NBA Vault Celebrates Warriors Improbable í75 Championship Run
Posted Dec 9 2007 7:11PM
NBA Vault: Celebrating the '75 Warriors
Sunday, December 9, 8:30 ET on NBA TV
The 1975 Golden State Warriors are hands down the most overlooked championship team in NBA history. No Sports Illustrated cover story or customary White House visit followed the Warriors' unlikely title run. Not even a phone call from the President. And why should anyone from that team be surprised. After all, blatant disrespect greeted the Warriors even before the season started when it came to playoff predictions, especially after trading All-Star center Nate Thurmond. Yet the Warriors rallied, epitomizing total team effort and eventually swept the heavily favored Washington Bullets in the Finals while keeping its All-Stars, Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes (29 total points in three games), in check.
NBA Vault, a weekly NBA TV show airing at 8:30 p.m. ET on Sunday nights, relives the Warriors journey to greatness. Hosted by NBA TVís Rick Kamla, Peter Vecsey of The New York Post and Fred Carter, reminisce about the Al Attlesí coached team that defied expectations, headlined by All-Star Rick Barry and featured eight players who averaged close to 10 points per game.
Barry, the í75 Finals MVP, spoke about the Warriors underdog role that season and why their championship over the Bullets unquestionably goes down as the greatest upset in professional sports history.
NBA.com: Before the season, the Warriors traded All-Star center Nate Thurmond for Clifford Ray, who ended up playing a key role on that team.
Rick Barry: I think they did it to get some money and everybody expected that we werenít even going to be a playoff team. All the prognosticators wrote the Warriors off because we were getting rid of one of the great centers in the history of the game and picking up a young center who was still questionable how good a player Clifford really could be, although he had a nice rookie year in Chicago. But it turned out to be the move that helped make things work for us.
Clifford and I developed a friendship and a bond and he was instrumental in talking to the players. In fact he told me they had a meeting with the guys and he said, ĎRick is a little crazy, but he can play. He yells and he screams, but his bark is worse than his bite. He doesnít mean anything by it, so just ignore him. The guy is going to help us win. If anybody else in this room can put their hand up and tell us they can go out and get us 30, 35 or 40 points every night, I want to see your hand right now. Rick can do that for us and we need to understand that we have a chance to do something special.í
Cliffordís talk to the players really helped them feel and understand my aggressive personality. It really was a very positive thing. Of course Clifford played exceptionally well. The other big thing is that [head coach] Al Attles made the decision that there were certain players on the team that deserved to play an extensive amount of minutes, but that everybody else was relatively close in talent. So he went 10 deep, which was basically unheard of. Most teams play seven or eight players. We had just a great chemistry with the ballclub and it all started with our training camp in Hawaii. Everybody bound together and we made a commitment.
The other great move by Al Attles was bringing in a gentleman who passed away a few years ago by the name of Bud Pressley who was the coach of Menlo College in the Bay Area. He came in and really talked to us about defense and instilled a mindset that was invaluable to us as far as achieving the results that we did.
I still remember him having Clifford get out on the court and told Clifford to run towards him, and Clifford kind of started jogging. Bud said, ĎNo, I want you to run full speed.í So Clifford started running as hard as he could and at the last second he jumped in front of him, took a charge and Clifford knocked him back. He did a couple of somersaults and we thought that Clifford had killed him. And he said, ĎThat is the kind of defense and willingness you guys have to have. You have to put your body on the line. Youíve got to help one another.í It really had a big impact on everybody and we really made a commitment to defense. That was the cornerstone that we built on.
It was an interesting adventure and an interesting story, certainly the fondest memory I have in basketball as far as my personal career is concerned. That was a great team. It was the way teams should be. Everybody pulling for one another. I mean, we would go out to eat together, weíd go to movies together, it wasnít like some of the teams you hear that won but they really didnít have a great relationship. We had a great relationship on and off the court.
NBA.com: That í74-75 team featured a rookie from UCLA, Jamaal Wilkes, who was supposed to back you up at small forward but ended up starting at power forward. Talk about his contributions that season.
Rick Barry: Jamaal was a player who was instrumental in helping us achieve what we did. I think to have two rookies play an important role in a teamís success as we had with Jamaal and Phil Smith, who developed as the season went on, was remarkable. Both of them were hard working guys who understood the game, played unselfishly, and were outstanding talents, no question.
Look at the career Jamaal had. He should be in the Hall of Fame. Itís a joke that heís not with the career that he had in basketball. But Jamaal just kept getting better. He played power forward. This was a guy who was smaller and skinnier than I was and heís playing power forward and did a tremendous job at it. The reason that he was able to do that and get away with it was because of our team defensive philosophy.
In the Finals when we played against Elvin Hayes and Jamaal was guarding him, there were times when we had three guys on Elvin Hayes. We helped as much as we possibly could. It was not about individual performances defensively. It was about a collective team effort and we did have some guys that were outstanding individual defenders like Charles Dudley, who did a good job of harassing people in the backcourt and coming off the bench.
