In 2018-19 it became all the rage to design Mt. Rushmore’s depicting tops fours from any and every walk of life. Need to know who the four best quarterbacks are? There is a Mt. Rushmore for that. Interested in what the best sports car to purchase with your newly found fortune? Look to the Mt. Rushmore of cars. Need to know what the biggest fast food chains in the world are? There is probably a Rushmore for it. Why bring this up? To make the point that the Mount Rushmore is past its peak. We as a society owe it to ourselves to do better, to push toward the next big thing. To start, who are the greatest Golden State Warriors players in history?
To help navigate, this is the next glowing achievement in human list making- the Top 3. While you need a whole damned mountain to do justice to a Rushmore, a Top 3 fits compactly in your pocket. No more grappling with cumbersome sculpting tools, or losing sleep over your fear of heights. To utilize a Top 3, one need only conjure up a topic and elect a favorite 3 people or items involving said topic. If you want to get a bit more scientific you can use stats, scales and facts.
To create this Top 3 for a NBA basketball team, a team’s obvious greats and their quantifiable achievements must be considered. Next, a point system must be established in order to credit those achievements accordingly. Finally, the points need only to be added up, that their comparable merits can be readily seen.
The Point System
Players primarily active before 1960 did not receive consideration. It wasn’t the same game. Nothing against those gentlemen; it just seems unfair to compare Dolph Schayes and Patrick Ewing. Here’s how it works:
- Being a Top 3 player on a championship team = 4 points
- Receiving a regular season MVP = 4 points
- Winning a Finals MVP = 5 points
- Making an NBA 1st team (3 points) 2nd Team (2 points) 3rd team (1 point)
- Defensive Player of the Year = 3 points
- NBA Defensive 1st Team (2 points) 2nd Team (1 point)
- Rookie of the Year = 1 point
- Holding the team record for scoring, rebound or assists = 2 points each. (Blocks and steals are left out because they were not recorded until well into NBA history.)
- All Star Teams Made = 1 point each. (This is how players will be rewarded for longevity with an organization. Players are rewarded only for the exceptional years they played with the given team. Derek Fisher played more years with the Lakers than Shaquille O’Neal did but no one should be getting the two of them confused.)
- Impact = 1-5 points. (This one is a little more philosophical and relies heavily on the eye test. It is determined by how a market’s fans embraced a player. How much other fan bases feared or hated that player. What that player meant to their teammates. If and how they affected team building in the league. Finally, how they affected how the game of basketball was played. Based on a combination of all this they will receive a score from 1 to 5.)
Based on the points system there are only four all time Golden State Warriors who make a serious case for a Top 3 spot. They are Stephen Curry (47 pts.) Rick Barry (35 pts.) Kevin Durant (31 pts.) and Wilt Chamberlain (28 pts.). Draymond Green (23pts.) and Klay Thompson (21 pts.) deserve honorable mentions buts based on points they do not quite make the cut.
The points system will help to determine the final order, it will not be the only factor. If it were we could stop right here. You’ve got the points and don’t need anything more. Historical contextualization, however, is important too. For instance Chamberlain was only on the Warriors for 6 years. Philadelphia is where three of those years took place. One of those Philly years was his legendary 50 points a game season; another was his sole MVP performance as a Warrior, so while Chamberlain was undeniably a Warrior, his legacy spiritually belongs to the cities of Philadelphia and Los Angeles more so than to the Bay Area and he loses all time Warrior cache for that.
On the other hand, Green has spent his entire eight year career with the Warriors in and was the second best player on the 2015 championship team. He has a DPOY to fall back on and is absolutely embraced by every die hard Warriors fan. Green’s Resume would be very hard to ignore in favor of Chamberlain. He means more to the Warriors as an organization and that is worth its weight in mountainous rock. So, let’s do this thing, in ascending order of course.
#3 Rick Barry
Take a deep breath old heads, it’s hard to hear that neither Chamberlain or Barry are in the top 2 but everything will be fine. Barry was the best player on the Warriors for most of the late 60’s and 70’s. The Warriors finals MVP on their 1975 run to the NBA championship is Barry. He was not only the Warriors best player during most of this stretch but also likely the league’s best small forward behind only John Havliceck. Barry was an incredible scorer who topped out at 35 PPG. He averaged 25 PPG for his career but his true gift was probably setting up teammates with pinpoint passes. His assist numbers, five or so a game, do not capture the truly brilliant passer he was for the Warriors.
Barry was a nearly transcendentally good player for all of his career till the very end, but only most of that incredible career was spent on the Warriors. Barry decided in 1967 after just two years in the blue and gold that he wanted to play for the Oakland Oaks of the ABA. The NBA had a rule in place that would prevent Barry from playing at all in the 1967-68 season unless it was for the Warriors. That same Warriors team had been to the finals lead by Barry just the previous season. Barry persuaded by a desire to play for his father in law, sat out the entire 1967-68 season. He proceeded to abandon the Warriors for the next five years.
Barry did ultimately return in 1972 and just three years later brought home the ultimate prize for the Bay. While with the Warriors Barry made 5 All NBA 1st Teams and 8 All Star teams and was consistently great in his way, but his way was a problem. He without fail rubbed teammates wrong, particularly black teammates. He was always the first to remind anyone how much better he was than them. That behavior didn’t just exist on the court either, Barry carried a smugness with him that never seemed to falter regardless of context.
Now you may be saying so what, if a guy can get 30 a night he deserves to be a little smug, and that’s fair. Michael Jordan famously never failed to let others know how great he was and he always backed it up. So did Barry. Jordan’s teammates absolutely adore him. It’s not hard to find glowing endorsements of the man Jordan was to have around. He was and is beloved- Barry not so much. On the other hand it’s really quite easy to find teammates who were willing to say negative things about Barry, and on the record.
