NBA players often make statements out of step with their observable worth. We've seen it over and over, whether it involves Dion Waiters on the subject of the league's best backcourt or noted defensive slacker James Harden calling himself the best all-around player in the sport. No self-respecting pundit could make these claims, but high-level athletes often require that level of confidence to succeed. We cannot criticize them for believing something essential to their own professional survival.
But what do we do when one of those players retires and still says absurd things just a few years later? Stephen Jackson, co-leader of the "We Believe" Golden State Warriors from his trade from the Indiana Pacers in January 2007 until their dissolution in the 2008 offseason, says that group would have beaten this season's record-setting Warriors. Here's the offending video from Jackson's appearance on ESPN's "The Jump" alongside Rachel Nichols and Zach Lowe:
— Audible Sports (@AudibleSports) February 25, 2016
Jackson's claims are patently ridiculous. While the 2006-07 Warriors famously upset the 67-win Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, they won only 42 games overall and went 23-19 after Jackson and Al Harrington joined the club. (The 2007-08 team was noticeably better but failed to make the playoffs against tougher competition.) By contrast, the 2015-16 Warriors entered Thursday night's game in Orlando at 51-5 and remain on pace to top the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' all-time mark of 72 wins.
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For that matter, the specifics of the matchup clearly benefit the current team. Don Nelson turned the "We Believe" outfit into a genuinely revolutionary group at least partially responsible for the smallball craze of today's league. Regardless, the 2016 Warriors do everything they did at a higher level — they defend better with an even smaller lineup, move the ball to create better shots, and keep more consistent focus. The 2007 team was better at scoring off the dribble and would pose at least one very tough matchup with Baron Davis at his peak, but it's hard to see many other potential advantages.
Nevertheless, Warriors fans should take these comments differently than criticism of the era from Oscar Robertson and many others who claim that Golden State would be merely average in days of yore. Jackson is not just a random retiree — he was the second-best player and most vocal member of the most beloved incarnation of the Warriors in of the 20 years preceding this historically fantastic team. For that matter, Jackson earned the love of the fans in part because he believed himself and the team capable of unlikely feats. Bold statements are the legacy of a man who once said "I make love to pressure." To put it another way, criticizing Jackson for his historical ignorance is a similar show of disrespect in itself. They fail to recognize what he meant to the organization when success was all too rare.
Many long-suffering Warriors fans, including me, still love the "We Believe" team in a way we cannot feel towards a league-best group like the current one. Yes, Jackson's comments are silly and misguided. But they're chiefly a reminder of what made him, Baron, and the rest of that core so much fun.
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