The turn of the century was a bleak time to be a Warriors fan. Really, besides a few good Run TMC seasons in the early 1990s, any of the 30 years between 1977 and 2006 was a bleak time to be a Warriors fan. But in the opinion of this fan—who can first remember listening on the radio as the Warriors got mollywhopped by the Suns in the 1994 playoffs—the 2000-01 season was the nadir.
Here is how bad things were in 2000: 12-year-old me was over the moon excited when the Warriors picked Chris Porter out of Auburn 55th in the draft. He was an All-American! You’ve probably never heard of Chris Porter, and even if you have I’m sure you haven’t thought about him in 15 years, but I was convinced he was going to save the Warriors. Instead he shot a ghastly 39% in 10 minutes a night, got injured, was arrested during the offseason, and has been a basketball nomad since.
I thought this guy was going to do it. Photo via Getty.
There were precisely two highlights amidst the drudgery of the Warriors going 17-65 in 2000-01. In back-to-back December games, Antawn Jamison went off for 51 points. The second of those efforts secured a narrow win over the hated Lakers, as Kobe also went for 51 and matched Jamison shot for shot. It was absolutely thrilling.
The second came close to the end of the season, against the Mavericks. Promising rookie power forward Marc Jackson made a layup, and as he cruised back on defense by the Mavs’ bench, he screamed “UNSTOPPABLE BABY!”
The Warriors lost that game by 29.
I’m telling you, 2000-01 was bad. The Warriors sucked even more than I was used to them sucking, and I was in seventh grade. That’s a hell of a one-two punch! But in the summer of 2001 came salvation in the form of the NBA draft, when against all odds Garry St. Jean somehow came away with a fucking haul. With the #5 pick he took Jason Richardson, with the #14 pick he took Troy Murphy, and with the #31 pick he took Gilbert Arenas.
Within two years Gilbert Arenas was gone to Washington, a loss so painfully unfair that in the 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement the NBA enacted the Gilbert Arenas Rule to help teams hold onto their second round picks. Troy Murphy was solid if unspectacular—a decent return for the #14 pick, actually—but he will be better remembered by Warriors fans for what his 2007 trade preceded (we’ll get there).
But Jason Richardson, oh my. Jason Richardson was awesome. Jason Richardson was sick. Jason Richardson was exactly the player 13-year-old Kevin wanted to root for. Jason Richardson wore number 23 and could dunk out of the motherfucking planet.
What I’m saying is, Jason Richardson was basically Michael Jordan.
J-Rich winning the 2003 Slam Dunk Contest. Photo via Getty.
Jason Richardson announced his retirement Wednesday, thanking the fans everywhere he played in his 14-year career:
Today is a bitter sweet moment for me. I’m officially announcing my retirement from pro basketball. I like to thank the organizations and fans in Charlotte, Phoenix, Orlando, Philly and especially The Bay Area for their loyal support the past 14 years. Walking away was the hardest decision I had to make but choosing my health and spending time with my family is more important to me! God bless!
Jason Richardson has spent the last two seasons in Philadelphia, dealing with an assortment of injuries and mentoring the revolving door of second round picks that Sam Hinkie employs. J-Rich collecting checks from the tanking 76ers always held a special sort of irony for me, because if it weren’t for him I honestly don’t know if I would have stayed a basketball fan.
I swear I’m not exaggerating how brutal it was to follow the Warriors. By 2001, it was apparent that owner Chris Cohan didn’t have a clue what he was doing. When the Warriors hosted the 2000 All-Star game in their recently remodeled arena, Cohan walked onto the court to give a trophy to Michael Jordan, and Warriors fans mercilessly booed him off his own floor. With his eight-year-old son by his side! Via the incomparable Ray Ratto:
So maybe it’s just a matter of really funky acoustics - the cheers go straight up to the rafters and stay there, while the most venomous boos pour straight down to the floor.
Indeed, as deep a pit as Cohan has excavated for himself here with his stewardship of our local team, to get dry-roasted on the floor he helped pay for, standing with Jordan and his own son Dax . . . well, that’s about as Philadelphia as it gets.
