When evaluating the success of Oakland's NBA franchise, there are two major—and somewhat contradictory—thoughts that come to mind.
On the one hand, there's the dreadful results. Since 1995, the team has made the playoffs only once, had only two winning seasons and gone through nine different head coaches (12 counting interims). The term "Warriors" has become rather synonymous with the terms "failure" and "disappointment" in basketball circles.
On the other hand, there's the incredible fanbase. The Warriors are routinely in the leagues top 10 in terms of attendance, and although there is no official measure, they would almost certainly place in the top three in terms of crowd noise and energy.
Why do Warriors fans remain so faithful when the franchise they support gives them every reason not to? Every individual fan would answer somewhat differently: Some fans would say "optimism," others would cite the Warriors' "exciting style of play," while others would simply call themselves "loyal."
Still, just about every long-term fan can agree on one thing: The reward severely outweighs the risk.
The risk—if we are to call it that—of watching a losing franchise ranges from frustration to stress to a sense of hopelessness. Even so, this sense of hopelessness can't be classified as depression; it's just a game, not our lives.
The reward, however, can transcend the game, and greatly and holistically enhance the lives of die-hard Warriors fans.
For example, during the spring of 2007, the Bay Area was palpably happier than normal.
After 12 straight playoff-less seasons, the 2006-07 Warriors showed promise. They had a dynamic backcourt of Baron Davis, Jason Richardson and Monta Ellis, a quality young center in Andris Biedrins, and a dangerous forward duo in Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington, both acquired in the same midseason trade.
Of course, they weren't the first Warriors team to show promise, and after a six-game losing streak left them at 26-35, the season appeared to be just another disappointing failure.
On March 5, things turned around. The Warriors went into Detroit and blew out the first-place Pistons and ended the season with an NBA-best 16-5 record, surging back above .500 and into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed. Warrior fans never lost hope, bringing signs and eventually wearing T-shirts with the phrase "We Believe" on them to games.
Nationally, the 2006-07 Warriors are known as the team that upset the mighty Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. And while beating the 67-win Mavs—the fifth-best regular-season team in NBA history—and becoming the first No. 8 seed to knock off a No. 1 in a seven-game series is certainly something worth being remembered for, Warriors fans remember the push to make the playoffs just as clearly and fondly.
Of course, the 2006-07 team fell apart all too fast. Jason Richardson was traded that summer, and after missing the playoffs during the 2007-08 season despite a 48-34 record, Baron Davis too was gone. The Warriors have since had four consecutive losing seasons, and the only holdover from the 2006-07 team was booed on opening night this season.
However, the booing of Andris Biedrins did not indicate disdain for the 2012-13 installment of the Golden State Warriors. Rather, it exemplified an attitude that this is the beginning of a winning era in Warriors basketball, and that Biedrins is seen more as part of the losing teams post-2007-08 than as the last winner remaining.
It's too early to tell what kind of team the 2012-13 Warriors will actually be, but there is, for the first time since 2007, real promise. But just as Warriors fans are expecting a return to winning, they are also expecting sustained success. And while this year's team may not dazzle in the same way the "We Believe" Warriors did, they may in fact satisfy fans to a greater extent.
2006-07 Warriors were unconventional but deliberate
Many saw the 2006-07 Warriors as inconsistent, bad defensively and as a team that relied on hot shooting nights to win. While there was a grain of truth to this, it is a flawed analysis.
For one, the 2006-07 team won by intentionally creating a frantic, hectic game. Head coach Don Nelson knew his team didn't have the size or defensive capabilities to win playing at a traditional pace, so he had his team focus on playing at a nontraditional pace.
Nelson's Warriors would play passing lanes, go for steals and push the ball down court. They would constantly drive the basket, jack up three pointers early in the shot clock and force passes into tight spaces. Oftentimes, the Warriors' overplaying on defense would lead to easy buckets for their opponents, while their hasty offense would lead to turnovers and ugly shooting numbers.
As the season wore on, however, the Warriors became more an more accustomed to playing this way, and this unconventional but calculated approach is what made the Warriors a playoff team and, eventually, a championship threat. The Warriors forced other teams to run up and down the court for 48 minutes. They forced other teams to make quick decisions with the ball, and didn't allow them to get set on defense.
This was eventually their undoing. The Utah Jazz were a prime candidate to be run off the floor by Golden State, as they played a slow-paced half-court style game, but Jerry Sloan's team did not get rattled when the Warriors would go on a quick 10-0 run. They played their game no matter what the score, never fell victim to the chaos and thus neutralized the Warriors' biggest strength.
The Warriors would have never made the playoffs or upset the Mavericks without their unique approach, but they still could not compete against a well-coached, bigger, stronger, better defensive team.
2012-13 Warriors have a higher ceiling
Once again, it's far too early to proclaim the 2012-13 Warriors a playoff team, let alone a championship contender. However, the current Warriors have a ceiling that Nelson's team didn't have, and it's because they have a legitimate starting lineup, legitimate backups at each position and enough talent to become a powerhouse.
The 2006-07 Warriors were certainly better in the back court. Baron Davis was a top-five point guard in the NBA, Jason Richardson an elite shooting guard and Monta Ellis one of the league's top sixth men. While the 2012-13 Warriors have great shooters in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, along with an elite backup PG in Jarrett Jack, they don't have the strength, athleticism or ability to create havoc on defense the old group had.
However, the Warriors are far better everywhere else.
David Lee is not the strongest power forward in the league, but he's miles ahead of Al Harrington in terms of ability to rebound and score consistently. Off the bench, Carl Landry is a load to handle down low and a monster on the offensive glass. The type of production the Warriors can and will continue to get from their PFs this year is reminiscent of the Carlos Boozer-Paul Millsap combo that knocked the 2006-07 Warriors out of the playoffs.
At center, the Warriors have the potential to dominate. If Andrew Bogut is healthy, they have an elite interior defender, another dynamite rebounder, a low-post scorer and a great passer to boot. Rookie Festus Ezeli has already established himself as one of the league's better backup centers, and he's improving at an alarming rate. Andris Biedrins, the 2006-07 center, hardly ever sees the floor, which is only partially due to his decline.
The real wild card is Harrison Barnes. Barnes is clearly not the all-around player Stephen Jackson was in 2006-07, as his perimeter defense, passing and leadership is just not there yet. But nine games into his NBA career, Barnes has shown the shooting ability, athleticism and desire to win that star wing players are made of. There is no telling who he'll become as an NBA player, but it could end up being far more than what Stephen Jackson ever was.
Are the 2012-13 Warriors there yet?
The 2006-07 Warriors were special. They were very well coached, had a rare backcourt and a ton of depth. Anybody who's watched the NBA playoffs over the last few seasons knows that Matt Barnes, Mickael Pietrus, Stephen Jackson, Jason Richardson and Al Harrington are guys who can help take teams far. When you consider that the 2006-07 Warriors had all of them together, that season suddenly becomes less of an underdog story.
Still, without a beast down low or even several strong frontcourt players, it's obvious that those Warriors weren't going to win any championships. The 2012-13 team has much more to prove before they can be looked at in the same class as the "We Believe" Warriors, but they have the potential to win more, go further into the playoffs and win for more seasons than the 2006-07 team did.
So, while the 2006-07 Warriors are, for now, the one shining light in a nearly 20-year-long cloud of dust, the 2012-13 Warriors could join them. And while Warriors fans certainly still "believed" during the dark winter of 2007, they may not need to rely on faith come the spring of 2013.