It was a wonderful experience to be around guys who put team first. Egos were put aside. Nobody cared who scored. We just cared about winning and we cared about playing together and playing the right way. It was one of those situations where you dream of playing on a team like that.
I still think that what we accomplished was the biggest upset in major sports history in this country and I defy anybody to find anything thatís as dramatic an accomplishment as what we pulled off. A team that wasnít supposed to make the playoffs not only makes the playoffs, but we win our division, and then people pick us to lose in the playoff rounds. We get to the Finals, and weíre supposed to be swept, and we sweep the people who were supposed to sweep us. Where do you find anything like that in any other sport?
NBA.com: You averaged 30 points per game that season yet didnít win NBA MVP honors, losing out to Bob McAdoo. What happened?
Rick Barry: Because it was voted by the players. The last people who are going to be objective are players. Players allow personalities to enter into it. In my mind I was the MVP of that season, mainly because of the fact that I was the only unanimous choice picked by the media. If it were the way it normally was, which was to have the media pick the MVP, I would have won that year.
To not win it is one thing. To come in fourth, thatís a joke. I had the best season I ever had in my life. I had one of the best all-around seasons that any player has had and I come in fourth in the voting. It just shows you how players allow the personalities to come into it. When I went out to play against you, I went out there to kick your butt. I didnít go out there to make friends. Clifford Ray used to joke. Heíd say, ĎB, you did a good job of that.í
But you know what? Iíll give up that MVP Award for having won the championship because thatís what itís about. Itís not about individual honor, itís about the championship. I have a ring for being in the Hall of Fame. I have a ring for being in the top 50 players. I never wear them. The only ring I wear is my championship ring.
The bottom line is based upon the success that the team had and the numbers that I put up, it doesnít make any sense that I didnít win.
NBA.com: The Warriors werenít expected to be in the Finals, so the overconfidence was overflowing from the Bullets, wasnít it?
Rick Barry: They were so cocky and so confident that they could win, they were willing to change the schedule in format because there was a conflict with the arena for us. The Oakland Coliseum arena where we played our games was booked for the circus. We would up playing in the Cow Palace, which I was really excited about because I loved the baskets there. The Bullets were willing to play the first game in their place, the next two in ours, and then come back to their place. Little did they ever dream they would go back and be playing the fourth game at home down 0-3.
NBA.com: The í75 Finals also was the first professional championship series featuring two African-American coaches in Al Attles and K.C. Jones. Rick Barry: I donít think anybody paid any attention to it because it didnít matter to us. It didnít matter to Al. I donít think it mattered to K.C. Who cares? Big deal. Youíve got coaches coaching two teams, but it was a landmark thing from that standpoint.
NBA.com: You were undoubtedly the headliner on that team but who were some of the other unsung players that really stood out that championship season?
Rick Barry: First of all, the team made a move and replaced Frank Kendrick and brought in Bill Bridges. They brought Bill Bridges in specifically figuring we had to get through Chicago to get to the Finals and Bill Bridges had great success playing against Bob Love. Bill played very well for us, certainly against Chicago, so we had an experienced guy to bring in. That helped us a great deal.
Then the other unsung heroes were George Johnson and Clifford. People say we didnít have a great center, but we did, except it came in two parts. We had a guy who was physical in Clifford who would beat you up and George was finesse and blocking shots. Between the two of them, if you add their numbers up, they produced wonderful numbers from the center position. It was a great combination and two totally different looks defensively.
Everybody contributed Ė Charles Dudley with his defense; Charlie Johnson with his consistent play, tough defense and knocking down shots on the perimeter; Butch Beard with his leadership. There was never a game I played that went an extended period of time that Butch didnít make sure that I got the ball in my hands. Butch understood and realized that if youíve got a guy going hot, thatís great, but you donít forget the player who has helped get you there. Butch was the type of guy that knew when he got the ball to somebody who was hot, heíd make sure he would get the ball to me. He made sure that I would never go extended periods of time where I didnít touch the ball, which doesnít make any sense on any team that has one player who is a dominant offensive player. So Butch was an unsung hero.
Certainly Derrek Dickey had an amazing Finals shooting the ball. He still has a record for field goal percentage in a Finals series (.739) and he rebounded and played so well for us. Everybody on the team contributed in one way or another and thatís what made it so special.
NBA.com: The Warriors defied the skeptics yet still didnít receive its proper respect after winning the championsip. The team wasnít featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated the following week nor did you received the traditional phone call from The White House to visit.
Rick Barry: We got nothing from the White House. I canít remember seeing a time when there was no cover of the championship team on Sports Illustrated. We were so disrespected, itís unbelievable. I got recognition with the MVP, but I just donít think my teammates got the kind of recognition they deserve for being what I think is the epitome of a basketball team. I wish every experience I had in basketball was as rewarding as this one was. Itís a shame that we were disrespected in this manner.
It really bothers me and every chance I get, Iím out there saying that this is the biggest upset in major sports history in the United States that has never been really acknowledged.