the floor. Jason Richardson finally showed up and had a breakout game
in his first ever home playoff game. Baron Davis was his brilliant playoff
self, and the Warriors managed to win again despite not receiving much production
from key cogs Al Harrington, Monta Ellis, and Mickael Pietrus. The Warrior
bench (Pietrus, Harrington, and Matt Barnes) shot a combined 4/15 from the
field, and the team shot 26% on threes. Regardless, the Mavs looked
helpless as the Warriors took a 2-1 series lead. The fans delivered, as
Steven Jackson remarked that the floor shook from the noise. Much like the
Warriors, the fans were just getting started.
Game 4 was about will, specifically that of Baron Davis
and the yellow mob in Oakland.
Once again, Warrior fans broke the record for attendance at a basketball
game in the state of California.
And once again, Baron Davis broke the team with the best record in the NBA.
The game was close throughout, with Dallas
trying to pull away and the Warriors reeling them back in every time.
went up 7, and the Warriors tied it back up. Dallas
went up 9, and the Warriors tied it again. No sequence captured the back
and forth, the Warriors’ willing themselves to stay in the game, like the
closing seconds of the first half. With the game tied due to another
Warrior mini-comeback, regular season MVP-in-waiting Dirk Nowitski scored
and was fouled, and completed the 3 point play. The Warriors were seemingly
left to go into the locker room on a down note and with momentum following
the big German into the visitors’ locker room. With just over a second
left, the Warriors were inbounded the ball from under their own basket. Not
wanting to foul and thinking the half was over for all intents and
purposes, the Mavs laid off and let Baron Davis catch the ball and fling it
from half court. Pandemonium erupted as the ball banked in to tie the game
at half. The Mavs and their MVP would not get an inch from the Warriors on
The second half was as tight as the first. The Warriors
started by hitting a pair of 3 pointers, and the crowd rose to its
collective feet. Despite several Dallas
runs that would swing the lead back and forth, the crowd remained up and
crazed the rest of the game. Warrior fans nearly blew the roof off the
Oracle when Baron drove in and set up an Andris Biedrins slam to take a 3
point lead late in the game. Dirk Nowitski found his long range jumper in
the final minute, but it was too late and the Warriors strutted to a 3-1
Game five in Dallas
started poorly and sloppily for the Warriors. Dallas
was seemed determined not to waive the white flag of surrender on their
home court and the Warriors were mentally absent. Late in the second
quarter, the Mavs led by 21. But as is characteristic of the New Warriors,
the ones that came together the last quarter of the regular season and
rewarded the faith of a fan base that made the term long suffering Warriors
fan redundant, the Warriors kept believing in themselves and stormed back.
With three minutes left in the game, the Baron of the Oracle hit what
looked to be a 3 point dagger that put his Warriors up by 9. Alas, Dirk
Nowitski and his Mavs showed rare signs of backbone and, with the help of
some iffy officiating and bad Warriors offense, came back to win the game.
Still, the message was sent. The Warriors were not messing around, the
Warriors would not lie down and quit even on the road. The Warriors, having
outscored Dallas by 30 over a roughly 2 quarter long stretch, were the better
team and would finish off the Mavs in the best place they could – the
Oracle Arena in front of another golden mob.
The Warriors blew out the Mavs in game 6, though not
without some early drama. The Warriors sprinted out to a quick lead, but
the Mavs stayed in the game with several Jerry Stackhouse corner threes. In
fact, the Mavs would hit only threes and free throws for the first fourteen
minutes of the game, but remained close. Baron Davis caused the single
greatest spike in Bay Area blood pressure since the 1989 earthquake (or the
2002 World Series, but that didn’t happen so let’s move on) when he pulled
up lame with a hamstring injury in the 1st half. But Baron came back on one
leg, hit several miracle jumpers (or ers, as he couldn’t jump), and the Warriors
led by two at the half.
The second half started with the teams trading baskets
early. Then, Dallas was hit
with a storm they could not weather. Stephen Jackson played rainmaker,
hitting four of his seven threes in a third quarter burst that put the
Warriors up by twelve. The run continued from there as the Warriors
extended their lead to 25. From there, it was one long group hug between
the players, the coaches, and their enthralled fans. There was yet another
state attendance record set that night, and the entire Arena stood for the
second half. There would be no quieting the crowd. There would be no
leaving early to beat traffic. We waited a long time for this. We believed
when there was nothing but fools gold, we believed and were made fools of, but
now our faith was rewarded. Thousands stuck around as the players streamed
back onto the court twenty and thirty minutes after the final buzzer.
Andris Biedrins waved a Warriors flag. Mickeal Pietrus crowd surfed. Others
just stood in their gold We Believe shirts and took in the scene. The
dreams, the belief, had become reality.