Tuesday, December 8th, 2009 at 12:49 pm  |  17 responses

Decade’s Best: Playoff Upset

The Warriors and their fans who Believed.

by Irv SoonachanStephen Jackson

Each decade of NBA history has a trademark upset, and each trademark upset comes with a trademark image. In the ‘80s, it was Ralph Sampson’s rubber band man jumper to beat the Lakers. In the ‘90s, it was Dikembe Mutombo on the floor, radiating happiness after his Nuggets beat the Sonics. But the greatest upset of the 2000s didn’t come with an image of a shot or a player. It came with a memorable group of fans. Fans who Believed.

“It was the loudest building I’ve ever been in,” says Keith Smart, an assistant for the Warriors and former NCAA champion. “If you were at that first home game, you were deaf. Your hearing was just starting to come back, and it was time for the next game. Then you lost it again.”

Like all great upsets, it seemed impossible at first glance. The 2007 Mavericks had the sixth-best record in NBA history, and were the defending Western Conference champions.

The Warriors, on the other hand, finished one game over .500 to squeak into the final Playoff spot. It was their first Playoff appearance since 1994, and they hadn’t won a Playoff series since 1991. Two members of their starting lineup, Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington, had come over in a midseason trade from the Indiana Pacers, who were happy just to be rid of them.

But like all great upsets, there was more to the story. In truth, it was a disaster waiting to happen for the Mavericks. During the ‘05-06 season, the Warriors won only 34 games, but for some reason were 3-1 against the Mavs. Following that season the Warriors hired Don Nelson as their head coach. Nelson had previously been pushed aside in Dallas, where he helped build the Mavs into a consistent winner.

In ‘06-07 the Warriors’ last two regular-season games against Dallas – both late in the season — were blowout wins.

“Going into the Playoffs, we were very confident,” says Matt Barnes, a forward on the Warriors that year. “Nellie had a great game plan. We knew everything theBaron Davis & Matt Barnesy wanted to do, and every second option they had.”

And most importantly, the players, the fans, and the entire Bay Area had all come together. For a few weeks, everybody Believed. It all started on a plane trip after a tough road loss in Washington, where the Warriors’ record fell to 26-35.

“We thought we got robbed in that game,” says Smart. “On the flight to the next city, Baron (Davis), Jack (Stephen Jackson), and Matt Barnes were in the back of the plane, and they were mapping it out. They were saying ‘we have to win this number of games to get to the Playoffs.’ From there, things took off. The team gelled.”

The Warriors only lost five games the rest of the regular season, four of them to other Playoff teams.

“We became best friends, on and off the court,” Barnes said. “We ate together every day, hung out together every day, and generally cared about each other. Once we got the chemistry down, the sky was the limit for that team.”

As the team took flight, a season-ticket holder named Paul Wong coined the phrase “We Believe,” and spent $5,500 of his own money printing placards. Soon, “We Believe” started appearing on t-shirts and other licensed product. A fan base that had waited 13 years for a playoff appearance went insane for a team that was built largely of castoffs from other clubs, including the three players who sat in the back of that plane.

The players sensed their chance at history early on. “We saw that if we got in we played Dallas, and we knew we had a pretty good shot,” says Smart.

After beating Dallas in six Warriors fansintense games, the Believe Warriors fell apart like a bad marriage that was once a great romance. In the second round of the Playoffs the Warriors were quickly ground down by a physical Utah club.

Barnes, Mickael Pietrus, and Jason Richardson changed addresses shortly afterward. Boom Dizzle and Stephen Jackson made acrimonious departures. Wong butted heads with team president Robert Rowell and canceled his season tickets. And the Warriors haven’t been back to the Playoffs.

But if you go to a Warriors home game there are still plenty of fans in We Believe t-shirts. The current team isn’t good, and it’s easier to pull on that bright yellow shirt and remember the spring of ‘07. And what a memory it is. Your ears can start ringing just thinking about it.


For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.

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  • bambé

    true nightmare for us mavericks fans

  • http://slamonline.com Brad Long

    I’ll always have fond memories of this series, considering it won me 500 bucks.

  • Sparker

    this was a no-brainer

  • http://IJustWantMyNameToLookBig.com Chukaz

    If the Warriors hadn’t traded Jason Richardson, the team would still be together. They traded their second best player for Marco Belisomething and Someone Wright. They basically traded 20 points away for 2 dudes that weren’t in the rotation.

  • http://www.redraidersports.com Nicolas Fleming

    Oh the life of a Mavs fan….

  • J

    the problem is they could not capitalize on that amazing playoff run. best performances from baron to jackson to every one. i thought that could be a start of true rebuilding for that team. one hit wonder.. but still definitely amazing.

  • Alex

    This was the greatest time of my life as far as basketball goes. The Dubs united the entire Bay Area

  • http://sportzin.com Joey E.

    just an amazing time for all basketball fans (minus mavs fans) such a fun series to watch. one hit wonder like J said, but it was an awesome series

  • James

    Not to mention Charles Barkley wearing that “We Believe” t-shirt afterward after saying the Mavs will blow out the Warriors. Classic.

  • Yesse

    I loved every minute of this series.It wasnt a good idea to get rid off B-Diddy and J-Rich.

  • Chazz Michael Michaels

    How about when LeBron last to the Magic in six. I loved it, especially when LeBron went crying back to the locke room and didn’t stop to shake hands. Boy I can’t wait a couple more years when they write an article(like this same one)about that playoff series. I can picture the sheer joy of that moment now!

  • kudos

    yeah i can picture the cavs #1 seed getting whooped by an orlando team the analysts all picked to lose. it was the biggest upset bcause no one believed they’d be in the finals. Even i could see the warriors beating the mavs since they killed them in the reg season.

  • kudos

    yeah i can picture the cavs #1 seed getting whooped by an orlando team the analysts all picked to lose. it was the biggest upset bcause no one believed they’d be in the finals. Even i could see the warriors beating the mavs since they killed them in the reg season.

  • J

    ^ the reason why the Golden state series and many other 1 v 8 series is better than magic-cavs one, is that the Mavs is the only clear and expected team to win the whole thing. while in the last season there are at least 2(cavs and LA with LA being the frontrunner). and besides that’s #1 v #3 not #1 v #8

  • http://thegayestwebsiteever.com Big Ben

    Yeah, I’m pretty sure that Detroit over L.A is the best playoff upset ever. I don’t know if anybody remembers the odds that were given to Detroit in the weeks leading up to the game, but I remember most people saying that Detroit would be lucky to “steal” one game and avoid being swept. And that’s what ended up happening, except the teams were playing the wrong roles. Also, there was nothing in the previous three rounds to indicate that the Lakers were about to experience a monumental collapse, so I don’t want to hear anything about how the Lakers beat themselves. And to top it all off, this upset was for a championship, and over a team that had won 3 of them in the last 4 years – no disrespect to the Mavs, but they usually win a bunch of regular season games, but nobody really considered them a lock to win the title ever. I think everybody just forgets what a total shock that year was. I remember how the announcers just sounded so confused, like actors who forgot their lines…

  • Irv Soonachan

    Ben, you make some really good points. Looking back, I thought the Pistons would make it a long series, but the only writer who agreed with me was the late, great Ralph Wiley. You’re exactly right that nobody knew what to do with that outcome. It changed the NBA in many ways.

    I’d like to write the story of that team for SLAM sometime. In the meantime, a tip of the hat to you.

  • kevin

    awesomeness we had a great team lets list
    baron davis, stephen jackson, jason richardson, al harrington, andris biedrins, monta ellis, michael pitrius, matt barnes yet only 2 of those players are left on the current roster