OAKLAND -- Shortly after Stephen Jackson arrived in the Bay Area following a 2007 trade that sent him from the Indiana Pacers to the Warriors, his new coach, Don Nelson, called with a simple directive.
Go to Smitty's Cocktails near Lake Merritt.
The hole-in-the-wall bar east of the lake, just past the iconic Grand Lake Theatre, featured beer, scotch, Nelson, Jackson's newest teammate Baron Davis, and Nelson's favorite game: Shuffleboard.
"We played shuffleboard and drank scotch for hours," Jackson said. "Talking about pissy drunk."
For the rest of the night, Nelson, Jackson and Davis talked strategy and life before the coach made a declaration.
"Nellie tells me and BD while we're drunk: ‘You guys are going to be my captains. You run this team, and we're going to have fun.’ ” Jackson said.
The night birthed what became the “We Believe” Warriors and perhaps the most improbable run in NBA history. This is their story, told by the people who lived it.
Entering 2006, Don Nelson had been a basketball lifer. Picked 17th overall in the 1962 NBA Draft by the Chicago Zephyrs (now the Washington Wizards), he solidified himself as a dependable Sixth Man for the Boston Celtics, averaging 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in 1966 and hitting the game-winning shot over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals to clinch his fifth title as a player.
In 1976, Nelson became head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, building a contender following Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s departure to the Lakers. He developed a system known as "Nellieball" a run-and-gun style aimed at creating mismatches by relying on smaller, athletic players.
After being fired from the Bucks in 1987, Nelson took a job with the Warriors in 1988, overseeing the rise of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin -- Run TMC -- as Golden State made four playoff appearances in six years. A feud with Chris Webber in 1994, which led to him being traded to Washington, later led to the coach’s resignation midway through the ’94-95 season.
After a stint with the New York Knicks, Nelson built a contender with the Dallas Mavericks, coaching the team to four consecutive 50-win seasons, and grooming Steve Nash, Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki into perennial All-Stars.
In 2006, at now-general manager Mullin’s insistence, he signed on to lead the Warriors for a second time, in what was his final NBA coaching job. Along the way, he earned the reputation of being a player’s coach.
Matt Barnes, Warriors forward: "Nellie was super cool. … He set the tone for our team because he allowed us to be ourselves. As long as we performed, he didn't give a s**t about it. He would poke at us sometimes, like, ‘Hurry up and get your last drug test so you guys can do what you do.’ So it was just like a real cool father-figure coach-type situation where he just really let us be us."
Jackson: "Like playing for your homeboy."
Jason Richardson, Warriors guard: “Don was a great coach. I mean, he was just one of those -- the perfect player's coach. You wanted to play for a coach like Don. ... He got on you when you needed it, but he was relaxed at the same time. He let you control things, but he also let you play, so it was a perfect storm for … the type of players he had and his coaching style. … Everything just went well.
"During baseball season, he would come to practice with two beers, with his dog, a cigar in his mouth and say, ‘Hey, you guys run practice. I'm going to the ballgame.’ It was like, he stayed 30 minutes and we practiced another 45 minutes. It wasn't like he came in and totally left. He came in and got practice going, then he was like, ‘All right, I'm gone.’ ”
Kelenna Azubuike, Warriors guard: "He was definitely more carefree than I was used to. Sometimes we'd be in the aisles, and he wouldn't say anything. Like, at the timeouts. And that's something I wasn't used to. I was used to coaches screaming and yelling and trying to use every single second of a timeout to say all kinds of stuff. Go through the play or scold us for something we did defensively. But every now and then, he'd call timeout, and he would just come and sit there and look at us and just hang out. That was fun.
"And he loved dogs. He still does. And he would always bring his dogs to practice. And I believe one time the dog pooped on the floor or something like that during practice, so that was funny. Yeah, so all kinds of stuff like that."
