Thirteen years, three NBA Championships and five straight trips to the NBA Finals for the Warriors have taken place since the 2006-07 We Believe Warriors made NBA history, becoming the first No. 8 seed to beat a 1-seed in a best-of-seven playoff series. Although the team would falter in the next round, the We Believe team remains as a signature and proud moment in the franchise’s history. That is a feat in and of itself considering homegrown players Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green won the franchise’s first of three NBA titles in a four-year span a mere eight years after the We Believe Warriors beat the reigning conference champion Dallas Mavericks, 4-2, in a first round playoff series.
As fans in the Bay Area are treated to broadcasts of select games from the We Believe season on Facebook, we’ve collected 10 of the top storylines that made the We Believe era one that Dub Nation reflects upon with great joy.
A Sprint to the Finish
On the morning of March 5, 2007, the Warriors were in 12th place in the Western Conference with a 26-35 record, four games, and four teams, behind the eighth and final playoff spot. They were riding a season-long six-game losing streak into the finale of a five-game road trip in Detroit, where the Pistons owned the top record in the Eastern Conference. With 21 games left in the season, the outlook wasn’t bright, but the Warriors, with their full roster available for the first time since the team’s January acquisition of Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington, beat the first place Pistons that evening, beginning a 16-5 run to close out the regular season.
“It started with the Detroit game,” said Jason Richardson, a former Warriors fan favorite whose last season with the club was with that We Believe team. “We were on the plane heading back to Oakland from Detroit. We start looking at the standings, we started realizing what we had to do to try and make the playoffs. We made a commitment on that flight that we’re going to do everything in our power to try and make the playoffs.”
The Warriors had the best record in the NBA during that season-ending 21-game stretch to close the season, which included eight wins against playoff teams that year, two of which were against the Dallas Mavericks (more on that later).
Celebrating in Portland
Despite winning 15 of their previous 20 games, the Warriors still needed a win or a Clippers loss on the last day of the regular season to get into the playoffs. “We were scoreboard watching that whole game,” Richardson said.
The Warriors used a 41-point first quarter of their regular season finale in Portland and cruised to a 120-98 win over the Trail Blazers behind a triple-double from Baron Davis, while the Clippers lost a close one to the New Orleans / Oklahoma City Hornets to finish at 40-42. With that, the 42-40 Warriors secured the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, ending a 13-year playoff, and winning record, drought.
“You thought we would have won the championship,” Richardson said in reference to the team’s postgame celebration. “It has been that long for the organization going to the playoffs and it was my first time in my career going to the playoffs.”
Organic Fan Movement
It started with Paul Wong. It grew to include Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba and even Snoop Dogg. Warriors fandom took on an entirely new identity in support of this We Believe team. Weeks before the playoffs began, while the Warriors were still several games below .500, Wong, from his season ticket location behind the hoop closest to the Warriors’ bench, would hold up a handmade We Believe sign. Wong wasn’t the only die-hard fan, far from it, but he symbolized a dedicated fanbase that was hungry for what was to come.
The team adopted “We Believe” for its playoff mantra, and the slogan was emblazoned on the yellow shirts that would soon become synonymous with playoff basketball at Oracle Arena. The sea of yellow was just part of the atmosphere that resulted in Oracle Arena being recognized as the Roaracle, a credit to the loudest, hungriest and most passionate fans in sports.
“That year, when we played in those playoffs, we couldn’t even hear each other talk, it was so loud in there,” said Monta Ellis, a second-year guard on the We Believe team. “They stood up the whole game and cheered. You can just feel the vibration in that place, it was so loud.”
For the first time in ages, perhaps ever, Oracle Arena was the premiere place to catch a live game, and the group of underdogs on the court certainly fueled that movement.
Baron Davis’ Dunk
Fans were so loud at Oracle Arena that national telecasts incorporated a decibel level into its broadcasts, and it reached a fevered pitch when Baron Davis delivered perhaps the most iconic dunk in franchise history.
“For me knowing Baron, his body has to be feeling real good for him to attempt that,” Ellis said. “So when he went up, and when he hit bodies with him, I knew he was going to try it. When he dunked it, OH MY GOODNESS! … It was amazing, I’ve never seen anybody get dunked on like that.”
The game was already well in hand for the Warriors, but Davis’ dunk over Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals, the only Golden State win in the series, sent the home crowd into an absolute frenzy. To this day, Davis’ dunk is an iconic moment in franchise history, one where people remember where they were when that happened.
Nellie’s History with the Mavs
The Warriors matching up with the Mavericks in the first round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs pitted Don Nelson against his protégé, Mavericks Head Coach, and former Warriors guard, Avery Johnson. Prior to re-joining the Warriors, Nelson had worked in the Mavericks organization as head coach and general manager from 1997 to 2005, turning a perennial loser into a playoff mainstay.
