A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Warriors, Fans Are Partying Like It’s 1975
By Tony McClean
Updated: May 4, 2007
NEW HAVEN, Ct. – Unless you’ve been under a rock over the last two weeks, you probably already know that the Golden State Warriors late Thursday night completed one of the greatest upsets in NBA playoff history.
The team that qualified for the last postseason spot in this year’s postseason party, Golden State completely dismantled the defending Western Conference champion Dallas Mavericks in six games.
In the process, they joined the 1994 Denver Nuggets and 1999 New York Knicks as the only eighth seeds to defeat a number one seed in the opening round. Both Denver and New York did it in a best-of-five series.
In many ways, Golden State’s upset of Dallas is very similar to the Warriors’ run to the franchise’s lone championship in 1975. When Al Attles’ squad made their Cinderella run over three decades ago, the Warriors completed only the third sweep ever in NBA Finals history.
It was supposed to have been a rebuilding year for the Warriors that season. During the off season, longtime center Nate Thurmond was traded to the Chicago Bulls for another center, 6-foot-9 Clifford Ray.
Attles, a product of North Carolina A&T, molded a team with a solid nucleus of stars and dependable role players. Among them were Jamal (“Keith”) Wilkes was a rookie from UCLA that contributed beyond expectations at power forward.
Wilkes’ contributions (14.4 ppg) were enough for him to be named the league’s Rookie Of The Year. There was also veteran guards Butch Beard and Phil Smith along top reserves like defensive stalwart George Johnson, as well as veterans Jeff Mullins, Derrick Dickey, and former Laker Bill Bridges.
However, the star of the team was future Hall of Famer Rick Barry. During the 1974-75 regular season, he averaged 30.6 points per game and some thought he should have won the league’s MVP award that year instead Bob McAdoo of the Buffalo Braves.
Unlike their 2007 counterparts, the 1975 Warriors came into the playoffs with a winning record (48-34) as they edged out the Seattle Supersonics by five games (43-39) to win the Pacific Division crown.
Attles, who was known as a defensive stopper during his playing days, used a college-style, high pressure defensive style that looked to wear teams down by the end of the game. It was that style of play that helped them make their championship run.
Ironically, it was the Sonics who would be Golden State’s opening playoff opponent in the West semis. After splitting the first four games of the series, the Warriors thrashed Seattle 124-100 in Game Five at home.
They would wrap up the series in Seattle with a 105-96 victory. At the end of the series, the team had to fight its way through a wild Seattle crowd in which several fans tried to instigate a fight with Barry and Beard.
Up next were the Chicago Bulls with the winner advancing to the Finals.
Again, it would be a tough series for the Warriors, especially when they had to deal with the likes of forwards Bob Love, Chet Walker and the guard tandem of Norm Van Lier and Jerry Sloan (yes, the same Sloan who now coaches the Utah Jazz).
Throughout most of the season, Attles used all 12 players on his roster. In fact, the Warriors were one of the few teams in basketball history in which 10 players averaged at least 10 minutes per game.
That depth and their team defense would be the key to the Warriors prevailing in a tight, seven-game series despite the shooting woes of Barry. In the series clincher, Golden State held the Bulls scoreless for the final seven minutes of the game.
Barry would finally find his shooting touch and hit several key shots to ice the 83-79 victory. With the win, the Warriors were headed to the Finals for the first time since 1967. They were heavy underdogs to a Washington Bullets squad that went 60-22 during the regular season and defeated the defending league champion Celtics in the East finals.
Much like how media pundits are downgrading the Eastern Conference this year, the Western Conference was considered the weaker conference in 1975. However, the Warriors would have something to say about that four games later.
Ironically in their last regular-season meeting with Golden State, the Bullets had won in a blowout. That would change as the Warriors won four close contests (101-96, 92-91, 109-101, and 96-95) to take the franchise’s only championship. Golden State won the four games by a total margin of 16 points.
If you want add even more synergy to this series, you may want to think of another sport. Long before this year’s Super Bowl, this title match up was the first time in a major American sports championship that the head coaches of the opposing teams were black.
There are some NBA historians that regard the Warriors’ sweep of the Bullets as the greatest upset in NBA playoff history. While that remains to be seen, it appears that already one group of Warriors may indeed have a kindred spirit in their recent past.