By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
It’s been 38 years since Bay Area fans celebrated the Golden State Warriors’ last National Basketball Association championship — an eternity for most of their diehard fans who finally can feel optimism about their team’s promising future.
Yes, hope has finally returned to the Warriors’ franchise, under a confident coach in Mark Jackson and talented young squad led by budding superstar Stephen Curry and hot-shooting teammate Klay Thompson, who made a combined NBA-record 483 3-pointers this season.
Jackson, the former NBApoint guard and straight-shooting television analyst, calls Curry and Thompson “the best shooting backcourt” to ever play together in the tradition-rich league. “Call my bluff,” Jackson told the media after a recent playoff game, then asked the reporters to find a better shooting duo in the history of the league since the 3-point shot was instituted in 1979.
During the regular season, Curry made an NBA record 272 treys in a mind-boggling 600 attempts (45 percent) to break current Miami Heat guard Ray Allen’s previous mark of 269 in a season. Thompson added 211 treys in Jackson’s uptempo offense — which is fun to watch and tough to defend when it’s hitting on all cylinders.
Both Curry and Thompson are sons of former NBA players — Dell Curry, a deadly shooting guard and veteran of five teams, and Mychal Thompson, a power forward who had some solid seasons for three clubs, including his final four years with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Stephen Curry, 25, played collegiately at Davidson and is making $3.9 million a season. After a breakout season, he’s ready for a huge raise as well as rich endorsement deals. Klay Thompson, 23, played at Washington State and is making $2.2 million a year — well under the team-high $13 million a season that 7-foot center Andrew Bogut of Australia is earning this year.
But it’s the exciting Curry and Thompson that are fast becoming the faces of the franchise — and with Bogut, all-star forward David Lee and a host of solid returning talent, Golden State might be a legitimate top four team in the NBA for the next four or five years. And after decades of poor team management, the Warriors front office has finally seemed to have turned the corner and the young club is headed in the right direction.
The selection of Jackson as the head coach has worked wonders and instilled confidence into the young team. He’s the right man for the job. And no one knows how far the Warriors will go this season, but they’ve proved to be a handful for the experienced San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs lead the best of 7 series 2-1, following Friday night’s 102-92 win over Golden State. Game 4 is today.
After the Warriors recently eliminated the Denver Nuggets from the NBA playoffs, Bogut said: “We’re a loose group. I think we enjoy being around each other, first and foremost. Coach Jackson, you guys know, he’s a pastor, he preaches. He’s a very well-spoken individual. The pep talks before the games are sensational. He gets us riled up the right way. He’s very close with all the players. I’ve never had a head coach sit down at a lunch table after practice and sit there for hours talking to different guys.
Jackson exudes confidence in his team.
“I believe in my guys,” he told reporters. “And they’ve been through a whole lot. They can handle adversity. They can handle tough stretches.”
Can they upset the Spurs and advance to the Western Conference final? Who knows? But in 1975 when the Warriors won their last NBA title, almost no one gave them a chance to beat the heavily favored Washington Bullets in the finals.
After all, the Bullets won a league-high 60 games during the regular season and had all-star players Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes to lead the way against an underappreciated Warriors squad.
Golden State was led by superstar Rick Barry, rookie forward Jamaal Wilkes and young guard Phil Smith. Head coach Al Attles used a nine-man rotation and the fired-up Warriors swept the Bullets 4-0 in what is still considered one of the biggest upsets in NBA history. (On a local note, Phil Smith’s nephew, John Smith, was a star player at UH-Hilo during the 2007-09 seasons.)
During that memorable 1974-75 season, Barry, a 6-7 forward, led the NBA in scoring (30.6 points per game), steals (2.6) and free-throw percentage (.904, using the two-handed, underhanded “granny shot” technique), and was sixth in assists (6.2). He then averaged about 30 ppg game in the sweep over Washington and was named the series most valuable player.
Barry, who played collegiately at the University of Miami, was considered the best passing forward in the NBA before a guy named Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics came along. The Golden State superstar — the only player ever to lead the NCAA, NBA and ABA in scoring — was later named as one of the NBA’s top 50 players in the league’s first 50 years.
The current Warriors don’t have a superstar in his prime like Barry when Golden State won the title, but Curry could continue to develop into one of the league’s elite players. Remember, he was injured last year before returning to play in 78 games this year. He has the potential to be a great one, maybe the best perimeter shooter the NBA has seen yet, but he’s still got to prove his durability and game over time — the next three or four seasons should give NBA fans a more accurate measurement at how bright his star will shine.
That’s all great news for Warrior fans in the Bay Area and around the country. It appears all those frustrating years of watching a mediocre club play are over and they’ve finally got a potential championship-caliber team on the horizon.
And with an inspiring players’ coach in Jackson and a superstar in Curry leading the way, they just couldn’t ask for much more. Let the good times roll.
Email Tribune-Herald sports editor Bill O’Rear at email@example.com.