There was no love lost between Barry and the men he went to war with and that’s very telling.
A.) About the kind of teammate Barry was
B.) Why a team that competed at a very high level only ever got one ring.
In 1978 Barry left the Warriors for a second time to join the Houston Rockets for his last two years, once again abandoning the only organization that he could have ever plausibly called home.
Barry gets a 1 on the Impact scale. Opposing fanbases definitely hated seeing him due to his prowess on the court, however his own fans never really identified with him. The league did not change its team building style to stop Rick Barry. In truth he had two contemporaries in Havlicek and West who arguably played a similar game and did it better. Finally he never connected with any teammates and that’s putting it lightly. For all those reasons he can not score any higher.
#2 Kevin Durant
Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. Durant is a basketball mercenary who played just three short seasons with the Warriors. Durant is going in ahead of Barry and Wilt. After critiquing the latter two for their time spent/loyalty to the franchise in question that may seem kind of strange. On top of which there will be a brand of sports fans out there that will be infuriated that Durant even got consideration for Top 3 spot in all time Warriors lore.
Based on the points system the Top 3 Warriors of all time are Curry (47) Barry (35) and Durant (31). That means that in less than half the time Durant accomplished roughly 90% of what Rick Barry did. That has to be considered. When Barry’s poor relationship with fans, his abysmal relationship with the actual team and the fact that he left not once but twice is accounted for it is clear who did more wrong by the team.
Many Warriors fans felt blindsided by Durant when he left in 2019- however, they probably shouldn’t have. While it always hurts a fanbase to see a player leave — in Durant’s case the hints were fairly abundant — and again he only left once. Durant is like the fun fling that you could see yourself falling for, but ultimately ends in heartbreak. Barry is the person who broke your heart once, swore he could change, and married you. A few years down the road after the two of you established a life together they decide the change just didn’t stick. Poof they’re gone again. Which sounds easier to deal with?
In three years Durant was the best player on two Warriors title teams. He hoisted two Finals MVP’s to prove this. His lowest PER (24.2) with the Warriors is better than Barry’s best PER (23.5) with the Warriors. He made the All Star team all three years. He also made either the 1st or 2nd All-NBA team all three years. Durant squared off against LeBron James in the Finals twice and at least once was the absolutely better player.
Durant’s legacy as a Warrior is hindered by the brevity of his stay and the fact that he joined what many already considered a super team. Durant is redeemed only by the back-to-back Finals MVP’s and the fact that while he was indeed a mercenary he is beyond a shadow of a doubt the greatest mercenary in NBA history. It’s not often (or ever for that matter) that a player joins a 73 win team and is immediately the best player in town. Given the current player empowerment culture that has overtaken the league it is likely we will have to get used to the idea that a player that is with a team for a shorter period can be one of their greatest of all time.
Durant scores a 3 on the impact scale. Other fanbases absolutely despised him, but nowhere near as much as they feared him. The entire league changed the way they played to try to stop the 2017-19 Warriors. Some franchises did what hadn’t been done since the age of Jordan and simply threw up their hands. They elected to wait this Warriors team out and try again when this particular storm had passed.
Durant gave birth to the term “Death Line Up.” A 5 man line up that included Curry, Thompson, Green and Andre Iguodala. That qualifies as changing how people view basketball. Since then every team has tried to unlock their own “Death Line Up” but no one has or likely will succeed the way the Warriors did with Durant. In the end though Durant loses points for how he left things. For fighting with Green during a nationally televised game. For leaving his teammates in the dark for a whole season. Finally for the sour taste he left in the mouths of fans worldwide. Still, the greatness Durant and this team achieved is undeniable and earns him the number 2 spot.
The Greatest Warrior of all time
#1 Steph Curry
There is no reasonable debate that can be levied that Curry is not the greatest Warrior of all time. He is a full 12 points ahead of 2nd place on the points scale, and he is far from done adding points. After four decades of Warrior misery punctuated only briefly by 2007’s “We Believe Warriors,” Curry appeared as a light at the end of the tunnel.
As early as 2013 a feisty young Warriors team led by Curry was giving the finals bound San Antonio Spurs, nearly all they could handle. Curry had a ring, back-to-back MVP’s and had put up one of the most insane PER’s (31.5) of all time by the end of 2016. On the court the man was (is) undeniable.
Off the court Curry was just as much a sensation. In all the ways that Barry had failed- Curry excelled. Beloved by all fans — particularly young ones — Curry helped to usher a younger generation into a love for basketball. He refused to be anything but fun. Circus shots that went in, fancy dribble moves and mouth guard that just could not would not stay in his mouth all became signatures to the Curry charm. He aroused jealousy in James, the leagues reigning king. James undoubtedly felt his popularity diminished by Curry’s rise. When Durant — an MVP in his own right — and by most considerations a better player than Curry joined the team he found it impossible to wrestle even an equal amount of the fans love from Curry.
Curry is unassailable in the mind of almost every Warrior fan on this planet and that is because of what he means to this franchise. Even if the Warriors do eventually stumble upon a better player who spends many years in their jersey it will be very difficult to overtake Curry as the greatest player in Warriors history.
Curry absolutely gets a 5 on the Impact scale. He was the final piece it took to change the league completely to one of pace and space. He revolutionized the 3 point shot. A player without a 3 point shot is now hard to draft. Every team had to change their defense to accommodate for the guy who was taking 35 foot shots and making them with ease. His fan base adored him and so did other fanbases, until their team was staring down his barrel. Finally, his teammates did and do think he hung the moon. You won’t find folks saying anything negative about Curry.