The Warrior's First Championship in the Bay Area
This past week, the Golden State Warriors added another world championship to their trophy case, defeating the storied Boston Celtics in six hard fought games. Going into this past year and into much of the playoffs, doubters within the media circled like vultures over a rotting corpse. They said that the Warrior's best days were behind them and that they stood no chance at winning another Larry O'Brien Trophy. The Warriors proved the naysayers wrong and brought home their fourth title in eight years. As incredible as this achievement is, these were not the biggest underdogs from the Bay Area to win an NBA championship. The Warriors in 1975 were much more unheralded and seemingly stood no chance at winning a championship. This is their story.
The NBA in the 1970's
From the early 1960's until the middle of the 1970's, the Los Angeles Lakers were one of the premier franchises in the NBA. Nine times they reached the NBA Finals and eight times they came home empty-handed. They finally won their first title in 1972, when their greatest stars had aged well past their primes. Slowly, they retired, first Jerry West, then Wilt Chamberlain. By 1975, they were a shell of their former selves as they ended the year with their worst record since moving to Los Angeles, winning just 30 games.
Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics, the dynasty of the '60s, were facing a similar upheaval. They'd won two titles in the '70s and by 1975 were looking for their 14th championship. However, the Washington Bullets had different ideas. Led by future Hall of Fame center Elvin Hayes and with former Celtics great K.C. Jones as their coach, the Bullets stunned a superior Celtics team in six games during the Eastern Conference Finals. However, a different underdog would stand in Washington's way for their first championship.
The Road to the Finals
Even though the Warriors boasted one of the era's best scorers in Rick Barry, they were overlooked for much of the year. They only barely earned their conference's top seed in the playoffs, winning just 48 games compared to Chicago's 47.
Their first opponent in the playoffs was the Seattle SuperSonics. Led by Bill Russell, Seattle went 43-39 and placed second in the Pacific Division, right behind the Warriors. San Francisco won the first game 123-96 behind Rick Barry's 39 points. Two days later, the SuperSonics eked out a one-point victory in Oakland. The teams went back and forth the next two games but by Game 5, the Warriors had hit their stride, defeating Seattle 124-100 and 105-96 respectively.
The Warrior's next opponent: the Chicago Bulls. Led by Chet Walker and former Warrior Nate Thurmond, the Bulls were a more than formidable opponent. Even so, they won the opening game of their series in relatively easy fashion, 107-89. The Bulls eked out a one-point win in Game 2 behind Chet Walker's 28 points. The Bulls continued their winning ways in Game 3, defeating the Warriors by seven points. Fearing a daunting 3-1 deficit, Rick Barry led the Warriors to victory in Game 4, scoring 36 points while leading his teammates to a 111-106 at home.
The Bulls wouldn't go down quietly, winning Game 5 by 10 points. Facing elimination in Chicago, the Warriors won Game 6 by 14 as Rick Barry once again scored 36 points. Game 7 was a terrific defensive struggle, with neither team willing to cede defeat. The Warriors held the Bulls to a miniscule 79 points while they won by four in the Oakland Coliseum Arena.
The Washington Bullets had won 60 games in 1975 and had split their two games played against the Warriors. After they defeated the mighty Boston Celtics in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals, they were bound for a clash with the Warriors in the NBA Finals.
In those days, the NBA Finals were not the spectacle that they are now, with many of the games being showed on tape delay. As a result, the Oakland Coliseum Arena refused to reschedule the previously scheduled Ice Follies and thus the NBA Finals were moved to Daly City's Cow Palace.
Going into the Finals as the underdog, the Warriors knew that they needed to make a statement in Washington. The statement was made in Game 1 with a 101-95 victory, despite Elvin Hayes' 29 points. Having a sense of desperation, the Bullets went into Daly City for Game 2 determined to come away with a decisive win. The Warriors won once again, coming away with a one-point win behind Rick Barry's 36 points.
Rick Barry rode that momentum to lead the Warriors to a 109-101 win in Game 3, scoring 38 points. Once favorites for the world championship, the Bullets had their backs against the wall going back to Washington for Game 4. Though they battled like their lives were on the line, the Warriors won 96-95. It would be 40 years until the Warriors would win another championship.