Nelson: "I remember Jack McMahon, my first coach in the league, when I played for the Chicago Zephyrs. He loved to go out afterward with … guys on the team. Even though he was the coach, we'd go and have a few beers afterward. It was just really nice. I enjoyed it. I learned it early, and I did it quite a lot."
NBC Sports Bay Area's Monte Poole, then Oakland Tribune sports columnist: "Nelson had a great job of catering to the media. I mean, he came off like he was your friend. I remember he would come into the media room and bring food. Yeah, just walked back into the media workroom with a box of food and walk out -- 'Hey guys, have at it.' And so all the beat guys were basically in his pocket. They were like, 'Yeah, Nellie is great.' "
The Athletic's Marcus Thompson, then NBA writer for the Contra Costa Times: “He would answer whatever questions you had. He was cool, but the young bucks, we didn't get to experience that -- at least I didn't, and I don't think the other person did. We didn't get to experience that Nellie. He wasn't coming to tell us, ‘Yeah, me and Stack.’ He was telling that to them OGs, but I wasn't an OG.
“He would be on me because I got my headphones on in the interview. He is like, ‘Take off your headphones. You're here to ask me questions. Take your headphones off.’ I'm like, ‘Bruh, you're holding a beer. You're about to judge me on formalities when you're holding a Miller, a Miller Lite or a Budweiser.’ I was like, 'I thought we were chilling. You got the Budweiser. Like chill.' "
The Warriors entered the 2006-07 season expecting to be a disappointment. While they had talent in the backcourt, pairing Davis via trade with Richardson and picking Monta Ellis in the second round of the 2005 draft out of high school, the frontcourt rotation of Ike Diogu, Patrick O'Bryant and Adonal Foyle wasn't quite what Nelson had in mind.
Nelson: “Well, I didn’t like the team that much. We had to make something happen, because the team wasn’t very successful as the year before. We had pretty much the same team coming back, and so when we got a chance to make that big trade, that's exactly what I wanted to do, and so did Chris, so it worked out just fine for us.
“Well, we were too slow. Just had average to good players upfront, not great. You know, enough to just get you beat, and we wanted to make improvements as quick as we possibly could, because we didn’t have much time.”
However, the Warriors did find Barnes just before training camp, with Davis’ help.
Through his first four years in the league, Barnes had played limited roles for the L.A. Clippers, Sacramento Kings, New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA, and even the Fayetteville Patriots of the NBA Developmental League. By 2006, Barnes, who was an All-American wide receiver at Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, thought he was on his way out of the league and to another sport.
Barnes: “I was going into my, s**t, fourth or fifth year [in the NBA] but really hadn't got a significant chance to play. I had personally lined up trials for the NFL because football is my first sport, and I figured, f**k it, if basketball’s not going to work, I’m going to see what I can do on the football field.
“I went and played pick-up a random day, Baron Davis was out there and I was up at Sac, and he told me to come up and play pick-up with them at the facility. I went up there and happened to play well, but I didn't know the whole time Don Nelson was upstairs the whole time watching.
“And when I got done playing, he came down and spoke to me and asked me what I was doing this season, and was I signed. And I was like, ‘No, I don't have no team, no nothing.’ He said ... I want to say ... they had 16 guarantees already. He’s just like, ‘There's no guarantee you’ll make this team, but you can come to training camp with us.” And s**t, that’s all I needed.”
Barnes made the team, but the Warriors failed to gain traction, starting the season 18-20, with three losing streaks of three games or more.
Thompson: “They brought in Don Nelson, but even he couldn't work his magic.”
Barnes: “We weren’t a very talented team in comparison to the rest of the NBA. We had Baron, we had J-Rich, we had a young Monta Ellis. A young [Mickael] Pietrus. A young Andris Biedrins. We just really needed a spark and a fire.”
Richardson: “We had a lot of energy, but it was just tough because we were still losing. We couldn’t figure it out, but we just kept with it and tried to win as many games and just try to play as hard as you possibly can.”
