Earlier this season, I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with my teammates during the 40th anniversary celebration of our 1975 NBA Championship team. We are all a little heavier, a tad grayer and a bit slower— OK, a lot slower — but we still possess fond memories of that season and our love for the team and its loyal fans.
During lunch, our conversation turned to the current Warriors team, their chances of bringing another NBA title to the Bay Area and the many uncanny similarities between us.
The most apparent similarity is commitment to defense. You don't win championships if you don't play tough defense. Our team prided itself on making things difficult for the opposition at that end of the court, and the current team has shown the ability to do the same. This defensive intensity coupled with offensive explosiveness is what makes these Warriors so dangerous.
Another area of comparison — and a very important one — is the willingness of two veteran All-Stars to accept lesser roles for the good of the team. For us, it was Jeff Mullins and Bill Bridges, and for the current team, it's Andre Iguodala and David Lee. Having players of this stature buying into the team philosophy and sacrificing for the greater good is a tribute to them and their understanding that team success is more important than individual accolades.
Both teams relied on two players at the center position. The '75 champs featured Clifford Ray as the starter and George Johnson as the backup, while today's Warriors boast Andrew Bogut and Marreese Speights, who, unfortunately has been injured during the playoffs. Amazingly, the combined statistics for these tandems is almost identical —Clifford and George averaged 17.1 points and 14.5 rebounds, while Andrew and Marreese had for 17.1 and 12.6 per game. Add Festus Ezeli and, at times, Lee to the mix, and coach Steve Kerr has even greater offensive versatility.
Another significant likeness involves the top two scorers, and once again the numbers are almost identical. Our championship team was led by Jamaal (then Keith) Wilkes and myself. Together we averaged 44.8 points. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combine for 45.5 points and they score them in a variety of ways.
While we are talking stats, let's not forget assists, which usually signify good ball movement and unselfish play. In 1975, we averaged 25.3, while the current team totals 27.4 per game. Free throw accuracy always contributes to championship play, and once again, both teams are close — 77.3 percent for the current Dubs, 76.8 for the older ones.
Finally, like Kerr, Al Attles wasn't reluctant to go deep into the bench. Al used 10 players who averaged 11 minutes or more per game. Steve has 12 players averaging 11 or more minutes. Trusting your players by giving them the opportunity to play gives them confidence in themselves. It also makes for fresher legs at the end of games.
The similarities are uncanny, but there is one major difference between our two teams. The '75 team was not highly regarded before the season and we were often taken lightly in the early months. Not so for the Warriors this season. Every team they have played in the playoffs has been mentally ready for them, which has made their task more difficult.
Now that Warriors are in the NBA Finals again, one more thing would make the comparison complete. That's a championship, of course.
Rick Barry played eight seasons for the Warriors and was the captain of their only Bay Area NBA championship team. In 1987, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His commentary will appear exclusively in The San Francisco Examiner throughout the playoffs.