Thursday, July 17, 2008

SwaggerJack: From The Bay Back To L.A.

Holly MacKenzie is a contributing writer for SLAM and Hardwood Paroxysm. Her SwaggerJack column runs weekly here. Today's topic is Baron Davis and a requiem for the Unstoppable.

Like I said last week, sometimes you'll get stuck with me and my thoughts on the state of the NBA. Today is one of those times. Since Camby was traded to the Clips last night, getting to join Baron in LA, I decided I want to talk about the end of the Warriors as I knew and loved them. Obviously, I am a Lakers fan. Sometimes people get very frustrated with me because they are unable to understand how I can love so many players and teams in this league while still remaining loyal to the Lakeshow. This guy has even gone so far as to call me a sports bigamist.

Over the past couple of years, I became a fan of the Warriors. I think it probably started with Baron. I'm sure it grew with Monta and Nellie, but without a doubt the moment my Warrior love was in full force was when Jax was traded mid-season to Golden State. While everyone else was unsure, I knew I loved it because I knew all he needed was a fresh start and fans to embrace him. Where better than Oakland, with Baron and the boys quickly piecing together a team you could cheer for.

Over the next two seasons as we all watched transfixed on our couches, favorite sports bars or if you're on the East Coast like me, in your bed for that 11:30pm tip off, the Warriors did not disappoint. Nellie was on the sidelines smirking, smiling slyly, just as we were. He was able to do this because he is one of those mad professor types. So brilliant, he is mad. So brilliantly mad, he had a team without rules, or where the biggest rule was to be loose. And loose they were.

With their play reminiscent of the 80's style that made me fall in love with the game the Warriors relied on Monta's quickness to defy all laws of speed and strength, Jax jacking three's from near halfcourt and of course Baron bailing them out whenever they needed it, evoking memories of Magic and his wizardry in a shorter, stouter package.

Baron was always up for that challenge, only getting bigger, better and more dangerous as the game clock wound down. Especially so, against my Lakeshow. And while I can never, ever root for another team to grab a victory against my boys I did find myself wishing one overtime would turn into two, and two into three because Baron had captured my attention and I just wanted to watch him create.

The swagger, the smile and of course the shots that would terrify with any other player only made sense with Baron and these Warriors. If Jax was their heart then Boom was the engine, fueling them to a brighter tomorrow with each victory. The culture in the team was built through Baron, balling in such a way that they believed and so did we. Being able to watch those boys take down Dirk, Avery and the Mavs was a culmination of it all. Davis meeting Goliath.

For all of the people living in Oakland, wanting and needing something to believe in, the Warriors proved that the underdog can come out on top and that when it is Baron Davis leading the charge, giant hearts can defeat the giant.

For Harrington, Monta, Mullin, Nellie, Crazy Jax and a bang-up free Baron, they found their yellow brick road in Oracle, only instead of it being made of stone it was made of fans, 19,596 deep. A sea of yellow signifying the beating pulse to the team that taught a city how to dream once again.

Spring of 2007 brought magic to the Bay. Against those Mavericks who were not only the number one seed, but were expected to crush this Golden State team who had waited so long to get there the Warriors came ready to battle and earned their name.

From the chants to the t-shirts, those 19,596 fans were joined by millions worldwide sitting at home feeling the beat build inside of them as they became a part of that pulse, and a part of history.

While Oakland allowed Oracle to become their home sweet home, the Warriors were able to find themselves once again. Monta carving out his place as one of the fastest men in the L, Crazy Jax turning into Captain Jack before anyone could raise an eyebrow, Harrington finally being able to add up more than one or two successful games in a row and Baron piecing together the parts of his body until he finally was able to play out a season at full strength. Nellie began to look like a genius again and Chris Mullin was able to breathe easy and get through the day without worrying about job security.

Regardless of what was happening outside, as soon as a foot was firmly planted inside the O, whether fan, player or personnel, all else was forgotten as Warrior basketball became the focal point. The much-maligned franchise finally was on the map again and while Mr. Davis may be moving back to his first home, the people of the Bay will not soon forget the gift that he gave. He gave them relevancy and he gave them greatness, if only for awhile.

With Baron gone, so are the Warriors as we know it. Sure, we've still got Monta and his speed and Jax and his heart, but the essence of the Warrior was in these guys together. The three who made us all believe.

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