But help was on the horizon …
On Jan. 16, 2007, the Pacers shipped Jackson, Al Harrington, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Josh Powell to the Warriors for Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy. While Harrington was the crown jewel of the trade, Jackson was an interesting pick-up.
Fourteen months before the deal, he was involved in “Malice At The Palace” and received a 30-game suspension from the NBA for his role in the fight. Other incidents involving Jackson continued to come up, including a brawl outside an Indiana strip club that resulted in the guard shooting his 9mm pistol in the air in what he described as self-defense.
Nelson: “I think when Jack got in trouble with that fight in Detroit, I think Indiana was looking for somebody to pick him up and take him off their hands, and we were willing to do that, take that risk. Harrington was the guy that Chris really wanted, and to get Harrington, we had to take Jack, and Jack was a guy that I really wanted.”
While Jackson came to the Warriors accomplished, having won an NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs, his road to the league wasn't easy. When he was 16, his half-brother was killed after being jumped in Port Arthur, Texas. Though Jackson was a McDonald’s All-American in 1996, his scholarship from the University of Arizona was pulled after he was deemed academically ineligible. After being drafted 42nd overall by the Phoenix Suns in 1997, he played in Australia, Dominican Republic and Venezuela before finally sticking with the Nets in 2001.
Nelson: “There are two Jacks, you know? If you could keep him out of trouble, keep him straight and occupied, why, he could be great for your team. He's a great teammate, he really is. You know, he’d do anything for you or anybody on the team. He just ... he’s fragile, that's all. You gotta know that going in.”
Hence Nellie’s bar invite shortly after the trade.
Nelson: “We had a lot of fun. We would choose up teams, we’d play against each other for money, and I think I won a couple hundred bucks from each guy, and then we’d challenge other people in the bar, and we just had a really good time, you know? It was a perfect night. We had a few days off. I don’t remember when it was, but it was a night well spent for everybody.”
Jackson: “As soon as I met him, I trusted him. How he embraced me. How he hugged me. Just the coolness. It wasn’t forced. It was natural. Basically, come play basketball. I don't care what you do off the court. Just play basketball, you know?”
Nelson: “It was time to go home, but when we were on our last beer, you know, I just ... Baron took off, and Jack and I stayed there, and he would have stayed all night if I wanted to stay, but I don't drink that much anymore. ... A few beers were plenty for me, and we stayed there and talked for another 30 minutes or so, but he would have stayed ’til 2 in the morning if I wanted just to drink beer. That's just the way Jack is.”
Trips to Smitty's evidently were part of Nelson's coaching style. Stephen Curry revealed Sunday that Nelson took him and his teammates to the bar in March 2010, as the coach approached the NBA all-time wins record.
"We had a short little walk-through practice, and Nelly said, 'Everybody meet at this spot.' " said Curry, who was a rookie at that time. "And he had beers and shuffleboards and darts and all that type of stuff. ...
"That was my first experience with a coach kind of being normal, in terms of doing some fun stuff. We were chasing that record for him at the time, and we had a couple of players-only meetings and it was rough, but he wanted us to have a good time down the stretch of the season."
Jackson's Smitty's visit three years earlier signaled his fresh start with the Warriors.
Jackson: “I think the biggest thing was we were more excited about playing with each other. You know, me and Baron, we're already brothers. Al, we’re already brothers, we’re already good friends, so when we had the opportunity to go and play together, and even Monta. We embraced Monta like a little brother. Matt was a brother. J-Rich. We all became brothers, and the fact that we had a chance to play together, we wanted to do something special.”
The Birth of 'We Believe'
Success didn't come immediately after the trade. In fact, the Warriors continued their downward spiral, going 8-13 over their next 21 games. Making matters worse, Richardson broke his hand, and Davis had knee surgery.
