He ran off the court and yelled to no one in particular, “It’s destiny.” At least that’s what was written. But Butch Beard isn’t quite sure what he shouted. Not from a distance of 40 years.
“Maybe I did say that,” Beard said, searching his memory. “That first game was sort of a miracle. We were way down. And then Hopper got in there.” Hopper was the nickname for Charles Dudley, whose frenzied play that first game of the 1974-75 NBA Finals brought back the Warriors from a 16-point deficit to victory.
A reunion. A reminder. A rejoicing.
Dudley, who lives in Seattle, was at Oracle Arena on Monday night. So, of course, was Beard, who had been called Butch for so long that in elementary school when his teacher asked, “Where’s Alfred?” — his given name — Beard didn’t know it was he.
Beard, living in New York, and Dudley; Rick Barry, now of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Cliff Ray, now of Sarasota, Fla.; Jamaal Wilkes of Los Angeles and George Johnson of Atlanta — along with Jeff Mullins of North Carolina, coach Al Attles, assistant coach Joe Roberts and, of course, trainer and nursemaid Dick D’Oliva.
The champions had come home, if only briefly.
Forty-years ago, so far, so near, the Warriors won the NBA, in the Finals swept the Washington Bullets — whose name had not yet been sanitized to Wizards.
And Monday, before a game of the current Warriors, who very well could duplicate that achievement, some of the champs returned. On the video boards we saw images of those unable to return, the deceased — owner Franklin Mieuli, the man in the deerstalker hat, and players Phil Smith, Derrek Dickey, Charles Johnson and Steve Bracey.
No less an integral part of the Warriors, indeed of Bay Area sports, was the late play-by-play ace Bill King.
If everyone loves a winner, the love is double for the underdog winner, the surprise titlist, the figurative new kid — if it’s your kid. Remember the uninhibited joy when the Niners broke through at last in ’82, Super Bowl XVI? Or the evening the Giants finally won a World Series in 2010?
It was like that in May 1975 for the Warriors.
When they arrived in Maryland for the Finals, and I was in attendance, the beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle — Frank Blackman was the guy from The San Francisco Examiner — a story in the Baltimore Sun declared the W’s “the worst team ever to get to the NBA finals.”
“People underestimated us,” Barry reminded us four decades later. “They really did. And what we did is still the greatest upset in the history of the NBA Finals.”
How young and skilled they were. How eager. Wilkes, who would be Rookie of the Year, and Smith, from USF and San Francisco’s Washington High School, were the rooks. Dickey, “Double D,” who kept a pet boa constrictor named Bacchus, was the power off the bench. Ray, obtained in trade from Chicago for the great Nate Thurmond — who was at Oracle Arena on Monday — made his presence known immediately.
“Anybody other than Rick Barry think they can get 20 points and 10 assists a game?” the observant Ray asked his new teammates in a preseason workout. When nobody raised a hand, Cliff pointed out, “Then let Rick take over.”
Which Rick did. Which, because his personality as well as his remarkable talent, he always did. Even Monday night, Barry was the man, offering viewpoints, grasping the shining championship trophy.
“We were part of something special,” said Barry, and there wasn’t a hint of disagreement. On the championship rings was engraved the word “Togetherness.”
Beard missed another reunion, that of his high school team, which won the 1965 Kentucky state championship, to be together with the Warriors.
“That was a highlight of my career,” said Beard, who became a coach (New Jersey Nets, Morgan State) and now at 67 is retired. He’s had two hip surgeries, from one developed a staph infection. He knows good fortune and bad fortune.
Gray hair and bald heads, reflections and appreciation.
“I have no regrets,” Beard says about his basketball, or his life. “I think of Derrek and Phil and know how fragile life is. I love watching this year’s team on television. They play the game the way it should be played.”
The way Beard, Barry, Ray and the Warriors of ’74-75 played it. There was none better.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.bleacherreport.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.