During Nellie’s tenure, the Mavs acquired Dirk Nowitzki and developed him into the franchise cornerstone that he came to be, and Dallas made the postseason four straight times, including a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2003. But over time, Nelson had his run-ins with new Mavs owner Mark Cuban, and Johnson took over as head coach in 2005, and in his first full season as head coach, the Mavs advanced to the NBA Finals. The following year, Dallas would go 67-15, which at the time was the sixth best record in the history of the NBA.
Their reward, a date with the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. Always one to find a competitive advantage, Nelson was deeply familiar with his playoff opponent, and he had the tools to exploit the weaknesses of his former team.
“I think one team that Nellie really took pride in was beating Mark Cuban’s Mavericks because they had a tough separation,” We Believe team member Matt Barnes said.
The Return of Don Nelson
After a year away from the game, Don Nelson was brought back as coach of the Warriors for the 2006-07 season. His first stint included five playoff appearances over eight seasons, and the Warriors then went through eight coaches and 12 losing seasons before then General Manager and former Warriors great Chris Mullin brought Nellie back for the 2006-07 season.
Nelson inherited a talented roster, but injuries to Baron Davis and Jason Richardson, among others, took their toll on the team. The Warriors lost 199 player games due to injury in the 2006-07 season and that, along with the midseason trade with the Pacers, resulted in Golden State using an NBA-leading 36 different starting lineups.
But the team returned to full health in early March, and the Warriors were able to rally their way to the postseason, clinching a playoff spot on the last day of the season before making more NBA history as an 8-seed.
A Band of Misfits Rally Together
Baron Davis was talented, but he was a coach killer. Jason Richardson was the fan favorite who played hard, but he had never played for a winner. Stephen Jackson had experienced success as a young player in San Antonio, but he was more known for his role in the Malice at the Palace than his clutch shooting in the 2003 NBA Finals. Al Harrington hadn’t lived up to the promise of his draft prospects coming right out of high school. Matt Barnes was a great athlete in high school, but he couldn’t find an NBA home.
The 2006-07 Warriors were by no means a flawless team, but they were a fiery bunch that meshed well with one another.
“We were a whole team with the heart, energy and hunger of Draymond. We all had some of that Draymond in us,” Barnes said in a recent interview with Warriors television broadcaster Bob Fitzgerald. “We had a whole team of guys with that same mindset, and I think that’s what made the We Believe teams so special.”
Jason Richardson Reaches the Playoffs for First Time
He was the fifth pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, and his hardworking mentality along with his leaping ability, made him a fan favorite in Dub Nation. Adonal Foyle was the longest tenured Warrior on the We Believe team, but Jason Richardson was the player fans identified with the Dubs. He was never an All-Star but he did win a pair of Slam Dunk Contests at NBA All-Star Weekend.
Richardson led the team in scoring for three straight years, and he was one of the key components in turning a team that won fewer than 20 games for two straight seasons into one that would flirt with, but ultimately fall short of, a .500 record in the early to mid-2000s. The We Believe season marked the end of Richardson’s Warriors journey, and it ended in spectacular fashion for the player who remains a fan favorite in the Bay Area.
Monta Ellis’ Breakout Season
From one Warriors fan favorite to another. Monta Ellis came into his own in Coach Don Nelson’s run-and-gun style, as Ellis, dubbed the Mississippi Bullet by Warriors television broadcaster Bob Fitzgerald, nearly tripled his scoring, assists and rebounding in his second NBA season. In fact, Ellis’ 9.7-points increase from 2005-06 to 2006-07 was the largest in the NBA, resulting in him receiving the Most Improved Player Award.
Ellis would play six and a half seasons for the Warriors, serving as the bridge between the We Believe team and the one headlined by Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Matt Barnes Establishes Himself
Until the 2006-07 season, Matt Barnes left open the possibility of pursuing a career in professional football. He had played for four teams in three seasons, and none for the team that actually drafted him. But in the summer of 2006, his friend and former college teammate Baron Davis invited the Sacramento native to play in a pickup game at the Warriors practice facility. Don Nelson was watching through a window in his office at the team’s old Oakland headquarters, and afterward he approached Barnes and offered him a non-guaranteed invite to training camp that year. Barnes accepted, and parlayed the opportunity into regular rotation minutes as a versatile forward with a nice outside touch.
“That season is really what made me an NBA player,” Barnes said. “That’s when I put my name on the map. I was a fixture in the NBA after that season.”
Barnes averaged nearly 10 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes per game, more than doubling his production from the prior season, all while shooting what would turn out to be a career-best 36.6 percent on 3-pointers. Thankfully for the Warriors, the high school All-American wide receiver gave basketball one more shot.
- From the Archives: Matt Barnes - Driven for Success