Opinion: The Golden State Warriors' dynasty could just be startingDate: December 2, 2019
By: Jorie Mickens
It’s June 1, 1995. The first-seeded San Antonio Spurs make the three-hour drive to Houston, Texas, to face the defending NBA Champion and sixth-seeded Houston Rockets at The Summit for game six of the Western Conference Finals. Neither team has won a home game to this point and down 2-3 in the series, it’s win or go home for the Spurs.
Nine days before this game, Spurs center David Robinson received 73 of the 105 possible first- place votes for the 1995 MVP award, winning the Maurice Podoloff Trophy for the first and only time in his career.
There is 1:06 left in the fourth quarter, the Spurs are down 97-93, but Robinson is fouled in the paint by Rockets guard Clyde Drexler. The MVP is at the line with the chance to bring his team to within two points, the first shot is up, and it clanks off the left side of the rim. He can still make it a one-possession game if he knocks down the second free throw. Robinson collects the ball, dribbles four times, takes a deep breath and shoots, “he missed them both!” shouts play-by-play announcer Greg Gumbel.
After a costly turnover by Robinson thirty seconds later, Rockets guard Sam Cassell is fouled and makes one of two free throws, giving the Rockets a five-point lead and putting the game out of reach for the Spurs. The Rockets won game six 100-95 and would go on to sweep Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic in the 1995 NBA Finals and repeat as NBA Champions.
Robinson was the only MVP in NBA history at the time without an NBA championship. Robinson and NBA persons alike knew the 1994-95 season was Robinson’s best chance at hoisting up the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Spurs were the top seed in the Western Conference, and three-time NBA Champion Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls would not be waiting for them in the NBA Finals as he had announced his retirement from basketball two years earlier.
The Spurs lost 2-4 to the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Semifinals the next season and the coveted NBA championship continued to elude Robinson and the Spurs. Following a gold- medal winning summer with the 1996 USA Olympic Basketball team, Robinson looked to finally claim that ever elusive championship ring. News broke though that Robinson had suffered a back injury before the season that would sideline him until December. The Spurs were 3-15 when Robinson made his return against the Phoenix Suns and would go on the play the next five games for the Spurs.
On Christmas day, news broke that Robinson had broken his left foot and would miss at least six weeks. Any chance at salvaging the lost season was gone and the Spurs decided that it was best if Robinson sat out the remainder of the season. The Spurs finished 20-62 that year, third worst in the NBA. Since the Vancouver Grizzlies weren’t allowed to receive the first pick in the draft, the Spurs had the second-best odds at getting the number one overall pick and the rights to Wake Forest forward Tim Duncan.
You probably know what happened next. Two years later, Duncan, Robinson and the Spurs breezed through the playoffs, losing just two games and capturing the franchise’s first NBA title. In 2003 Robinson got his second ring and announced his retirement from the NBA, but the Spurs dynasty was only beginning. The Spurs made the playoffs in each of the next sixteen seasons, winning three championships along the way. If we fast-forward to present day, a team in the Bay Area has been compared to this Spurs’ dynasty, but there is a team that better resembles the Warriors’ successful past and woeful season thus far.
In 2004, after a Pacific division-leading 56-26 record, the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals. That summer, the Lakers traded star center Shaquille O’Neal to the Miami Heat and veteran point guard Gary Payton to the Boston Celtics. Karl Malone retired and that just left Kobe Bryant and five others from the team that made the Finals on next year’s roster.
During the 2004-05 season, although Bryant played 66 games, the Lakers finished 34-48 and missed the playoffs for the first time in ten seasons. The next two seasons, on the back of Bryant, the Lakers slipped into the playoffs, both times losing to the Phoenix Suns in the first round.
The Lakers made it back to the Finals in 2008, now with future All-Star Pau Gasol on the roster and future Sixth Man of the Year award winner Lamar Odom improving as a player. The Lakers won back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010 and made the playoffs three straight seasons after that. Although the Lakers have not been to the playoffs in seven seasons, that is surely to change this season. The Lakers currently have the best record in the Western Conference on the backs of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
After acquiring an all-time talent in the draft and cashing out on one of the biggest names in free agency history, the Lakers won three championships, only to lose to an unassuming contender in the NBA Finals that subsequently would break up their dream team. They lost three of their top-four scorers from the previous season and were left with exactly six players from their roster that made the Finals the year before.
They acquired Odom in a sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat from the O’Neal trade, and he became a key contributor for the Lakers for years to come. After finishing near the bottom of the Western Conference, the Lakers selected a starting center 10th overall in the 2005 draft who knew his role in the offense and helped win two more championships during the Bryant era.
Gosh, all of that sounds eerily familiar…oh yeah, THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED TO THE WARRIORS. They drafted Steph Curry (all-time talent) and acquired one of the biggest names in free agency history (Kevin Durant), they won three championships (in four years), only to lose to an unassuming contender in the Finals (Raptors defeat the Warriors to win their first championship in franchise history).
The loss broke up the Warriors, losing three of the top-four scorers (Durant leaves in free agency, Curry and Klay Thompson to injury) and left them with exactly six players from the team that made the Finals the year before. Lastly, in a sign-and trade deal with their star free agent, they acquired a player who has been a key contributor to the team thus far (D’Angelo Russell).
The rest of the Warriors’ story has not been written yet, but it seems like the Warriors are on the right track. The Warriors currently are tied with the Atlanta Hawks for the worst record in the NBA, which gives them the best possible odds at drafting a starting center in this year’s draft, say Memphis’ James Wiseman?
History repeats itself; the Warriors may have a down year this season, but if history tells us anything, their dynasty is just getting started.
Jorie Mickens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.