Programming note: Watch all four of the "We Believe" Warriors' wins over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, May 30, beginning at 2 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.
The brutal November 1994 divorce between Don Nelson and Chris Webber sent the Warriors and their fans spiraling into NBA purgatory. Twelve consecutive losing seasons, with revolving doors at every level, from ownership to coaches and players.
The brief glint of optimism that invigorated fans during a 50-32 season, with Webber named Rookie of the Year, was replaced by disappointment, indignation and, eventually, resignation.
For 12 years, fans had three choices. One, despair. Two, go to the arena and witness perpetual disaster. Three, wait for a visit from Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls or Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers.
There was no rational reason for hope until February 2005, when Chris Mullin, in his first year as the team’s top personnel executive, engineered the kind of trade his predecessors never did.
Mullin acquired a star with NBA credibility. He swindled the New Orleans Hornets out of Baron Davis.
BD was the first pillar driven in constructing what two years later became the “We Believe” Warriors -- the most beloved team in franchise history.
The next pillar dropped in August 2006, when Mullin replaced coach Mike Montgomery with, yes, Don Nelson. Four months into the job, Nelson realized he loved Davis and liked few others. He and Mullin addressed that the following January by sending Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and Ike Diogu to the Indiana Pacers for Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson.
“It started with the Detroit game,” Jason Richardson told the team website, referring to a rousing win at the end of an early-March road trip. “We were on the plane heading back to Oakland from Detroit. We start looking at the standings, we started realizing what we had to do to try and make the playoffs. We made a commitment on that flight that we’re going to do everything in our power to try and make the playoffs.”
Six weeks after the big trade, the Warriors rolled into the Palace of Auburn Hills 12th in the Western Conference standings and throttled the Pistons, 111-93. J-Rich scored a team-high 29 points. The “We Believe” movement -- a slogan coined by local superfan Paul Wong -- was born.
"We need to take this as a positive and let this game change our season," Jackson, who missed the previous four games with a toe injury, told reporters afterward. "There's still time to get this turned around."
The victory ignited a season-closing 16-5 run, including winning nine of the last 10. The mission to the playoffs was not competed until the last game of the regular season, when the Warriors defeated the Trail Blazers in Portland.
The Warriors had been transported to a forgotten land. They were back in the playoffs. The dozen-year drought had ended.
"I'm very relieved at this particular moment,” Nelson told reporters in Portland. “I'll wake up tomorrow and it'll be a new day, and I'll have a new challenge. But at this particular time, I'm going to sit back, drink a cold beer and enjoy the moment. Seize the moment, if you will."
Fans did more than that. Once over the shock, they began celebrating. Their favorite team had escaped the NBA wilderness, putting Oakland back on the map and finding its way to the league’s brightest marquee.
Anything beyond that was, initially, irrelevant. Dub Nation didn’t care that the payment for sliding into the final playoff spot with 42 wins was a series against No. 1 seed Dallas Mavericks, coming off a 67-15 regular season. Winning that series was a deliciously unexpected gratuity.
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Team “We Believe” rewarded irrational faith that materialized organically. For so many years, the playoffs were a dream annually deferred, consistently blown up by wretched drafts, ineffective trades and short-sighted management. Worst of all, the ownership box was rife with sheer ineptitude, trivial vendettas, litigation pursuits and intra-suite squabbling.
That’s why those Warriors are so popular among fans. They cleaned the disaster area. Killed the curse. Unveiled the sun. Took the weight of a dozen bears off their collective back.
They won a single playoff series. One. Yet, 13 years later, the members of that team get a standing ovation with every local appearance.
The championship-winning Warriors of recent years were superior in every way to the “We Believe” bunch, but their development was gradual. With new ownership bringing a win-first mentality and aiming high, there was year-over-year growth. We saw them coming.
With Steph Curry as the catalyst, these Warriors are adored. Venerated. Accomplished.
The “We Believe” Warriors, however, changed the mentality of a battered fan base that spent so many years assuming its team would stink forever. Can’t help but love ‘em.