Gold price

After a checkered past, the Warriors have set the gold standard among NBA franchises

Sep 30, 2022

And because it was in the days before Google, and the team operated in virtual anonymity, the line was mostly successful.

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Younger Celtics fans likely only remember the Warriors as being three-time champions in the last seven years, a dynasty with players such as the brilliant Stephen Curry, the hard-driving and relentless Draymond Green and the prolific Klay Thompson.

Older Celtics fans will point to MVP Rick Barry who led the 1975 Warriors team to a four-game sweep of the Washington Bullets, but most will recall the Warriors as the franchise that in 1980 traded Robert Parish and the No. 3 pick to the Celtics, who used the pick to draft Kevin McHale. They teamed with Larry Bird to form a Big Three nucleus that went on to lead the Celtics to three championships in six years.

The Warriors, meanwhile, used the Celtics’ Nos. 1 and 13 picks to select centers Joe Barry Carroll and Rickey Brown.

Fast forward to 2022, the Warriors play in the pristine Chase Center, a beautiful $1.4 billion building in the Mission Bay district of San Francisco, a city that once hosted the Warriors in the 1960s and then freely allowed them to move to Oakland in 1971.

San Francisco considered itself too cosmopolitan, too refined for the lowly Warriors. The possibility of the Warriors leaving Oakland and moving back to the second-most expensive city in the country was laughable until Joe Lacob and Peter Guber purchased the team from the unpopular Chris Cohan in 2010 for the bargain price of $450 million.

Lacob’s and Cohan’s express purpose was to eventually make the team attractive enough to move back to San Francisco. But that would be an arduous endeavor that would take brilliant drafting, the home-grown development of superstars and the hiring of the right coach.

The transformation of the Warriors from an insignificant franchise for decades into a dynasty is not only on those who were subjected to the harder years, or who were drafted by Golden State during its rebuild.

“I mean, I knew they played in Oakland because I came and did a pre-draft workout,” said Green, drafted 35th overall in 2012. “Before that, I didn’t know much. I knew they had won 23 games the year before and were kind of the laughingstock of the NBA.

“But I also knew that they had two guys who could really shoot the lights out of the ball, and that it was a young group that was looking to build. And you just knew that it was a team, an organization, that was hungry and was trying to go. And that was the mindset walking in here.

“Everybody was like, `We were the last-ranked defense in the league. We won 23 games. We’ve been to the playoffs one time,’ at that point it was 10 or 11 years or something like that, maybe a little more.”

There may not be a player more synonymous with a franchise than Curry is with the Warriors. But on draft night 2009, the Davidson junior thought he was going to the New York Knicks, who owned the eighth pick. The Warriors picked seventh, but Curry, like many other NBA observers, didn’t pay much attention to Golden State.

The franchise’s only real notable moment to the younger generation was the 2007 team with Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes that knocked off the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in the first round as an eighth seed.

The Warriors would be eliminated in the next round, but for a franchise that had missed the playoffs the previous 11 years, a series win was reason enough for jubilation. Those “We Believe” Warriors would be considered the standard for Golden State teams until this recent run of titles.

“There was a lot in that question,” Curry said, laughing, when asked of his impression of the Warriors in his early days. “What did I think about the organization? I didn’t think much about it.

“I was growing up on the East Coast. So I mean, I watched games. But all I really knew is the “We Believe” team and the Baron Davis dunk and them beating Dallas. That was top of mind. I knew about Run TMC [in the early 1990s] but didn’t really understand the history as much.

“When I got drafted, I thought I was going to New York, and didn’t really have Golden State on the radar at all. And then there was a lot of drama my rookie year with the potential Phoenix trade at draft night and me and Monta [Ellis] as a small backcourt, can we play together, and obviously what his answer was at the time [Ellis said they couldn’t].”

Craig and Terri Rubenstein were a basketball-obsessed family that decided to purchase a Warriors season-ticket plan in 1997, the same year that forward Latrell Sprewell was suspended for choking coach P.J. Carlesimo during a practice.

These were hard times. Management had broken up the trio of Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond. It had also traded Chris Webber to the Washington Bullets for Tom Gugliotta and Todd Fuller. Warriors games at Oracle Arena were filled with fans from opposing teams, especially when marquee names such as Kobe and Shaq or Jordan and Pippen came to town.

“At the time, the Warriors were bad, we knew they were bad, we know bad basketball,” Craig Rubenstein said. “We’d get tickets and we’d go see Jordan and we’d see whoever was coming to town. The fact that [the Warriors] stunk, that was too bad. But we accepted that.”

The couple kept their season tickets through the lean years, but the sale of the team from Cohan to Lacob and Guber was a benchmark moment. The two owners were consumed with the team, unlike Cohan, who seemed tepid about spending money on major free agents or pricey frontline coaches.

Perhaps the signature moment of Cohan’s 16-year tenure was when he was booed loudly by local fans when he was introduced at the 2000 All-Star Game in Oakland.

“We were probably the most surprised people in the world that this transformation happened,” Craig said. “It was a slow transformation. They drafted some great guys, probably got a little bit lucky along the way. Who knew Steph Curry would be Steph Curry? It all came together and we’re just enjoying the ride.”

Warriors basketball has become religion in the Bay Area, even overtaking the San Francisco 49ers in some age brackets. Curry is one of the professional sports most likeable athletes and with the hiring of Steve Kerr, Golden State plays an up-tempo, free-wheeling, 3-point centric style that is wildly popular with fans.

The result has been six NBA Finals appearances in eight years after none in 39 years. The result has been one of the most picturesque and expensive arenas in professional sports. The result has been all 29 NBA teams trying to replicate their style and popularity.

But the core of the team remembers when times weren’t so spectacular, when the Warriors were just another NBA team trying to emerge as relevant, nothing more.

“That was kind of the aura that was around,” Green said. “We just came in hungry and wanted to change that, and we did. But you know, it wasn’t always this [way]. I remember walking in downtown Oakland giving away tickets to the game as a rookie for one of our team activities or community things that you have to do, and certain guys had to go on the BART [subway] and give tickets away. I remember that. That wasn’t that long ago.

“A much less respected franchise, but we were able to change that. And that’s what it’s about.”

Curry would much rather forget those hard days when he was often injured and the franchise won 85 games in his first three seasons.

“There’s a lot going on in that sense. But to see the evolution from that year to now, and the fact that six out of the last eight years we’ve been in the Finals, it’s crazy to think about for sure and speaks to all the different people who have had a part in that: myself, Draymond, Klay, Andre [Iguodala] .

“It’s been an amazing run. We obviously feel like we still have a lot left in the tank. That’s why we’re here. I don’t want to depress myself with the history of the organization right now. I’m going to think about the bright moments, so I appreciate it.”

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.


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