The Golden State Warriors are a tale of man’s duality. Over the decades of the franchise’s existence, the team has mastered sailing to the highest highs and lowest lows possible in the NBA. As you might expect, this complicates the exercise of ranking their greatest players–with such a high degree of talent engraved in the team’s history, Bay Area legends like Jason Richardson, Monta Ellis, and Mitch Richmond, and more all have to see the cutting room floor.
To complicate things further, one also has to wrestle with what makes a player great. Is greatness composed of a player’s peaks, longevity, success, statistical efficacy, or the embrace of the organization? Which one of those should be prioritized as a tiebreaker? To that end, I tried to center this list around the greatest *Warriors* of all time, not necessarily the best players. Tenure, team success, individual success with the team, and locker room value all rank as paramount factors for the list–and players are only considered in their capacity as a Warrior (this means things like Wilt Chamberlain’s two titles with the Lakers are virtually a non-factor for this list). With that in mind, let’s head into the list and meet the eight greatest Golden State Warriors that history has to offer:
I mean, what else is there to say? Curry isn’t just the Warriors’ best player, he’s a franchise-defining icon. While his resume may not stand up to the absurdity of Wilt Chamberlain’s career (more on him in just a second), Curry led several contenders for the best team of all time, posted arguably the two most efficient offensive seasons ever, and of course, melted minds and basketball structures with his flamethrower shooting.
More than that, the unanimous MVP accomplished something no other member of this list could–he put the Dubs on the map. For the 40 years between their 1975 and 2015 title, the Warriors were absolutely humiliated by the rest of the NBA. Having grown up in San Francisco, I remember when it felt like a miracle of biblical proportions that the team managed to grab an eight seed. Only with Curry’s magic could the Golden State Warriors transform into a perennial contender, not to mention an internationally beloved team worth more than almost any other professional sports franchise.
Slotting Chamberlain here feels icky, and not in the way that you might expect. Though Wilt’s career is hands-down the most statistically impressive in Warriors, if not basketball history, he didn’t accomplish much of note in the way of winning with the Dubs. Believe it or not, Wilt won only one Finals game in his time with Blue and Gold, far fewer than most others who can lay claim to contendership to a franchise’s best player. Moreover, young Chamberlain was a notorious pain in the rear end, both off the court, where he forced his way out of the organization, and on it, where he’d pull stunts like abandoning all aggression out of fear of fouling out.
Still, averaging 50 points per game in a season speaks for itself. Putting up 100 points in a game speaks for itself. Seasons upon seasons where 20+ boards in a contest was routine speak for themselves. It would be idiotic to slot Wilt any lower, but that doesn’t mean his antics should be ignored.
Speaking of antics, Barry slots in as one of the most difficult, yet brilliant, players in franchise history. Unlike Chamberlain, Barry was able to lead the Golden State Warriors to a championship in the 1970’s–and may have led them to several more if he didn’t blow up his relationship to his teammates and the team in spectacular fashion in an infamous meltdown against the Phoenix Suns in ‘76. Barry was flagrantly difficult to get along with as a teammate and person–the dude once claimed to have punched a nun.
However, I am not exaggerating when I claim that Barry functioned as a prototype for Larry Bird– a 6’7” forward, he’s one of three Warriors to average over 30 points in a season with his unparalleled craftiness off the dribble, combined with futuristic playmaking and a knack for poking the ball loose. He may lay claim to the greatest age 30 season of all time, posting 30.6 points per game, along with 5+ boards and assists and 3.3 stocks (steals + blocks) to boot. Moreover, Barry’s lone title was an absolute carry job. The lone All-Star on the team, Barry put up an all-timer of a postseason performance playing alongside historical footnotes and a rookie Jamaal Wilkes.
Easily the most underrated Warrior of all time, it was difficult to not put Thurmond higher on this list. The landscape of 1960’s bigs is often thought of through the lens of Chamberlain Bill Russell, but Thurmond was the only center that was able to consistently shut the two of them down. Seriously, the guy was the first player to hold Wilt scoreless, not to mention joining him as one of the only players to post a season with 20 points and rebounds per game . Nate the Great is one of the greatest rim protectors of all time; while blocks weren’t tracked over the majority of his career, the dude put up 2.9 blocks per game as a 32 year-old. Not too shabby.
