OAKLAND — Nailed to a wall about seven feet above a security office door, below the seating bowl on the eastern end of Oracle Arena, near the loading dock, is a yellow t-shirt.
It’s not in a frame, and there isn’t a plaque or any signage. The slogan on the front of the faded piece of cotton says it all: “We Believe”.
On Friday, three members of the 2006-07 We Believe Warriors team — Baron Davis, Al Harrington and Steven Jackson — returned as part of the Big3 barnstorming tour, and were greeted with warm ovations, and a fan base no longer starved for success, but one reveling in three titles in four years.
“These fans and their love for the game, their love for each and every individual that’s ever played here, it’s almost like, once a Warrior, always a Warrior,” said Davis. “It’s just a great and amazing thing to see the team winning, to see the fans really get a chance to experience that.”
The first game of the evening was, fittingly, ended by Davis. He dribbled at the top of the arc, shook Dahntay Jones and splashed the game-winning three-pointer for his orange-clad 3s Company team. Davis was just a 32 percent three-point shooter during his 15 NBA seasons, but he’s become one of the top 3-point shooters in the 3-on-3 league founded by Ice Cube, chaired by former Raiders exec Amy Trask, and commissioned by Clyde Drexler.
Davis was the point guard on the We Believe team, which left a deep impression among fans that now are old enough to bring their children to games and buy season tickets — the bedrock of Golden State’s home-court advantage. Davis was already in Oakland when Jackson and Harrington arrived via trade, and helped him to push the Warriors to a playoff berth as a No. 8 seed after a wild final two months. It was the first Warriors team in 13 years to reach the postseason.
“We all had history anyway,” Harrington said. “We kicked it in the summer, or AAU and all that, so from seeing each other in the summer time to actually being on a team, being around each other every day, that solidified our bond as brothers.”
The We Believe Warriors went 16-5 down the stretch, earning a first-round date with the No. 1-seed Dallas Mavericks, who were 4-to-1 favorites to win the NBA title. Golden State was a 12-to-1 underdog to win the series. The Warriors toppled Dallas in six games, winning the final game in Oracle.
“It’s always good to come to the Bay,” Harrington said. “We had a special time out here, so any time I can come out here and just be around the people is always a pleasure.”
Harrington, Davis, Jackson and Monta Ellis have stayed in close contact since their days in Oakland. They have group chats and talk nearly every single day, Harrington said.
They’ve vacationed in Cabo San Lucas together. They’ve helped raise each other’s children, and watched them grow. As Davis said, they invested in one another on the court, and now, they invest in each other off of it.
The core members of the We Believe team have even gone into business together. For example: Davis is the director of marketing for Harrington’s multi-state marijuana company, Viola.
“It’s a family,” Davis said. “That’s what we had when we were here with We Believe. We’re really family.”
“We try to keep the money within the family,” Harrington said.
The Big3 league that brought the three together is in its second year, though Friday was their first foray into the Bay Area.
“We were targeting Oakland [for] Season One,” said league founder Ice Cube. “We just ran out of cities to play in. Oakland has been on our mind.”
Bringing back the three members of the We Believe team, along with El Cerrito native Drew Gooden, Oakland native Gary Payton and Warriors Hall of Famer Rick Barry — coaching the Ball Hogs — was a happy coincidence, but one that resonated.
Both Gooden and Payton — the head coach of the 3 Headed Monsters — grew up watching Golden State. Gooden remembers buying $2 upper-deck tickets from his boys club. Both he and Payton remembered sneaking down to the lower bowl to get a closer look.
Payton, 49, and Gooden, 36, lamented the fact that, after next season, Golden State will call San Francisco home.
“I’ve seen the Warriors through the dog days, the ups and downs, and to see where they’re at right now, having basically created a dynasty, and they’re going to continue to add on to that, it’s just night and day,” Gooden said. “I’m going to be a little disappointed when they move to San Francisco, if those plans are still in place, because I’m trying to somehow change that, hoping they can’t get some permits.”
Payton emphasized that the Warriors have value beyond basketball, as exemplified by Kevin Durant’s second consecutive NBA Community Assist award, bestowed in part for his funding of college scholarships for four Bay Area students through the Boy and Girls Club of the Peninsula.
“[Kids] think, ‘If Steph say it, or Durant says it, then it must be true.'” Payton said. “They’re role models now. Can’t get away from it: We’re role models, and we’ve got to help these kids.”
The Warriors played a large role in the youths of Gooden and Payton, and they each expressed concern for a community that will, in the span of three years, lose both its basketball and football teams.
During the run-up to the Big3 on Friday the league — including Payton and the four former Warriors — held an event called Young3,. It which included teaching youngsters basketball and life skills in conjunction with the Boys and Girls Club on High Street. They also refurbished a local basketball court.
“We’re not going to let Oakland suffer just because they’ve lost professional teams,” Davis said. “There’s opportunity to focus on grassroots and focus on the growth of the city with guys like this and myself, coming back … former Warriors, former players, even current guys, just really making sure that we take care of people who have taken care of us and supported us.”
The We Believe team doesn’t have a banner hanging from the rafters. No one on that team has their number retired. That shirt in the bowels of Oracle is, for now, the only visible reminder of that transformative group that allowed a hardscrabble city believe.
“For me, the Bay Area has a huge spot in my heart,” Davis said. When I heard that the Raiders and the Warriors were leaving, I was thinking about ways to come back and being instrumental to the community on the business side, as well as on the sports side. You can look to us to come back and really invest in the community, and really just continue the We Believe, return the favor.”