Golden State? Ah, yes, Golden State. Consigned by experts to fourth place in the NBA Pacific Division even before the first dunk of the season, behind such powerhouses as Portland with Bill Walton ( Walton?). Glimpsed again, in a rather loftier position, with Rick Barry headed for a super year even for him. Noted still later, when playoff time finally arrived, disposing of Seattle in six games and then Chicago in seven. Looked good as well as lucky there, but of course the next event on Golden State's calendar was a thrashing at the hands of whichever bully-boy team emerged from the Eastern playoffs.
And suddenly last week, there were the Warriors dismantling the overwhelmingly favored Washington Bullets and winning the whole thing, with everyone scrambling to figure out where they had come from. "Like the phoenix," said Golden State owner Franklin Mieuli, "we have risen from the ashes."
"I guess no one took us very seriously," allowed Alvin Attles, the Golden State coach.
How could anyone? Take the first game when the Bullets were playing poorly but still leading by 14 points at halftime. No sweat, said Attles. He reached for his bench and began sending in players of conspicuous anonymity: Phil Smith, Charles Dudley and Derrek Dickey. "They've got to be kidding," said the Bullets as they were being taken in by the joke 101-95.
Last year, Dudley, a guard, was doing graduate work at the University of Washington and playing in pickup games at the gym. The Warriors drafted him in 1972, then waived him, and he signed with Seattle, where he was cut after 12 games. Smith is a rookie guard from the University of San Francisco. Dickey is a second-year forward out of Cincinnati.
After the first game, in which Smith scored 20 points in 31 minutes, a Washington reporter cornered him in the locker room and demanded, "Who are you?"
"Who are you? I mean, if you had to introduce yourself to the American public what would you say?"
Smith thought. "Well, I'd say, 'Hi, I'm Phil Smith from the University of San Francisco.' "
The Bullets were embarrassed by the loss but not overly concerned. All week they had been reading that this would be the greatest mismatch in NBA playoff history. Can you believe Keith Wilkes, a rookie, trying to stop Elvin Hayes, and giving away three inches and 45 pounds to boot? And what could Center Clifford Ray do on the boards against both Hayes and Wes Unseld.