But then we got Jason Richardson, and he started winning stuff! Not stuff that matters to fans of successful teams, but stuff that mattered to us. In 2002 he played in All-Star Weekend’s Rookie Challenge, and he won the Slam Dunk Contest. At the end of the year he made the All-Rookie team, and was one of five players to receive a Rookie of the Year vote.
The next season he was MVP of the Rookie Challenge, and won the Slam Dunk Contest again with the stunner pictured above.
In that 2002-03 season, the Warriors won 38 games. That’s not a lot of wins to fans of successful teams, but it was a lot of wins to us. It was the most wins we’d seen in a decade. And I hadn’t even seen those, because a decade before I was four. The 38-44 Warriors were the most successful team I would see until I was 19.
To make those 38 wins even sweeter, 24 of them were at home, meaning if you attended a game you had a 60% chance of seeing a win. Those wins, and Richardson’s accolades, and how damn hard he played every single night, are why I despise tanking.
The year 2002 was a great year to be a fan of any Bay Area sports team ... except for the Warriors. The A’s went to their third of four straight playoffs, led by the Big Three, Miguel Tejada, and Eric Chavez. The Giants heartbreakingly lost in the World Series, but Barry Bonds was the most exciting athlete alive. The 49ers looked revived under Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens. The Raiders went to the Super Bowl. The Sharks were going to the playoffs every year and Owen Nolan was awesome.
So if the Warriors had tanked, or continued to be worse than basura, I might’ve dipped out. I might’ve just stopped watching. I might’ve done literally anything else with my time rather than invest in another season watching a team more suited to being the Harlem Globetrotters’ laughingstock opponent than an NBA franchise.
Instead, Jason Richardson was electrifying, and the couple of times my dad managed to snag some Warriors tickets I actually saw a win. In person, in the upper deck of the arena, happily chomping on the Round Table personal pan pizza I felt like I had tricked him into buying for me, watching Jason Richardson dunk on some poor, unfortunate soul, my fandom turned to love.
Lol Kobe, like you could stop J-Rich. Photo via AP.
The “good” times didn’t last, of course. Arenas left, and Jamison was traded to the Mavericks for Nick Van Exel and a bunch of flotsam. The diminutive Eric Musselman gave way to local college coach hero Mike Montgomery, and it turned out Montgomery wasn’t cut out for the NBA. Mike Dunleavy was a bust, and Derek Fisher got way, way too much run for any self-respecting basketball team.
There were a few more windswept years that a smarter man would have avoided, but I was fully invested. I had J-Rich.
When the 2006-07 season rolled around, I was halfway across the country attending freshman year of college in Minnesota. It’s in the library that I remember watching the Warriors, an illegal stream pulled up on my MacBook, checking in every few minutes as I trudged through that night’s homework. I didn’t really have the time to seriously watch basketball every weeknight, and even if I had, who would’ve wanted to watch the thoroughly mediocre (an improvement!) Golden State Warriors on a shitty stream with me?
On January 16, 2007, the Warriors made what as far as I’m concerned is the greatest trade in NBA history: Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy to the Pacers for Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington. There were some other players involved, but those were the important ones. Google tells me January 16, 2007 was a Tuesday, which means I attended my Microeconomics class and a Spanish 102 TA session, but I have no memory of that day.
I remember almost everything that happened next.
It took awhile for mad scientist Don Nelson to figure out his newly constructed team, and a six-game losing streak in late February looked like it ended any hope of the playoffs. But the Warriors won 16 of the last 21 games, including the final six, and snuck into the playoffs ahead of the Clippers. Awaiting them was a juggernaut: the 67-game winning, MVP Dirk Nowitzki-having Dallas Mavericks.
And wouldn’t you know it, but the Warriors ran them off the fucking court. They mugged the Mavericks, stole their wallet, and then pulled their pants down just for good measure. If you have never experienced pure delirium and ecstasy as a sports fan, well I can tell you that you’re sure as hell missing out. It was a two-week bender for me, where all I thought about was basketball, but it peaked during Game 6.