Just after the All-Star break, they lost six in a row, including blowouts against the Lakers, Bucks, Bulls and Wizards. Heading into Detroit on March 5 to face the Pistons, Golden State, now 26-35, seemed to be making plans for another early vacation.
Instead, with Davis back in the lineup, the Warriors pummeled the reigning Eastern Conference champions 111-93 on the road.
Richardson: "The whole team was like, ‘Man, he’s finally back. Now we can go play.’ I think I had a huge game [29 points, six rebounds, four assists]. I think Stack had a huge game [14 points, six rebounds, seven assists]. Baron coming in and playing well ... and we blew the Pistons out, and we got on the plane -- we headed -- I think we're heading back to Oakland -- and guys look on the plane like, ‘Aye, we could do this. Let's make the playoffs.’ ”
Jackson: “Just knowing that we had to win, you know, 18 out of 20 or something like that, and the sense of urgency, we were playing like we were already in the playoffs. We felt good about ourselves, what we were doing. Everybody kind of knew what they had to do ... within the system, and it just all started working right around that time.”
An Alameda BBQ restaurant owner named Paul Wong also felt good about his Warriors. In fact, he believed the team had something special, so he coined a phrase.
Wong: "I saw something in them, where Baron and Stack, everyone, they had this look like, 'We can do this.' And I remember the following home game, it was against the Denver Nuggets [a 110-96 Warriors win on March 7], and it was funny because ... well, not so funny because here I am, here's this one guy with this sign that says, 'We Believe.' "
Wong passed out the signs to his fellow Warriors fans and, as the team completed a 16-5 finish to the regular season, they indeed believed.
Still, the Warriors' chances of securing their first playoff berth in 12 years rested on the result of their regular-season finale, April 18 against the Portland Trail Blazers. If the Warriors won, they'd clinch. If not, the Clippers would.
Behind a 12-point, 14-assist, 10-rebound night from Davis, Golden State routed Portland 120-98 to clinch the No. 8 seed in the West. Jackson poured in 31 points, Richardson chipped in 25 and Harrington added 24. The fans' belief, along with the players', was rewarded.
Poole: "That's the thing I thought that really resonates to people in Oakland because we all know BD was a leader. Jack was popular because Jack is just that dude. How can he not be? He had a high IDGAF factor. That's how he rolled, and you could see it, and so people love that.
"I think that's the main thing in some ways. I mean, they weren't supposed to be there [in the playoffs] and they got in there, and they had the balls to not just get there but act like they belong there."
Azubuike: "We felt like if we could just get in, we were better than an eight seed. Eight seed because we came into our own, the [Jackson] trade happened, so we weren't together the full season, we had injuries, all those things. So we felt like we could beat anybody toward the end of the season. It was just about making sure we somehow get in."
Barnes: “I think we knew that if we were able to slide into that eighth seed, that we would be OK. ... Obviously, we were talented. But we were bullies. We used to thug people. We took pride in that. We used to take pride in scaring people. You could see, as a man, you can see that kind of s**t. And that was something that we definitely took pride in.”
The Warriors adopted Wong's "We Believe" slogan, with his blessing after a meeting at his restaurant, and history was about to be made with fan-driven fervor.
Wong: "It was just at a point where we really didn't even know if we were gonna get in or not. And we had lunch at my restaurant, and it was like, 'Hey, I really wanna talk to you about something.' I was like, 'Yeah, what's up?' And it eventually was said, 'You know, we have to come up with a mantra, and we don't have any time at all.' So, we're thinking about using 'We Believe.' And I sort of laughed at it at first, you know what I mean?
"I thought it was a joke, but it wasn't a joke, and really, behind it was the fact that they were giving out the ['We Believe'] shirts for free. And at that time, my restaurant, I was selling more shirts than I was my food. And I felt bad because I have to charge fans to cover my cost, and when they said it was going to be given away for free, I signed on. And the reasons for not allowing them to pay for it was, back then, everything was like a gimmick. 'Great Time Out' [the Warriors' previous slogan], it was more of some type of a value given, to fans to attend the game. And I didn't want that to get grouped up with that."
