SAN FRANCISCO – Every 27 years or so, I get familiar with Warriors coverage again.
So here I am at the Chase Center, far from the Coliseum Arena, and my first mission covering the Warriors since May 3, 1994.
The Warriors play the Oklahoma City Thunder, which I believe was called the Seattle SuperSonics at the time.
I’ve attended and watched the Warriors for years, but the last time I covered a game it was because of a medical emergency that struck our editor of the Hayward Daily Review. It was the third game of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Warriors, 50-32 in the regular season, were already down 2-0 in a best-of-five series against the Suns, who were 56-26.
Stephen Curry was 6 years old. His father Dell was named the NBA’s sixth man of the year for the Charlotte Hornets. The NBA was in its first year without Michael Jordan, who abruptly retired after his father died to play baseball. The Houston Rockets will eventually win the NBA title behind Hakeem Olajuwon.
But this game was all about Charles Barkley, Chris Webber and Don Nelson. It marked a day the Warriors passed out into an abyss from which they wouldn’t return in the playoffs until 2006,
Barkley had the game of his life. Scored 38 points in the first half and finished with 56, the most he would ever score in a game, whether in the regular season or the playoffs. The Suns won 140-133 in front of 15,025 spectators.
Nelson at one point made the decision that Barkley didn’t need to be a two-team, given the Suns’ other weapons which included Dan Majerle and Kevin Johnson.
And oh did Barkley make them pay. He had 23 of 31 shots, three of four from a three-point field and had 14 rebounds and four assists in 41 minutes. The Beat writers were sitting next to the courthouse around this time, and it was a treat to see Barkley go off and taunt and talk trash to the Warriors throughout.
âThey kind of forced the issue by not overtaking me,â Barkley said. âI hope this isn’t the last time I see individual coverage. I like that. It was good training. ”
Webber was only 20 in Michigan. He was the Orlando Magic’s No.1 pick, but immediately dealt with the Warriors in exchange for Anfernee Hardaway, Webber was named NBA Rookie of the Year, averaging 17.5 points per game and playing out of position most of the team as a 6-foot-9 center. And Barkley left him spellbound.
âHe was just amazing,â Webber said afterward. âHe was taking bad shots and they were coming back. He was taking double fade shots and three point recoils. When it’s like that, you can triple it and that doesn’t mean anything.
The future looked bright for the Warriors. Chris Mullin had 30 points that night, Latrell Sprewell 27 and Tim Hardaway was due to return in 1994-95 after suffering a knee injury.
The day after the Suns’ loss, Nelson met beat makers at the Hyatt in Oakland. Nelson thought Webber could be a bit tougher on the inside, but marveled at his full game. He said he was a better passer in particular than he had imagined.
Webber, however, had other ideas. Nelson was famous for his verbal licks against players, especially rookies. Webber didn’t like it. He also didn’t like playing center. He exercised an option in his contract and essentially forced a trade out of town. He was traded to the Washington Bullets in exchange for Tom Gugliotta and three first-round draft picks. (They turned out to be Todd Fuller, Antawn Jamison, and a traded pick for Larry Hughes.) Gugliotta only played 40 games for the Warriors, averaging 10.9 points per game, when he was distributed in season in Minnesota in exchange for Donyell Marshall.
The Webber-Nelson clash destroyed the franchise. Webber’s career took off in Washington. The Warriors the following season were 26-56. Nelson resigned when the Warriors were 14-31 and was replaced by Bob Lanier.
It would be 12 years before the Warriors made it to the playoffs again. Surprisingly, it was under Nelson, who returned in 2006-07 and took the Warriors (42-40) to the Western Conference semifinals. There was even a reunion with Webber, who returned in 2007-08 with bad knees and played all nine games after signing in January. At that time, Webber was 34 and retired after the season.
Nelson even started Webber’s first comeback, where he received a warm ovation from the Coliseum crowd. I played it for five minutes and then pulled it out.
âHe’s old,â Nelson said afterwards. âHe needs to stay warm.
Five games in a season where they’re 4-1, I don’t expect the kind of impact my last game had on the franchise.
But we won’t know for sure for another 27 years.