OAKLAND – Steve Kerr still remembers watching along the sidelines at Oracle Arena as the Warriors beat the Mavericks 111-86 in Game 6 of the Western Conference first-round series in 2007, marking their first playoff series in more than a decade and becoming the first eighth seed in NBA history to beat a one seed in a seven-game series.
“It was the greatest atmosphere I had ever experienced in a basketball game,” said Kerr, who was a color commentator for TNT that night. “That’s not hyperbole, this place was so loud.”
Now, nearly a decade after the monumental upset, former coach Don Nelson and franchise cornerstones Jason Richardson and Stephen Jackson traded stories prior to Thursday’s matchup against the Kings on “We Believe” night.
“It feels good to be a part of the last year (at Oracle Arena),” Jackson said. “I’ve been on a lot of teams that won the championship, but this is the only organization to make me feel like family.”
Jackson, who was included in the family along with Al Harrington on Jan. 17, 2007, via trade with the Pacers, was a key contributor against the Mavericks, averaging 22.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists in the series.
“We had a team full of journeymen,” Jackson said. “We had a team full of guys that were trying to prove ourselves.”
Construction of the 2007 Warriors can be traced to 2001, when Golden State selected Richardson fifth overall in the 2001 draft. Four years later, after drafting guard Monte Ellis, the Warriors acquired star guard Baron Davis in a trade with New Orleans, later completing the core with Harrington and Jackson. That group, with the help of Nelson’s uptempo offense, averaged 106.5 points per game, becoming one of the league’s most exciting teams.
“We had the blueprint from coach to do what we needed to do and just executing and just being able to make history,” Jackson said.
“Nellie was ahead of his time,” Kerr said. “All the stuff you’re seeing teams do now, playing small and playing uptempo, he was doing that 40 years ago.”
However, the team needed a 15-6 run to close the season to make the playoffs, clinching the eighth seed in the next to last game of the season. With a 42-40 record, few NBA observers expected the Warriors to beat the top-seeded, 67-win Mavericks. After taking the first game of the series, the Warriors won three of the last four against the Mavericks.
“A lot of people didn’t expect us to make the playoffs,” Jackson said.
“To make it and to win in the first round was special.”
“This is a hardworking city that overcomes a lot of adversity, a lot of ups and downs,” Jackson said. “A lot of people here struggle and fight to make it and to fight poverty and live a better life.”
While Jackson was happy to share his memories of his favorite team, he also gave his opinion on the recent trend of players taking control of their free agency, namely Pelicans center Anthony Davis.
“I love the fact that players have control of where they want to play,” Jackson said. “At the same time, guys have to be professional too. I would be the first to say the league is spoiled. I was talking to a Hall of Fame football coach. He said from the outside looking in that more players today are more interested in what the game can do for them.”
“They don’t actually love the game like we did,” Jackson added. “I’m 41 years old, and I still play the game every day. I can see the love for the game is not there, but I’m happy I had a hand in for the kids to get money they’re getting and the way the game is going. But at the same time, they have to be professional and continue to show fans they love the game too. They can get away from that.”
These days Jackson, Richardson and Nelson have taken different paths after basketball. While Richardson went back to school to finish his degree, Jackson is a media personality, appearing on cable networks FS1 and ESPN, while Nelson, who lives in Maui, is in real estate and enjoying his favorite activity.
“I’ve been smoking some pot,” said Nelson, who has his own strand of marijuana called “Nellie Kush.”
As for the current Warriors, the former coach was complimentary of the All-Star group constructed.
“I love the way they play,” Nelson said. “I wish I could coach them the way Steve Kerr does.”