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OAKLAND, Calif. – Even with an NBA Finals hat proudly on his head, his daughter Riley in his arms, and blue and white confetti falling over him, Stephen Curry was a little surprised that most of the Golden State Warriors fans were in no rush to go home with the team still four victories from winning a championship.
The Warriors knocked off the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference finals with a 104-90 victory in Game 5 on Wednesday night to advance to the NBA Finals. The Warriors' lone NBA championship was in 1975, and they can end the drought by beating LeBron James and the Eastern Conference-champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals. Considering it has been 40 long and frustrating years since the Warriors' last Finals appearance, Curry eventually realized why the fans so appreciated just getting back to the championship series.
"It's special, I think, for everybody and the Bay Area to be proud of this accomplishment," Curry told Yahoo Sports. "It was kind of a weird feeling to celebrate knowing we have four more wins to a championship. You want to be proud and you don't want to take for granted how hard it is to get to this point. But we got four more to go."
The Warriors celebrated their 40-year championship anniversary during a win over the Washington Wizards on March 23 with seven former players in attendance. Golden State swept the Washington Bullets in four straight games in the 1975 NBA Finals, led by Hall of Famers Rick Barry and Jamaal Wilkes.
The current Warriors were in the process of earning an NBA-best 67 regular-season wins at the time of the anniversary ceremony. The old champs passed on some words of wisdom to today's team that were not forgotten.
They "talked about the camaraderie of the team and what it took to win a championship and what it means 40 years later," Curry said. "And for us to just keep our head down, stay determined to work, and we can appreciate that feeling hopefully soon. It was a good inspiration for us."
The past 40 years were mostly very forgettable for the Warriors and their fans. The Phoenix Suns upset Golden State in the 1976 Western Conference finals in a seven-game series. And after that, the Warriors did not reach the conference finals until 39 years later with this team.
From 1977-2014, the Warriors made only nine playoff appearances and never advanced past the second round. There were 17 total head coaches, including P.J. Carlesimo, who was chocked during a practice in the 1997-98 season by then-Warriors star Latrell Sprewell.
On June 9, 1980, the Warriors traded center Robert Parish and the third pick in the draft (Kevin McHale) for the first pick in the draft to select Joe Barry Carroll. Parish and McHale went on to win three titles with the Celtics with Larry Bird and later became Hall of Famers. Carroll was a bust in Golden State who was often called "Joe Barely Cares" by media and fans.
Heralded prospect Chris Washburn, the third pick in the 1986 NBA draft, flamed out quickly because of drug use. The famed "Run TMC" Warriors of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin played together only two seasons and won only one playoff series. Chris Webber, the No. 1 pick in the 1993 NBA draft, was traded after one season and went on to five All-Star appearances. Joe Smith, the No. 1 pick in the 1995 NBA draft, never lived up to the hype.
Then-Warriors owner Chris Cohan was booed soundly at the 2000 NBA All-Star Game here. The "We Believe" Warriors led by Baron Davis upset the Dallas Mavericks to make it to the second round of the 2007 NBA playoffs. That accounted for the only playoff appearance from 1995-2012.
Warriors general manager Bob Myers, who is a life-long Warriors fan from nearby Danville, Calif., remembers the franchise's dark days.
"Growing up here it's pretty surreal," Myers told Yahoo Sports. "I'm excited for the people who have worked for the organization a long time and the fans. I walk around town and hear people say, 'I've been a Warriors fan for 20 years, 30 years.'
"If anybody deserves it, it's them. It's fulfilling to hear people say, 'Thank you.' A lot of people have been waiting a long time. We still hopefully can keep going and get four more [wins]."
Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob stood near midcourt taking in the scene long after the players departed with the 2015 Western Conference championship trophy. Shortly after buying the team on July 15, 2010, Lacob quickly promised that the Warriors would become a Western Conference power and put an NBA championship banner in the rafters at Oracle Arena.
"I said it to set some high goals and high standards, and I obviously believed we really could do it," said Lacob, who plans to move the Warriors to San Francisco in 2018. "I said, 'Why not us? Why not us?' We have great ingredients here. A great fan base. A great area we live in and a great arena. There was no reason why we couldn't do it and we did it."
Lacob was visibly shaken as Warriors fans booed him loudly during a jersey retirement ceremony for Mullin on March 20, 2012. Warriors fans were mad the Lacob regime had traded popular high-scoring guard Monta Ellis for talented-yet-oft-injured center Andrew Bogut. Lacob also took some criticism for firing head coach Mark Jackson last offseason after two straight playoff appearances and replacing him with rookie head coach Steve Kerr.
"Why dwell on the past?" Lacob said. "Let's move on. I want a championship."
The Warriors built this team through the draft and by making smart trades and free-agent moves. The Warriors' All-Star starting backcourt of Curry and Klay Thompson were draft picks, as were starting forwards Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green and key reserve center Festus Ezeli. The Warriors also traded for Bogut and forward David Lee and signed a marquee free agent in Andre Iguodala and a key contributor in Marreese Speights. Adding veteran guards Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa completed this talented, tight-knit team that dominated the NBA in the regular season.
Now, the Warriors have one more challenge left in winning the Finals to end their 40-year title drought.
"Obviously, none of us were old enough to be around for those older fans who were there for that last championship," Curry said. "Even just the new generation of the last 20 or so years, tough times."
Curry knows that once the Finals start, the focus will be on him, the NBA's Most Valuable Player, facing the player regarded as the world's best in James. James has two titles in five appearances and also has the challenge of ending Cleveland's 51-year streak without a major sports team title.
With the Warriors' own 40-year title drought in mind, Curry figures James and Cleveland can wait a little longer.
"That's crazy in itself," Curry said about facing James in the Finals. "He's a guy who has won two straight rings before and [reached] five straight Finals. He's an accomplished player who knows what to expect in the Finals. But he had to win his first one, and it's our time to take advantage of home court, the momentum we built and get it done."