The “We Believe” Warriors existed in a different time for the Bay Area. Before social media gave neighboring Silicon Valley a second wind to take over the tech world. Before Oracle Arena ticket prices grew to astronomical heights. More importantly, the team resonated with Oakland, the city it called home.
Jackson: “Oakland is a hard city. A hard-nosed city. It’s a black city. A lot of us come from that same type of area, so me personally, I knew a lot about Oakland, but when I got a chance to come play for the Warriors and I heard a lot of the teammates moved to San Francisco, I'm like, why? I want to be in Oakland. This is where I want to be.
“And I just felt at home. The city made me feel at home. … Everything about Oakland fit me perfect, and I guess the way I played and I didn't take no s**t, and I played hard and I wanted to win. Just that go-hard attitude was the same attitude the city had, so it worked hand in hand for me."
Barnes: “We were always out in the streets, out in the clubs, as a team, together. If you saw one of us, you saw all of us. I just really think that we connected with the streets and resonated with the streets because we were just so real.”
Thompson: “They were not opposed to partying in Oakland. If it was going down in Oakland, that’s where they went. Other people would be like, ‘Yeah no, I’m not partying in Oakland.’ They were like, ‘If that’s where we’re going, let’s go. It’s lit, right?’ They kind of saw the kinship in the town because Oracle was a different place back then. People forget that.”
Mistah F.A.B., Oakland-based rapper, songwriter, producer, entrepreneur, activist: "I think the power with that team is that they would party with us. You would see them out in the clubs. They definitely broke the barrier of athlete and regular fan. They actually was mingling in the club with us. You'd see them out regular -- it felt like they were from here. They did a lot of stuff in the community, and they just raised the morale of the whole community."
Nelson: “We were a team full of a lot of guys that were basketball fans in Oakland, and they kind of identified with us. They identified with Jack and the struggles that he was going through, and the reason that he was the way he was, and there’s a lot of issues that came out in the paper about him when he was young.”
Richardson: “I think we was all real. As a fact of, we never put on a persona. … We embraced who we were. We were a bunch of outcasts, we were a bunch of underrated players. … We embraced that city. It was a team that wanted to be in Oakland.”
Azubuike: "We were close buds. I think it was ... everybody just got along. It's not like we all hung out all the time together. But everyone got along. ... And it was a funny group of guys. We had fun in the locker room, we would dance, we would every now and then go to a dinner together on the road, and do different things like that."
For much of the Warriors’ down years, Oracle Arena was routinely filled to capacity. But unlike the championship years, according to players and coaches, Oracle took on a different reputation in 2007.
Barnes: “How do I want to put this: I don't want to upset nobody, because I still love the fans. But it was just a different group of fans. Obviously, the tickets were more affordable, so anybody could come in there. And like I said, it was new. It was something that probably that fan base hadn’t experienced since Mully and those guys had the Run TMC s**t. So it was just more ... it really felt like Oakland in that place. You can ask any of the players. At any given game, you could smell weed in the arena. It just kind of made us laugh, like, it was crazy.
“You know it’s crazy, when I went back and played for the championship team in ’17, to be honest with you, more people talked to me about the ‘We Believe’ s**t than about the championships the Warriors had won up to that point, and even going into the championship that year.”
Following an improbable run into the playoffs, the Warriors had plenty of motivation entering their first-round matchup against the top-seeded Mavericks. First, Nelson was coaching against Avery Johnson and his former pupil, Dirk Nowitzki, who was on his way to NBA MVP honors after leading Dallas to 67 regular-season wins.
However, in matchups against the Warriors, the Mavericks had struggled, losing all three of their regular-season contests against Golden State. The most noteworthy win came April 17, when the Mavericks, with a chance to end the Warriors’ playoff hopes, rested their starters.