Unlike the last two members of the list, Thurmond was also a class act off the court. He reprimanded teammates for dressing too casually for charity events, never dunked the ball as a way to avoid showing off, and has multiple public service awards named in his honor. Boasting over a decade with the Golden State Warriors, Thurmond is one of the team’s most beloved players and is more than deserving of his spot on this list.
I can’t justify putting him any lower. Longevity matters a great deal to me, but KD’s peak as a Warrior is just too good–probably unmatched by Thurmond and even Barry, let alone those on the list below him. Durant’s scoring efficiency on the Dubs was nothing short of outrageous, but his growth as a playmaker and defender fueled him to heights that saw him outplay the NBA’s second greatest player not once, but twice in the NBA Finals.
As a team member, I actually think Durant gets a little too much slack. Say what you’d like about the attitude he brought to the locker room, his explosive exit from the team, or his decision to join the Warriors in the first place, KD should garner credit for buying into Steve Kerr’s system despite finding success as an isolation player in Oklahoma City.
One could make the case that as a whole, Mullin’s career gets a tad overrated–for a player who’s in the Hall of Fame, has his number in the Chase Center rafters, and is generally regarded as one of the franchise’s all-time greats, his resume doesn’t have the pop you’d expect. Only a five-time All-Star, Mullin spent several of his prime years sidelined by injuries, meaning the Brooklyn native only spent about four years as one of the league’s best players.
Still, his tenure with the Warriors is borderline untouchable. In a decade defined by guards (MJ, Clyde, Stockton) and bigs (Olajuwon, Robinson, Malone, Ewing), Mullin stood with Scottie Pippen as one of the league’s premier players on the wing. To that end, Mully was invited onto the infamous 1992 Olympic ‘Dream Team’–being included on the greatest collection of players ever assembled has to count for something, right? Besides, ask any NBA player from the ’90s and they’d tell you he belongs much, much higher on a list like this.
While it may shock people to see Green listed above the likes of Klay Thompson and Tim Hardaway, I stand absolutely firm in my conviction that #23 belongs on the list of history’s greatest Warriors. For as much as Stephen Curry was the Warriors’ offensive system, Green was the heart and soul of the team–and an equal part of building that same system some basketball analysts like to attribute to Curry. The advent of fielding five above average passers at the same time would’ve been impossible without Draymond’s brilliant playmaking, recent emphasis on switching would be laughable if not for Green’s ability to guard 1-5, and of course, the advent of small-ball probably doesn’t exist without Green’s sheer tenacity at the center position. While the Warriors might still be the Warriors with a different shooting guard, there’s no way they reach the heights of the 2010’s without the Saginaw, MI native.
This decision was downright brutal. You could go all kinds of ways for this spot–old school fans would probably give the nod to Tim Hardaway, If you’re really old school, Al Attles gets the nod here for his blend of toughness on the court and his beloved tenure as a member of the organization–though if you’re going off sentimentality, you could easily throw in a member of the We Believe team (it kills me to leave Baron Davis off the list, but here I am). Really though, the choice is pretty clear.
While one of the best Warriors of all time, Thompson would undoubtedly top the list of the most fun players in franchise history. On the court, his heat checks are unparalleled, potentially even by the likes of his fellow Splash Brother, but his consistent defensive effort and underspoken but effective post play ensure that Klay is a consummate entertainer regardless of where a possession goes. Thompson’s antics are also legendary–the dude’s deadpan humor has led to him signing a toaster, cruising the Bay alongside his bulldog, and commenting on scaffolding in a New York City newscast, just to name a few. Klay is as beloved as any other Warrior on this list, and for that, along with ten years with the organization (as opposed to someone like Hardaway, who was only a Warrior for five seasons), lands him the final spot.
Take care until the next one, and just remember: Oracle Arena forever.
All images provided by AP Photo.
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