America loves a feel-good story. Well, America, meet the Golden State Warriors. To truly realize how extraordinary the Warriors’ run has been this year, you have to look at where they were coming from. The Warriors’ record for the 12 seasons between their last and current NBA Playoffs appearances was 332-620 – good for a .349 winning percentage. Over that same period they never won more than 38 games in a season and finished with 21 or fewer wins five times. To put that in perspective, even the worst team in the NBA this year, Memphis, won 22 games. If losing is like getting thrown into the proverbial trashcan, the Warriors had a shiny new can waiting for their arrival every season.
When the Warriors were bad, they were really bad. For instance, from 1998 to 2000 Donyell Marshall led the team in scoring for two seasons, and John Starks led them for the other one. If Marshall (11.6 career points per game) and Starks (12.5 career points per game) are leading your team into battle, it’s essentially like standing at mid-court and waving a white flag in front of the entire crowd before every single game. Even when the Warriors had three of the top players in the NBA in 2003 with Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Jason Richardson, they still finished out of the playoff hunt by six games because 44 wins were needed in the stacked Western Conference.
Usually, the NBA Draft is used by sub par teams as an opportunity to improve in especially weak areas. For the Warriors, in the mid-1990s, the NBA Draft was a venue for them to put on a fledgling comedy act. From 1994 to 1997, the Warriors used their first-round draft picks on Cliff Rozier, Joe Smith with the top overall pick, Todd Fuller and Adonal Foyle. Rozier averaged 5.0 points per game for the Warriors over three seasons and was out of the league after his fourth year. Smith excelled for two seasons on the Warriors, but then was traded along with former Gaucho Brian Shaw to Philadelphia for Jim Jackson and Clarence Weatherspoon. Fuller averaged 4.0 points per game over two seasons in Golden State and played on three different teams over the next three seasons before retiring. Finally, Foyle is currently handling backup duties for the Warriors, with career averages of 4.4 points per game and 5.0 rebounds a night. The Warriors gradually improved their lackluster drafting strategy, but it can easily be argued that over that 12-season span, they only had two players with a realistic chance at making the Hall of Fame suit up for them: Chris Mullin and Gilbert Arenas.
The thing is no one was thinking about those past 12 years when the Warriors became just the third number eight seed to knock off a number one seed in the history of the NBA Playoffs. Everyone was thinking about the future. It’s a future that’s bright, it’s a future that’s promising, it’s a future that’s fittingly golden.
There’s a scene in “Rounders” where Mike McDermott returns to the poker world and his buddy, Joey Knish, says the following upon seeing Mike’s triumphant homecoming: “I was actually gonna try and make some real money tonight, but in honor of Mike’s Ali-like return to the ring, I’ll sit with you all for a while.” In honor of the Warriors ‘ Ali-like return to the playoffs, I’ll be following every minute of play for the remainder of their Cinderella search for the gold trophy.