Richardson: “They let us know they was scared of us. It kind of gave us energy. That means, if they played their starters to beat us, they would've played against the Clippers in the first round instead of us. But for them to come in our building, and we was like, ‘Oh, they don’t wanna play us.” So that gave us even more confidence going into the playoffs.”
Thompson: “They were shook when that happened. If they just come here and beat the Warriors, like we were out. They couldn't lose anymore, and they were like, ‘We aren’t even going to chance it.’ We are going to risk everybody just in case we lose. You are going to see them in the first round. They were shook.”
The Warriors had one of their best games of the season, beating the Mavs 111-82 and keeping their playoff hopes alive behind a 22-point, six-rebound performance from Pietrus.
The playoff series started in Dallas, but that was no matter for the Warriors, who rode a 33-point, 14-rebound, eight-assist performance from Davis to steal a 97-85 win in Game 1.
Jackson: “Baron Davis was out of his body, and all we had to do was hit a shot every now and then. From the beginning of the game, threes after threes after threes. He just kept coming. We just had to give him a little help.
“That game on was all BD. That was all BD. That was a great player just putting us on his shoulders and taking us to a win on the road in the playoffs against the best team in the league.”
The series also had a special significance for Jackson.
Jackson: “I always wanted to play for one of them, and I had a chance, actually, at the end of my career when Rick Carlisle started coaching. He was going to bring me in, and I heard [Mavericks owner] Mark Cuban decided not to, but I always felt good going back and beating those teams. Having good games there meant a lot to me.”
Following the Warriors’ 112-99 Game 2 loss, the series shifted back to Oracle Arena, which was about to host its first playoff game in 12 seasons.
Richardson: “I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. I come out there, you know before warmups, hour and a half before the game, and the whole Oracle is filled up already. I mean, I’m literally out there shaking because the fans’ energy is so appalling. ... It was a sign of relief with them, but it was a hunger from them. And was like, ‘Aw, man. We cannot lose now.’ ”
They didn’t lose. They blew out the Mavs 109-91 behind 30 points and eight rebounds from Richardson. But more importantly, a trend was starting to begin. Nowitzki, an offensive power, was struggling to score as Nelson enlisted Jackson to cover the All-Star forward. Nowitzki made just 39 percent of his shot attempts in the final three games of the series.
Azubuike: "Stephen Jackson was on him a lot. If he was on the elbow, he'd swivel right and send back, and we would always send a second defender to run at him, and we would steal the ball a lot. We stole it a bunch of times -- I don't how many times, but it seemed like it kept happening."
Jackson: “Yes, I got to him. I got to him. We talking about one of the best ever. Thirty-plus-thousand-point scorer. I locked him up, you know what I'm saying? So that's definitely something to hold on too, but for Nellie, that meant a lot to us. The whole celebration after the game, jumping up and down, that was all for Nellie, because he really wanted to beat Dallas with everything he had going on with Mark Cuban the year before with trying to get his money.”
The Warriors won Game 4 and dropped Game 5 before completing the series upset in Game 6 with a 111-86 win.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, then a TNT color commentator: "It was the greatest atmosphere I'd ever experienced in a basketball game in the NBA, and that's not hyperbole. This place was so loud."
Nowitzki, who was held to just 2-of-13 shooting from the field and eight points, concurred with Kerr, recently telling The Athletic that it was a "crazy atmosphere" and "one of the loudest buildings I've been in."
“Fans were out there flipping us off, mooning us on our way in," Nowitzki said. "It was crazy. As a competitor, fun to play, but it kind of pushed them to another level. The fans were a big part of that.”
As was Jackson, who had his best game of the series with 33 points, including seven 3-pointers.
Jackson: “I come out and hit three big threes, and for him to call that game, he knew that that moment. … I loved being in those moments, and he [Nelson] said it before I even got hot that I was going to have a big game, so it was good for him to see that.”
