Known to some as “The Dark Years” of the NBA, the years 1999-2007 will be remembered as a time when the league was struggling to find a new face in the wake of Michael Jordan’s final departure from the Chicago Bulls. However, if we look at those years through a different lens and do so carefully, this period was the true beginning of the intersection between basketball and street culture. These were the days when we talked about Drake and LeBron in Forever, Shaq dissing Kobe on the mic, and talking about practice man….practice.
One iconic story of that time often overlooked is that of the ’07 Golden State Warriors, more commonly known as the beloved “We Believe” team. Thrust into NBA lore at the expense of ’07 MVP Dirk Nowitzki, the crew of Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Kelenna Azubuike, Matt Barnes, and company took won hearts and minds of the people of Oakland by storm. One of the key members of that team, Matt Barnes, explained the magic of the “We Believe” Warriors.
“I think what made that team so special was the bond we had off the court, how we all got to Golden State and the relationship our moms had… We were just different! All you’re seeing in Golden State right now is what you’re supposed to see. ”Matt Barnes, The Jump
Matt is correct; they were different but not simply because of their bond but because of how they were able to stifle Dirk and The Mavs en route to one of the biggest upsets in NBA history. Unlike todays’ Warriors, you were not “supposed to see” those Warriors win against Dirk and the Mavs. Under Don Nelson, players viewed as head cases were encouraged to play with that fire, which sometimes made them lose their temper. That fire turned into swagger, and that swagger gave the 8th seed Warriors the mental edge in that series. 14 years later, Steph Curry and the Warriors find themselves 8th in the Western Conference, and with convincing wins over the Jazz and Suns this week, the comparisons to the We Believe Warriors are in full swing.
This season’s Warriors could not be more different off-the-court. Led by the greatest shooter to ever play this game, his finesse-filled approach transcends the hardwood, and his fun-loving character is what the NBA fans of today love about him and the team. On the court, however, the comparisons could have some truth. Despite not having the traditional tough guys and enforcers on their roster, the ’20/’21 Warriors’ schemes and communication allow them to be a stifling defensive force, with Draymond being that anchor.
You have underdogs like Kent Bazemore and Andrew Wiggins who have been overlooked and overcriticized their whole careers, coupled with young guys who are not afraid of the moment. The play-in is fast approaching, and it seems a clash of Titans between LeBron’s Lakers and Curry’s Warriors is inevitable, followed by a difficult first-round match-up regardless of who they draw. Perhaps only then will we be able to see how accurate the comparisons really are.