Don Nelson

How 'We Believe' Warriors singlehandedly changed fan base's mentality

How 'We Believe' Warriors singlehandedly changed fan base's mentality

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.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

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.

[RELATED: Barnes was on verge of NFL pursuit before Warriors' offer]

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.

Matt Barnes was on verge of NFL pursuit before Warriors offered chance

Matt Barnes was on verge of NFL pursuit before Warriors offered chance

Matt Barnes wasn't guaranteed or promised anything in his NBA career.

In fact, the former Warriors forward nearly left hoops in 2006 to pursue football.

"I was on the verge of trying to jump into the NFL," Barnes recently explained to Warriors broadcaster Bob Fitzgerald. "I was still working out -- basketball and football -- during the summertime because basketball hadn't really seemed to hit.

"I had played four years up to that point and bounced around -- been on a handful of teams -- and just really wasn't getting a fair shot."

Barnes was selected in the second round (No. 46 overall) of the 2002 NBA Draft, but spent his entire rookie season in the G League with the Fayetteville Patriots.

He didn't make his NBA debut until Jan. 19, 2004 when the Clippers gave him a shot with a 10-day contract.

Barnes signed with the Sacramento Kings in October 2004, and appeared in 43 games before he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in February.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

That brings us to the summer of 2006.

"I was in Sacramento (his hometown) at the time. Baron Davis called me (and said), 'Hey, we're gonna have an open run at the facility (in Oakland). If you're not doing nothing, come down.' I wasn't doing nothing. Hopped in my car, drove down an hour and a half. 

"Played well -- not knowing that Nellie (Warriors coach Don Nelson) was watching the whole time upstairs through the offices. We finished playing, he comes down, tells me I played well (and asks) where I'm going to camp. I was just like, 'You know coach, I don't really have any plans.'

"He told me, he's like, 'I can't promise you anything. I think we have 16 guarantees and 19 people coming to training camp, but if you play like you did today I'll give you a chance.' And that was the first time a coach really had a conversation with me. That's all I needed.

"(I) made the team and continued to use the games as practices and eventually worked my way into the lineup. The rest is history. That's kind of when I put my name on the map."

Over 76 games (23 starts) during the "We Believe" 2006-07 season, Barnes averaged 9.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.0 steals, while shooting nearly 37 percent from deep. In 11 playoff games, he averaged 11.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.5 steals and shot over 42 percent from 3-point range.

[RELATED: Barnes reveals 'We Believe' Warriors documentary in works]

After one more season with the Dubs in 2007-08, Barnes played for the Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Kings.

He returned to the Warriors in early March 2017 after Kevin Durant sustained a knee injury, and became an NBA champion.

The 40-year-old currently co-hosts a fantastic podcast with Stephen Jackson called "All the Smoke," and he is terrific as an analyst on TV.

It's crazy to think how different his life could have been had he not picked up BD's phone call 14 years ago ...

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[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Was Don Nelson convinced not to sign Steve Kerr to Warriors in 1993?

Was Don Nelson convinced not to sign Steve Kerr to Warriors in 1993?

Warriors coach Steve Kerr nearly played for Golden State in the 1993-94 season?

Avery Johnson was a guest on KNBR 680 last Thursday and told the following story:

"Pop (Gregg Popovich) was on the plane with Nellie (Don Nelson) during the preseason and Tim Hardaway got injured and blew out his knee. Pop called me and said, 'Look, if I can convince Don Nelson on this flight to sign you instead of Steve Kerr, you're gonna have a job.' I was out of a job.

"And fortunately, I got a call at six o'clock in the morning and Pop -- who was an assistant on that staff -- said, 'Pack your bags, you're coming to Golden State.'"

Hardaway -- who averaged 21.5 points and 10.6 assists in 1992-93 -- sustained a season-ending knee injury during practice on Oct. 18, 1993, and Johnson (who ended up starting 70 games that year) signed with the Warriors a week later.

Kerr, meanwhile, signed a contract with the Chicago Bulls on Sept. 29, according to So unless the Warriors were going to trade for Kerr, something isn't adding up here. Or perhaps Nelson and Popovich didn't know Kerr already was on a team?

When KNBR host Tom Tolbert relayed Johnson's story to Kerr last Friday, the eight-time NBA champion was as surprised as anybody to learn Nelson wanted to sign him.

"I didn't know that," Kerr said. "I've never heard the Avery story."

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

And then the following exchange took place:

Tolbert: "Think about that. You go there and Avery doesn't go there ... it's so funny how things work out. You make a choice, or maybe there's a choice that's made for you that you don't even know about that affects what happens to you and who you become and how things work out.

"And I was thinking, 'Who knows how it would have worked out. Maybe the Warriors win championships, maybe Steve never plays for the Bulls. Who knows how things work out. But ...'

Kerr: "Wait, wait, wait. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Did you just say if I had gone to the Warriors as a player -- maybe they would have won championships?"

Tolbert: "I did. Maybe things work out differently. They had a pretty good team there. Look, I'm not saying you would have been the guy to win the championship. Let's not get crazy here."

Kerr: "OK (laughter). Let's not get stupid (laughter)."

Tolbert: "But remember -- they had a really, really good team back then. Who knows. Maybe you go there, maybe you take (Chris) Webber out one night -- Nellie doesn't yell at him -- maybe Webber stays there."

The Warriors were really good, as they won 50 games and reached the 1994 playoffs as the No. 6 seed.

Latrell Sprewell -- in just his second season in the league -- was named All-NBA First-Team and All-Defensive Second-Team.

[RELATED: How Stockton ruined Kerr's chances of going to Gonzaga]

Chris Webber averaged 17.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.2 steals and was named NBA Rookie of the Year. But he and Nelson couldn't co-exist, and Webber was traded to the Washington Bullets in November 1994.

The Warriors didn't reach the postseason again until 2007.

Kerr, on the other hand, won three titles with the Bulls (1996, 1997, 1998) and two more with the San Antonio Spurs (1999, 2003).

Crazy stuff.

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