Azubuike: "Well, we were confident because we'd beaten them every game in that season. So, we felt like this was the perfect matchup for us. And Don Nelson ... I had a lot of confidence because Don Nelson used Dirk Nowitzki, even though he was an MVP, he knew him inside and out. ... So our game plan was wonderful. And it was perfect, and Dirk Nowitzki never was able to really adjust. And we did it the whole series and made his life really tough."
So tough, in fact, that Nowitzki famously threw a chair or a trash can -- no one is exactly sure -- into the wall outside the visitors' locker room at Oracle. Years later, after Nowitzki had won an NBA title, he agreed to sign the portion of the wall, which the Warriors plan to take with them to the Chase Center next season as a memento.
The Warriors advanced to face a formidable opponent in the Utah Jazz, led by Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams.
After a Game 1 loss in Utah, the Warriors seemed to have an advantage going into Game 2. Backup center Dee Brown was out with a neck injury and Derek Fisher was in New York while his daughter, Tatum, had eye surgery, so it seemed like a prime opportunity for the Warriors to steal a game. However, that didn’t happen, as Fisher returned to Salt Lake City to join his team in the fourth quarter and score five huge points in overtime to clinch a 127-117 win.
Jackson: "If we would've stole that game, we would've been in the Western Conference finals. But I kind of felt like it was just like, OK, that’s the basketball gods. I honestly didn’t feel bad about it at the time because [Fisher] was dealing with stuff with his daughter, and that was a big moment for him. Now I hate him because of the situation with my best friend, Matt Barnes, so I can’t stand Derek Fisher now, but at that time, I felt bad for our team, but that’s God doing his work. That man been going through a lot. He come out, and that's kind of stress off him, so I wasn’t mad about it at all.”
Two days later, the Warriors returned home and beat the Jazz 125-105, in a game that featured a play that will live forever in franchise lore.
With 2:48 left in the game, Davis took a pass from Biedrins, went baseline and dunked over Andrei Kirilenko.
Bob Fitzgerald, Warriors play-by-play broadcaster: "I about 28 feet away. I saw it coming. Baron went on the left wing, and I saw that there was no defense and that Kirilenko was going to get there. And Jim [Barnett] was talking about free throws on the other end, and I literally grabbed his arm because I need him to shut up because something incredible was about to happen. And when he [Davis] elevated, Kirilenko went up there, and he just elevated higher, and my call was, 'Baron dunks it down on Kirilenko's head.' It was like a right-handed spike."
Barnes: “If you look, I was at the top of the key. And when Baron dunked, I just put my hands on my face and said, ‘Oh my god,’ and kind of backpedaled to the other half of the court. Like I couldn’t believe that s**t. Incredible.”
Jackson: “I was at the top of the key. I was actually getting ready to set a screen, but somebody else did, I think, and he rejected it and went to baseline, and that was unexpected. Nobody in the world expected that. You know, BD had been going through knee injury, he was hurt. AK was one of the best shot blockers in the league.”
Mistah F.A.B.: "I damn near jumped over the scorer's table and ran on the court. I was like, wow. Me and BD talk about it all the time. I was like, 'That was insane.' "
Said Davis after the game: “I shocked myself on that dunk. I was going to try to reverse it, but knowing he was a great shot-blocker, I thought I would just try my luck, and I got lucky.”
Fitzgerald: "What I loved about it afterwards, was that Kirilenko postgame, was such a good sport about it, like, 'You block shots, you get got, and he got me good.' It wasn't an 'I showed you up.' It was, 'Wow.' It took Baron to elevate to that level for that miraculous play."
Poole: "The Dallas series was the loudest throughout, [but] at a singular moment, that moment right there was the loudest I've heard at Oracle. People lost their damn minds. It was crazy in there, and it went on for, I can't tell you how long it went on, but it went on for a while. This wasn't like a 10-second thing -- it went on and on. That moment, in terms of a spontaneous moment from over the years, that's as good as anything I've seen."
