These days, if you walk by a Foot Locker, a Dick’s or even a Wal-Mart, the racks are littered with Stephen Curry jerseys, Golden State t-shirts and Warriors-blue basketballs. This comes as no surprise of course; they just set the NBA record for wins, Curry was back-to-back season MVP and they just made an unprecedented series comeback against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But they weren’t always that way.
Five years ago, they were a below .500 team with a brand new head coach in Keith Smart and a second year player out of Davidson trying to lead a lackluster squad. At the end of the season, they would fire Smart in exchange for Mark Jackson and finish with an abysmal 23-43 record.
With the help of Curry and sophomore Klay Thompson averaging 22.9 and 16.6 ppg respectively, Jackson scraped out a winning 47-35 record in 2012, earning him another year as a head coach.
That next season, Golden State finished 20 games above .500 and earned a Western Conference playoff berth, but lost in seven games to Los Angles in the first round. Shockingly, Jackson’s best year was also his last in Oakland.
In typical California fashion, the Warriors’ front office intended to make a splash with their new hire, so they snatched a guy with no coaching experience right out from under the nose of the New York Knicks.
Former player and TV personality Steve Kerr joined the team in May of 2014, amidst mixed reactions. The majority consensus was that Kerr was a great human being, but one giant question mark loomed above his spiky blonde head: could he coach?
Owner Joe Lacob banked $25 million that the answer was “yes.” Flash forward two years and Lacob could not have been more correct.
I mean that quite literally, as Kerr has scarcely left an accomplishment on the table in his two-year tenure. He took the Warriors to a 67-15 regular season record and the franchise’s first NBA Championship of this century. Curry and Thompson averaged over 20 ppg, and Curry was the regular season MVP.
Not one to stay satisfied, Kerr and the Warriors bested themselves this last year with the most magical season of play basketball has seen for years. Even those apathetic at best to sports could not look away from Golden State’s historic 73-win season and the impossible performances from “Splash Brothers” Curry (30.1 ppg) and Thompson (22.1 ppg) game after game.
Of course, their magnanimous success was met by some with bitter disbelief. Former bulls standout Scottie Pippen says his 1995-96 Bulls would sweep the Warriors in a seven game series and that he would personally hold Curry to 20 points or less.
Kerr, who was Pippen’s reserve teammate met his challenge with the easygoing humor that earned him Coach of the Year in 2016.
“For example, if you actually put the teams in a hypothetical game, my guess is the Bulls would be called for a million hand-check fouls, and we would be called for a million illegal defenses when we overloaded the strong side,” Kerr said of the differing eras. “So the game would take, like, six hours because the refs would be calling stuff all game. It’s kind of hard to get past that. Now, they wouldn’t call traveling in either era.”
Luckily for Pippen, and perhaps the reason he could be so bold — we will never get a chance to see Michael Jordan post-up on Thompson, or Curry dribble circles around Pippen or Draymond Green get up in Dennis Rodman’s face.
Tonight, we get to see Golden State defend their championship title against a healthy Cleveland team. The Cavaliers have yet to win a championship, and Lebron James is on a redemptive mission to give them one.
If Kerr’s Warriors can stay strong for one more series, they will go down as the greatest repeat champion in NBA history. Kerr will cement his legacy as a coach and his players can finally silence their critics. It all comes down to this week — the world will be waiting to watch the rise or the fall of the Warriors.
Tune in to ABC at 7:00 MST for Cavs @ Warriors Game 1