Almost as soon as the final buzzer went off and they were handed the championship trophy back in June, Golden State’s 2015 NBA crown has been oft-questioned. Jamaal Wilkes, a key member of the Warriors’ 1975 title-winning squad, sees similarities between how Golden State’s victory was viewed then, 40 years ago, and now.
Ever since, Cleveland, the runners-up, seem to have gotten more love than the champs, including the league’s annual GMs survey, recently released, that had almost 54 percent of them picking the Cavaliers to win the 2015-16 title, with just under 18 percent picking the Warriors to repeat.
Add the words of war by L.A. Clippers players, who called Golden State “lucky” that they won. Such disrespect isn’t unheard of when it comes to Golden State winning an NBA championship, recalls Wilkes.
“We weren’t expected to win, so we really developed an ‘us versus them’ mentality,” he said in an MSR phone interview. That Golden State team, in which Wilkes also won rookie-of-the-year honors, won the 1975 NBA title with a 4-0 sweep of Washington in the first-ever finals in which both head coaches were Blacks: Al Attles and K.C. Jones.
That team 40 years ago didn’t have a Stephen Curry, but it did have two future Hall of Famers, Wilkes and Rick Barry; the “two-headed” center tandem of Clifford Ray and George Johnson; guards Charles Johnson and Butch Beard, who, according to Wilkes, “made sure everyone got the ball at the right time”; and fellow rookie Phil Smith, who later died in 2002 at age 50 from cancer.
“I played my whole career in California,” continued the Berkeley, California native who played basketball first as a high school All-American, then as a two-time All-American at UCLA, and then in a 12-season NBA career with Golden State, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers before retiring midway through the 1984-85 season with over 14,000 career points.
Wilkes was part of two dynasties — two national championships and a then-record 88-game winning streak at UCLA, and three championships with the Lakers’ “Showtime” era. He firmly believes that the Warriors might have repeated as champs the following season had Beard not been traded away during the off-season. “We all to a man believe that if Butch was there, we would have won again.”
After his playing career, Wilkes became a motivational speaker and co-founded Jamaal Wilkes Financial Advisors in 2003. He also co-authored Jamaal Wilkes: Memoirs of the Original Smooth as Silk in January.
“I didn’t want to just say anything,” said Wilkes. “It’s my story and I am going to tell it my way. I didn’t want it to be an ‘I did this, I did that’ book. I’m not perfect. I made mistakes, but I kept trying.”
“I was blessed to play with great players,” said Wilkes, the 2012 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee whose “Smooth as Silk” moniker was given to him by famed broadcaster Dick Enberg when he was at UCLA. The name unfortunately gave the impression that he looked like he wasn’t working hard.
“I was working my buns off on the court. But I wasn’t a demonstrative player and calling attention to myself. I tried to do things efficiently and with normal energy so I could do it over and over again. Then it becomes a political process, too. I’m very humble and honored to be in the Hall of Fame.”
Despite those who believe otherwise, Golden State won last season’s title. With the 2015-16 NBA season beginning this week, the Warriors will seek the chance to once again finish atop the league, lucky or not.
Related content: 2015-16 Minnesota Timberwolves season preview.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.