Warriors: Why the ‘We Believe’ team’s legacy persists

Warriors (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Warriors (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images) /

We take a look back at what made the “We Believe” Golden State Warriors team so memorable.

In 2007, the Golden State Warriors were not the global brand they are today.

Despite being a flagship franchise (as the Philadelphia Warriors) and the league’s inaugural champions, the Warriors of the late 1990s and early 2000s were perennially near the bottom of the league’s standings.

The most fans could hope for was to hit 100 points — a far less frequent accomplishment compared to today’s NBA — in order to score some free Chalupas from Taco Bell. Having not qualified for the postseason since the 1993-94 season, mediocrity was the status quo.

It was not uncommon to see talent blossom in Oakland, and then flourish elsewhere. Chris Webber. Latrell Sprewell. Antawn Jamison. Larry Hughes. Gilbert Arenas.

The star may have changed, but the plot of the film remained the same — a talented young player hones their skills with the Warriors, only to find their greatest success after leaving the Bay Area.

These were the Warriors that my generation — I am 32-years-old, in case you were wondering — had grown accustomed to. We weren’t even born during the days of Rick Barry and the late Nate Thurmond and were too young to enjoy the brief run of the iconic trio known as Run-TMC.

In the spring of 2007, however, things were changing.

After an up-and-down season under “new” head coach Don Nelson, in his second stint with the franchise, it seemed like it was going to be another short season for Warriors fans.

After a disappointing sixth-straight loss, the team sat at 26-35 and were on the outside looking in as far as the playoff picture was concerned. We’ve all heard what happened next.

The Warriors went on a tear finishing 16-5 over their final 21 games, qualifying for the postseason on the final night of the regular season.

They went on to upset the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks, led by Nelson’s former pupil and reigning MVP Dirk Nowitzki, in six games before falling to the Utah Jazz in the second round.

On the surface, it may seem rather odd. For a franchise that has won three championships in a five-year span, you would think that a team eliminated in the second round over a decade ago wouldn’t be more than a footnote in team history.

For some Warriors fans, the “We Believe” Warriors are representative of a moment in time that cannot be replicated.

In 2007, while the Warriors were undergoing their own cultural transformation, the Bay Area itself was in the midst of a cultural phenomenon.

Following the death of Bay Area hip-hop legend Mac Dre in 2004, his vast music catalog along with a long list of other local artists served as the soundtrack for what became known as the “Hyphy Movement.”

Throughout the late ’90s and early ’00s, Bay Area hip-hop radio and the Warriors had a little in common. As Ghazi Shami, founder of EMPIRE Distribution, stated to Complex’s Steven J. Horowitz:

"“In the late ’90s, radio in the Bay Area became corporate. And as radio became corporate, it fell under the Clear Channel umbrella. There was a lot less airplay reserved for independents, and when you change the dynamic of radio, you start to change the music. Hyphy was a way of saying, “We’re gonna make the music we wanna make, and we don’t give a damn if you play it or not.”’"

While radio stations were playing established artists to ensure they had a base of listeners, the Warriors were running their own version of the play.

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Knowing they had a subpar on-court product, they did what a lot of losing teams do and resorted to marketing the stars of visiting teams to sell tickets, in hopes of giving their fans a “Great Time Out.”

Just as hyphy was changing the game musically, the “We Believe” Warriors did so on the floor. Led by star guard Baron Davis, they played their own unique brand of basketball, which served almost as a precursor for today’s “positionless” basketball.

Long known as a proponent of small ball, it wasn’t uncommon for Nelson to have 6-foot-9 Al Harrington as the tallest player on the floor, or see wing players like Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson guarding taller post players.

What they lacked in size, they made up for with speed, athleticism, and a toughness that was representative of the team’s home — Oakland — and an energy to match the hyphy music blaring through speakers both inside and outside of the arena.

Throughout the Warriors’ dynastic title runs in the 2010s, many fans in other markets would criticize the team’s fan base as being full of band-wagoners along for the ride. While this is to be expected whenever a team sees success, it was a sentiment that wasn’t wholly without merit.

There is always a price to be paid when success occurs. As ticket prices rose, the ability of working-class fans to afford them faded. It is a sentiment shared by many and voiced by Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, an Oakland native.

"“A lot of the real Warriors fans, a lot of times, they can’t go to the games. They can’t afford it. At that time, we were able to go to the games. Nowadays, a really good ticket is way more expensive to do everything. The people who are real Warriors fans aren’t able to get into the games.”"

That, in and of itself, may be part of the reason that keeps “We Believe” relevant in the Bay Area today.

While Dub Nation was no doubt overjoyed that the moribund franchise they grew up supporting was now the toast of the basketball world, they were likely doing so from home, a local bar, or anywhere else that wasn’t Oracle Arena.

The crowds were still loud, but many faces had changed. Even after serving as head coach through this run, Steve Kerr still cites the Warriors’ Game 6 series-clincher over the Mavericks, which he worked as a color analyst for TNT, as the loudest game he’d heard.

Nostalgia is defined as ‘a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.’

When the “We Believe” Warriors are brought up, they conjure up fond memories of not only the thrills they delivered to a packed house of rabid fans, but of the moment in time that they played in.

Just as the faces at Oracle, and now Chase Center, changed through the years, the faces we see in some of our communities have changed as well.

Just as competitive success changed the demographic among season ticket holders, the influx of tech companies and venture capitalists in San Francisco have driven rent and housing costs through the roof, reshaping communities all over the Bay Area.

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Many employed by some of these companies, both natives and transplants, that cannot afford the high prices of San Francisco, naturally have moved to surrounding areas such as Oakland and Berkeley.

This, in turn, is causing more Bay Area natives to leave the region, or the state altogether in search of a better quality of life.

Even in their darkest times, Warriors fans truly did have a great time out. It was, in a word, a vibe.

The Bay Area has come to be known for its own unique vibe as a welcoming bubble of diversity, which in some cases is part of the draw for many who choose to move here. Little by little, both crowds changed.

That’s not to say things are any better or worse. Just different.

While no release dates or any further specifics have been announced about the proposed “We Believe” documentary, it should have no shortage of interested viewers.

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With all the uncertainty and strife surrounding so much in the world today, being transported back to a simpler time, even for a moment, can provide a brief reprieve from reality.