2016 NBA Finals elicit memories of 1975 Warriors


Watching on television from my UC Berkeley co-op, the 1975 San Francisco Warriors were facing the powerhouse Washington Bullets in the NBA World Championship Series, now known as the NBA Finals.

Hours spent away from studying to take in the Warriors and the Bullets was both a luxury and compromise. But even as the Bay Area — Oakland in particular, at the time, rolling in spoils — shined as a treasure trove for sports excellence, the Warriors rose to a different plane.

The Oakland Raiders were a constant threat to win the Super Bowl, and all that stood in their way was the Pittsburgh Steelers. Season tickets could be purchased for $52.

The A’s won their third-straight World Series in 1974, and the Raiders won it all in 1976.

But 1975 belonged to the Warriors, who didn’t play the for the NBA title at the Coliseum complex, instead hosting title games at the Cow Palace, along San Francisco’s southernmost-edge.

The Bullets went 60-22 and were fronted by stars Elvin Hayes, Phil Chenier, Kevin Porter and Wes Unseld.

San Francisco was led by the sensational Rick Barry, who topped the league in scoring — 30.6 per game — and his team in assists, at 6.2.

Al Attles had played alongside the legendary Wilt Chamberlain, and was in his sixth year as head coach in 1974-75.  The two once combined for a remarkable 117 points in Hershey, Pa. Wilt had 100 of those.

As a coach, Attles understood the value of playing with a deep bench. So while Barry, Butch Beard, Clifford Ray, Jamaal Wilkes and Derrek Dickey would often start, Attles’ bench of Charles Johnson, Charles Dudley, George Johnson, Jeff Mullins and Phil Smith would make meaningful contributions.

They were truly 10 deep.

Charles Johnson and Dudley in particular would create havoc, forcing turnovers and creating tempo. Phil Smith was tall and lanky, with a beautiful mid-range jump shot that defenders couldn’t touch.  The Warriors went on to blitz the talented Bullets 4-0 to win the NBA title.

For me, that was monumental.  I’d been a fan of the Warriors since my dad took me to see Chamberlain and Attles in 1963. I’d listen to games on the radio, which was the only way to follow any team in those days, with Bill King’s unmistakable tone echoing through my speaker box consisting of a few dials and a 10-inch band.

I’d wait 12 years before the Warriors won their first title. I was graduating from Berkeley that month; to have been a fan since 1964 and have them win the title in 1975 felt like a lifetime achievement.

Little did I know I’d be rooting and waiting another 40 years for a second championship.

Jump forward to 2016, and the Warriors are facing the powerhouse Cleveland Cavaliers led by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. The Warriors are led by NBA scoring champ Stephen Curry (30.1 points per game compared to Barry’s 30.6, and 6.7 assists compared to Barry’s 6.2).

The Warriors are coached by Steve Kerr, who is not dissimilar from Attles. As a player Kerr played alongside the legendary Michael Jordan.  Jordan and Kerr often put 50-plus points a night — like Chamberlain, Jordan more than carried his weight.

Similar to Attles, Kerr understands what makes his team so remarkable — their depth.  Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are elite players surrounded by crucial contributors with clearly-defined roles.

Golden State’s center duo of Bogut and Ezeli rivals the 1975 duo of Clifford Ray and George Johnson; Shaun Livingston’s jumper is just as untouchable as Phil Smith; and Harrison Barnes and Jamaal Wilkes were both adept scorers that played off the ball.

Andre Iguodala helps creates havoc and pace similar to Charles Johnson and Charles Dudley.  His value to the team is immeasurable.  The 1975 and 2016 Warriors epitomize the concept of team play necessary to bring home a championship.

Last year, national media refused to give the Warriors full credit, citing injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.

This year, Cleveland is at full strength. And if the Warriors are able to win their second consecutive NBA title they should receive the recognition that they richly deserve as true champions.

Two games in, it seems likely they will successfully defend their crown.

As the Warriors were winning the title last year, my college friends Paul and Pat contacted me. We had watched the Warriors win the title in 1975. I hadn’t heard from either in years, and we reminisced about the experience. It was like our 40th anniversary!

We’ve kept in touch the past year. I can’t thank the Warriors enough for getting the gang back together. Likewise, I hope the members of the 1975 Warrior team can relive some of the memories from their outstanding achievement in winning the Warriors first championship, knowing they were first in bringing a basketball championship to the Bay Area.

Larry Leskiw graduated from Cal with a degree in psychology in 1975, and earned his teaching credential in 1976. He retired from College Park High School in Pleasant Hill in 2013, and has been a Warriors fan for 54 years.

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