As the decade closes, it’s a time to recall and reflect on some of the events and moments that made covering the Warriors so special:
The growth of Stephen Curry
Skinny kid is spectacular in college. Enters the NBA to the broad skepticism. Sustains injuries that sound alarms about durability and longevity. Gets healthy. Revolutionizes the game.
We all watched the saga unfold. The journey of Stephen Curry began as a rookie in 2009-10 and five years later landed him atop the sports world, an NBA champion and the league’s only unanimous MVP.
For me, the moment I often reflect upon occurred in 2014 and is unrelated to actual basketball.
Speaking inside Beebe Memorial Cathedral in Oakland, a church Curry often partners with on charitable issues, I wanted to test his commitment beyond the game. He barely had begun to flex his social muscle, and I asked him if he understood what was at stake.
“What do you mean?” he replied.
I mentioned that athletes can take a lot of heat when they speak out on sociopolitical issues and those things tend to follow team around. I asked him if he was sure he was ready for that.
Curry set his jaw and gave an answer that indicated he had thought his way to this point.
“The way I see it,” he began, “There can be even more risk if you don’t say anything.”
Curry kept his word. He has made donations to a range of causes, expressed support for Colin Kaepernick’s crusade for justice and distaste for the conduct of the current president.
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10 minutes with Draymond
The assignment, surely from the mind of a sadist, was absurd: Try to get a bucket while being defended by Draymond Green. As cameras rolled.
This was before he earned such accolades as Defensive Player of the Year. Draymond was a second-year reserve forward in the NBA.
Though of similar height, I was someone who never advanced beyond organized city leagues in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. And I was in the midst of a career that began five years before Green was born. Taking it seriously, I knew, likely would strike a mighty blow to my ego.
I took five or six attempts. Tried shooting before he could close out. Tried a ball fake, at which he didn’t flinch. Tried my jab step, at which he rolled his eyes. Tried backing him down. Even tried, foolishly, to go around him.
Not one bucket. Not even close. All backboard and air balls.
I wanted to re-retire on the spot, but I had one more assignment a month or so later: Try to grab a rebound against Andrew Bogut. I discovered he’s much quicker than he looks.
I hung them up immediately afterward.
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An epic celebration
Curry liked to joke that veteran big man David West does everything with intensity, including eating breakfast. Over time, I came to realize what he meant.
I was inches away when West, standing a few feet inside the door of the locker room at Oracle Arena, celebrated the 2017 NBA Finals win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Having been in locker rooms of Super Bowl winners, clubhouses of World Series winners and dressing rooms of victorious world champion boxers, I’ve never seen such unrestrained roaring.
After 14 years chasing a championship, this was his first. West had a cigar in one hand, a bottle of champagne in the other and full-on catharsis rising from his tongue. He was beyond ecstatic.
What made this moment all the more striking is that West is a such a thoughtful, studious man. It was as if he’d spent his entire career bottling up his joy and it all came spilling out.
Easter Sunday with the Warriors
There would be many playoffs series to follow – 20 over the next five seasons – but the first-round series between the Warriors and the Clippers in 2014 was as bitterly competitive as any.
The No. 3 seed Clippers were considered a serious contender. The sixth-seeded Warriors posted their first 50-win season in 20 years even as rumors circulated regarding the job security of coach Mark Jackson.
The players spoke of wanting to take the heat off Jackson by giving their best effort, which paid off in a Game 1 victory. Andre Iguodala went so far as to say they were trying to save his job. Several players, as a show of near-unanimous support, vowed to attend Easter Sunday service the next day at Jackson’s church 15 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
The Warriors showed up. Curry and Iguodala and Green. David Lee and Marreese Speights and Jermaine O’Neal. Harrison Barnes, with his fianceé. Klay Thompson and his father Mychal. Backup center Hilton Armstrong was particularly demonstrative during the service and in the parking lot after.
The display of unity made a statement. It wasn’t enough to save Jackson’s job, but it was a significant example of the teamwork seen in the years that followed.
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A dinner in the future
Upon taking ownership of the team in 2009, Joe Lacob and Peter Guber set their sights on San Francisco. That’s where they held their first news conference, and it’s where they wanted to be.
As a veteran of Bay Area sports and politics, I knew this would be a mammoth undertaking. The 49ers tried and tried and tried, failed, and surrendered. The Giants tried and tried and tried and, finally, made it happen.
Yet in 2013, Guber was confident not only that they move would come but that it would happen by 2016, 2017 at the latest. I knew better.
We made a bet. Dinner.
After two failed attempts, Chase Center opened in 2019. Guber remembers. He owes me a very nice dinner.