Don Nelson's "We Believe" Warriors were entertaining, but they don't take the cake as the best Warriors team.
After the Golden State Warriors' thrilling run to the 2013 Western Conference Semifinals, it looks like the franchise is a real contender once again much to the surprise of NBA fans. But despite their beleaguered history, the Warriors have more great seasons than people realize.
In fact, the Warriors have two NBA titles to their resumé. And quite a few other notable NBA moments. Including some seasons that are ingrained in the cultural memory of the NBA.
So where does last season's run stand? And what about Chris Mullin's Warriors? Where do all these seasons rank in Warriors history?
We'll look at season results, accolades, cultural significance and overall competitiveness of each team to determine the best of the best.
We better get started.
What can we say about these seasons? Well first, the Warriors won championships in both. And they were the Philadelphia Warriors back then.
The problem is that in 1946-47, there wasn't even an NBA yet. The Warriors were the champions of the Basketball Association of America. The BAA would eventually become the NBA, but obviously that transformation had yet to happen.
That 1946-47 team was led by rookie Joe Fulks, a Warrior great. He was named to the NBA's 25th Anniversary Team, and during the title season he averaged 23.2 points per game.
By the time the 1955-56 season rolled around Fulks was no longer on the team, but the Warriors were more than adequately led by Paul Arizin and Neil Johnston. Both were named to the All-NBA First Team.
Arizin bears some mentioning here. He was a 10-time All-Star and was named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary Team, so he really was one of the best players of all time.
Then why on earth would we combine these two title winning teams? And why aren't they higher?
Well in 1947 there were only 11 teams in what wasn't even the NBA yet. It was actually the BAA's first year.
Of course, there was no three-point line, and the shot clock had yet to be invented.
In 1956, the league had actually shrunk to only eight teams. There was still no such thing as a three, and the shot clock had only been around for a couple years.
So yes, these teams deserve to be celebrated. But they don't stand the test of time. They are part of the Warriors history, but in this discussion, they can only be mentioned.
A young up-and-coming team, but it's too early to anoint them as an all-time team.
This Warriors team accomplished more in 2012-13 than the franchise had since the 1990-91 season. Which means Klay Thompson had barely been born when the Warriors last won two games in a Western Conference Semifinals series.
So they definitely deserve a spot in these rankings as the team that broke an unenviable streak. They restored hope to a rabid fanbase, and NBA enthusiasts in general benefit from having the Warriors be relevant again.
And they became relevant with a fun core of Thompson, Stephen Curry and Harrison Barnes. Three young blossoming studs who put up tons of points and were simply exciting to watch.
So from an aesthetics point of view, this team was hard to beat.
And on the court they weren't too shabby either. They won 47 games and snagged the sixth seed in an extremely competitive Western Conference. They were also much closer to upsetting the San Antonio Spurs in the conference semis than the six-game series suggests.
But, all that being said, this is where they belong. Stephen Curry and Co. are good, but it's hard to know how good. None are that deep into their careers, so it's difficult to gauge what we saw in 2012-13. And as impressive as it was to make the conference semis as a young sixth seed, that's not anything historical.
They deserve this spot for being a team that gives Warriors fans hope, and setting a new course for the franchise. But they needed more results to get higher up this list.
First things first, this Baron Davis dunk from the 2007 Western Conference Semifinals says everything you need to know about the 2006-07 Warriors. It was an unbelievably fun team, one that was not afraid to show off, and the Warriors' frenetic style of play invigorated ravenous basketball fans throughout the Bay Area.
And they came and went in an instant.
Nelson's small-ball tactics meant tons of threes, steals and of course fast breaks. Fast breaks that ended in highlight plays.
But despite all the cool, sexy things the "We Believe" Warriors did, the most important thing they did was win. They captured an eight seed with a 42-40 record, which might not seem like much. But the franchise hadn't been to the playoffs since 1994, so returning to the postseason was huge.
However, head coach Don Nelson and point guard Baron Davis weren't satisfied with just making the playoffs, as they led the Warriors to one of the greatest upsets in NBA history. Golden State beat the 67-15 Dallas Mavericks in six games, the first ever No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in a seven-game NBA playoff series.
That alone qualifies this squad for this list, and because it ended a playoff drought of more than a decade 2006-07 Warriors are ahead of last year's team.
Due to the fact that Golden State didn't make the playoffs the following season (2007-08), people forget how much optimism there was surrounding the franchise. People had hope, for the first time in a long time.
And that's why this team is so high. They made basketball relevant in the Bay Area again, even if only for a short while.
This was the height of the "Run TMC" Warriors, when Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond were running the show. During this particular season Mullin averaged 25.7 points per game, Richmond averaged 23.9 and Hardaway put up 22.9—that's 72.5 points per game from just three players.
And, oh, were they entertaining.
The 1990-91 team as a whole was amazing to watch. Don Nelson had the Warriors running a perfect break, and the Warriors finished second in the league in scoring at 116.6 points per game. To put that in perspective, the Denver Nuggets led the league in scoring this past year at 106.1 points per game.
And they had results.
The team won 44 games and made it to the Western Conference Semifinals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. The team was not just successful; they were also an attraction, selling out every home game that year.
What's very interesting about this era is its legacy. The fast-break, up-and-down-court style of Run TMC is still one with which the franchise is most identified. Since this team, the only brand of basketball that the Warriors have succeeded with is a fast-paced offensive style.
When Nelson came back for his second coaching stint, his team played the same way. And now Mark Jackson's Warriors have a very similar calling card.
No, this team didn't win a championship and they didn't even make a conference finals. But when people today think nostalgically about the Warriors, this is the team they remember.
They remember the Mullin/Hardaway/Richmond trio and how pleasing they were to watch. And that's why they're the second-best Warrior team. They got the results, and they left a cultural imprint on the franchise.
All due respect to the titles from 1947 and 1956, but the one from 1975 is the only one that really matters. And that's the reason this team is the best Warriors team of all time.
They were led by Rick Barry, one of the best players in NBA history. During 1974-75 season, Barry averaged 30.6 points, 6.2 assists and 2.9 steals on his way to an All-NBA First Team selection. They also had the NBA Rookie of the Year in Jamaal Wilkes, who went for 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds and filled a hole after the team traded longtime starting center Nate Thurmond.
After missing the playoffs the year before, the '74-'75 team was one that seemed to be in transition. But it came out of nowhere to pull off one of the most improbable playoff runs in NBA history.
Sounds a lot like the "We Believe" Warriors huh?
But the 1974-75 Warriors took it a step further. Their historic upset came in the NBA finals when they swept a heavily favored Washington Bullets team to take home the franchise's first Bay Area title.
And just like many Warriors teams after them, this team was unexpectedly good. The 2012-13 and 2006-07 teams were not supposed to be playoff contenders, but played their way into relevancy. The real difference between this 1974-75 team and those other two seasons was that this team came back with a trophy.
Or rather the trophy.
And from there it's pretty simple. The team had Rick Barry playing at his peak, and they won the only NBA championship in the annals of Golden State Warriors basketball. The 1974-75 squad ranks as the best team because of the end result. After all, winning championships are what players, coaches and franchises are measured by.
Just ask LeBron.