For all but 10 celebratory days over 21 years, the Warriors spun a web of despair around themselves and their fans. Coaches and players, many disguised as rescuers, came and went, like cans of beer at a tailgate. Defeat was both expected and inevitable.
It changed on June 16, 2015 in Cleveland, at Quicken Loans Arena, the place they will visit Wednesday night. That’s where the Warriors shed the misery that for so long defined them, rinsing away the failures of the past with gallons of champagne and the sweetest sweat in sports.
The Warriors were, at long last, champions, confirming the end of the old Warriors.
They took down LeBron James and the Cavaliers in six games. The Warriors spent the night and the early morning hours reveling in their accomplishment, hugging and dancing and shouting and shattering the Cleveland quiet.
The Warriors have since become accustomed to success. They have gone back to the NBA Finals every year since, always in Cleveland, always against LeBron. They won three championships in a four-year span and are favorites to win another in 2019.
There is talk of a Warriors dynasty. Crazy, eh?
“I remember sitting in this room three years ago,” coach Steve Kerr said last June, after championship No. 3. “It seemed like a dream.
“This feels more like reality. And I hope that doesn't sound arrogant. It's just that's the talent we have, and that's the experience we've gained. But it's a very different feeling. It's still euphoric, but three years ago was I can't believe this happened, and now it's I can definitely believe this happened.”
Yet this transformation happened so fast. Eight years earlier, in 2007, the franchise bar was set so low that winning a first-round playoff series was cause for delirium. The “We Believe” slogan was conceived to convey faith that this was the year the Warriors would interrupt 13 years of ineptitude and dysfunction and actually reach the playoffs for the first time since 1994.
Yes, there was a time when euphoria was being one of 16 teams in the playoffs.
The “We Believe” Warriors accounted for two of those 10 celebratory days, the one on which they clinched a playoff berth (April 18) and the other on which they upset the No. 1-seed Mavericks to win that first-round series (May 3).
That was as good as it would get – until that June 2015 night Cleveland, which is the birthplace of the New Warriors and a site they will visit Wednesday night.
Only Stephen Curry, drafted in 2009, among the players and coaches could comprehend how far the Warriors had come. They were 60 games below .500 in his first three seasons. They were 52 games over in his sixth.
‘It makes it so much more special to have gone through some down years and injuries and transition from a roster standpoint,” Curry recalled after a 105-97 win in Game 6 gave the Warriors their first title since 1975. “And to be able to sit here six years later from my rookie year and hold this trophy, this is an unbelievable experience.”
Contrast that with Curry last June, after sweeping LeBron the Cavs and celebrating once more in the visitor’s locker room in Cleveland.
“I just know what we've been able to accomplish is really meaningful and something that not many players have been able to experience,” he said at the podium. “So wherever that puts us in the conversation in the history of the NBA or, you know, titles around dynasty and all that type of stuff, I'm a three-time champ.”
The Warriors between 1994 and June 2015 had eight other days of deep joy and achievement, the three days on which they clinched a playoff berth and the five days on which they won a playoff series.
They were an NBA afterthought, a team for which nobody longed to play. Curry was displeased upon being drafted by the Warriors. By the time Kerr took the job in 2014, enough had changed that he believed much better days were ahead.
“I remember coming into Oracle as a player year after year, playing against lousy teams and the fans were there every single year,” he said from the podium in 2015.
The fans are still there, and they have much more to cheer. They Warriors won the 2015 playoff series and experienced two more ultimate celebrations, one in Oakland and one more in Cleveland.
So when they walk into the Q on Wednesday to face the LeBron-less Cavs, they can pour one out for the rivalry that was while savoring memories that last forever.