Unfortunately for the Warriors, that was their only moment of the series, as they lost in five games. Their reasoning?
Barnes: “The refs. And you never want to blame the refs, but if you look at Game 1 and Game 2 in Utah, the free-throw disparity down the stretch ...
“I don't think that as much fun as we were having and what we were doing, I don’t think we were a good look for the NBA, to be honest with you. I think we scared the NBA. I think we even scared the organization at the time.”
Jackson: “It was just too much. It was just too much.”
The Warriors faced a dilemma after the season. Ellis blossoming into a solid young player suddenly made Richardson expendable. That, coupled with the team flirting with possibly acquiring then-Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett, Richardson could sense his days in Oakland were numbered.
Richardson: “When the draft came closer and closer -- you know, my agent called me. He said, ‘Golden State is not answering the calls.’ And I was like, ‘What you mean not answering the call?’ He said, ‘Something is going on. They’re probably trading you. Let's just hope it's something good.’ And I'm like, ‘Damn, this is how they're doing me. This is tough.’
“You know, I at least kind of gave them ... you know, hey a heads-up, just like, send me somewhere where there’s a playoff team and I'm not rebuilding.”
While the deal for Garnett didn't materialize, the Warriors traded Richardson and a second-round draft pick to the Charlotte Bobcats for the rights to North Carolina star Brandan Wright.
Richardson: “When it went down, you know, nobody told me I was getting traded. I found out on ESPN, just like everybody else. It was like, ‘Man, this is how I get re-paid for loyalty. I never asked for a trade. I always played hard.’ And I get traded -- you know, to Charlotte -- no disrespect, but it was more of a rebuilding team. What I've been through five years prior to this.
“It was just a tough situation for me, and then when I found out, this was just for a draft pick, it just made it even tougher. Like, man, I wasn’t valuable at all.”
Barnes: “It was a tough situation, man. But like I said, I think overall, they didn’t give a s**t ... and that was really a knock on the Warriors at that time. Management wasn’t very good, so they would get talented players and talented groups, and trade them out left and right.”
Nelson: “We had to get younger, and we had a lot of guys about the same size, and it was a financial deal as much as anything. He [Warriors owner Chris Cohan] wanted to get into black, get outta the red, I guess, and so that had a bearing on that, because I loved J-Rich so much -- I still do -- and he would have been part of what we were doing.
“But we just had a lot of guys that could play role, and he gave us a chance, maybe, to get a younger player, somebody that the franchise could build on, and it seemed like a pretty good move at the time. But if I would have known what I know now, I wouldn't have done that deal."
Barnes had his own contract mishaps with the Warriors’ front office in 2007.
Barnes: “I got into bad graces with Nellie because I turned down ... they wanted to give me a three-year, $12 million deal. And I thought that the way I was playing, I deserved more. So I didn’t take that deal. I took a one-year deal, and I know that pissed Nellie off because he came to me and pretty much told me that it pissed him off.”
The next season, without Richardson, the Warriors won 48 games but narrowly missed out on a playoff spot. In July 2008, Davis, after a contract dispute with the Warriors, signed a five-year, $65 million deal with the Clippers, effectively ending the “We Believe” era. One year later, after receiving a three-year, $28 million extension, Jackson was traded to the Bobcats.
Still, players, coaches and fans alike will remember the improbable run in 2007.
Jackson: “It felt like we won the championship to me. Even though we lost the second round, it still felt like we won the championship because Oakland celebrated it like we did. The city made us feel like we won the championship.
“I mean, we know we didn’t win a championship. We know we could’ve beat Utah and moved on, but at the same time, to do something that wasn't done in 13 years, it felt good to us, and to beat Dallas was good for us and for Nellie because he wanted to win that series, and that was his championship.”
Richardson: “We did something special. We’re always going to be connected because of that. We’re always going to have a lasting friendship because of that and ... that’s what made that team special, because we were all brothers.”