Every few months, I go back and watch this video of it:
There are a lot of things to love from Game 6. Everything, for starters. But also Matt Barnes throwing down a left-handed dunk over Dirk Nowitzki as Marv Albert screams “FACIAL!” Stephen Jackson going 7 for 8 on threes. Baron Davis being B-Diddy. But what I remember most is Jason Richardson.
They were already known as the We Believe Warriors, but I must confess that even up 19 with just six minutes left, I didn’t yet believe. And if the Warriors lost, there was going to be a dreaded Game 7 in Dallas, and they would surely lose that. Even up 19 with just six minutes left, I knew the Warriors were going to lose the series. After all, Charlie Brown never gets to kick the football.
Jason Richardson saved us. He saved me. First, as Mickael Pietrus drove to the hoop and got caught up in the air (at least he wasn’t stepping backwards out-of-bounds, amirite Warriors fans?), Richardson cut baseline. Pietrus found him with a bounce pass, and he slammed home over Austin Croshere.
On the very next play Richardson got a steal, and while falling out-of-bounds saved the ball to Matt Barnes. He sprinted to the corner, got the return pass from Barnes, paused a beat because he was so wide open, and buried a three. Poor Avery Johnson called a timeout, and Jason Richardson screamed as he ran down the court to the bench. In a study room on my dorm’s ground floor, I too screamed along with Richardson and the 20,000 yellow-clad fans in the arena.
Just for good measure, he added a three as the shot clock expired for a 26-point lead.
Hollering and flexing after kicking the Mavericks into their grave. Photo via AP.
The good times didn’t last, of course. The muscular Utah Jazz knocked the Warriors out in the next round, though at least we got one of the greatest dunks ever. Still though, with Baron Davis, Jason Richardson, Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, and Andris Biedrins, with Monta Ellis and Matt Barnes coming off the bench, there was finally a Warriors team you could get behind!
Back home for the summer working at Macy’s, I settled in on an off-night to watch the 2007 draft. For the first time in forever the Warriors weren’t picking in the lottery, so I watched to see if the Trail Blazers were going to select Greg Oden or Kevin Durant first, and to speculate as to who the Warriors would take with the #18 pick.
But then, as Stuart Scott interviewed the Bobcats #8 pick—some guy out of North Carolina named Brandan Wright—Mike Tirico and Ric Bucher cut in with word that he was being traded to Golden State for Jason Richardson.
In those days before Twitter or news being broken instantly online, the only thing to do was repeatedly mutter “what the fuck?” while watching and waiting. The only additional information that ever came was that the trade was official, and Jermareo Davison was going to the Bobcats too.
Much later we would learn that the Warriors were working furiously behind the scenes to swing a deal for the disgruntled Kevin Garnett, and by most accounts the Timberwolves preferred their offer. What happened next still isn’t clear, but it involved Garnett not being 100% sold on signing a contract extension, and Warriors president Robert Rowell backing out of the deal. They’d already made an agreement with Charlotte, however, and my favorite Warrior of all-time was gone.
Things obviously would have been different had the Warriors gotten Garnett. A month later he was traded to the Boston Celtics, and 10 months after that they won an NBA championship. With Garnett signed to a longterm deal, surrounded by better talent than he’d ever had in Minnesota, maybe the Warriors would’ve won an NBA Championship before this year. Probably not, but who knows?
Even without Richardson, they were better the next season. Monta Ellis gamely stepped into the starting lineup, and with a full training camp to absorb Don Nelson’s run-and-gun helter-skelter schemes, the Warriors ripped off 48 wins. But eight other teams in the West won 50, and the they were on the outside looking in. Things imploded in the penultimate game of the season, when Nellie benched Baron Davis for the second half of a must-win game against Phoenix.
The Warriors lost that game, and during the offseason Davis signed with the Clippers. The Warriors wouldn’t be relevant again until that Stephen Curry fellow came around.
Next time I’m in Oakland—or god forbid, San Francisco—watching the Warriors play, I hope to see Richardson’s 23 hanging alongside the rest of the Warriors greats.
Photo via AP