Golden State Sweeps the Mighty Bullets
It has been called the biggest upset in NBA finals history. In fact, the most telling indicator that nobody expected the Golden State Warriors to be in the finals was the fact that their home arena – Oakland Coliseum – was booked, forcing the league to get creative in scheduling the series as the Warriors crossed the Bay Bridge to play in Cow Palace in Daly City.
While the Warriors won their division, the two dominant teams that year were the defending Champion Boston Celtics and the Washington Bullets who both posted 60-22 records. When the Bullets beat the Celtics to go on to the finals, everyone expected a sweep – in fact the Bullets agreed to an unusual 1-2-2-1 schedule so they could wrap up the sweep at home. Everyone expected a sweep, but nobody thought it would be the Warriors who delivered it
- Coach Al Attles was heralded for makng a team that was greater than the some of its parts, as they had only one true superstar in Rick Barry who averaged 30.6 points per game. Rookie of the Year Jamal Wilkes was second in scoring with 14.2 per game.
- The Warriors-Bullets finals was the first ever matchup between two African-American coaches for a major league championship and would not occur in football until the 2007 Super Bowl.
- Attles got into a slugging match with the Bullets’ bruiser Wes Unseld while trying to break up a fight between Mike Riordan and Rick Barry after a flagrant foul by Riordan.
- The Bullets, led by the great tandem of Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld, would return to the NBA finals in 1978 and 1979 splitting their two series against the Seattle Supersonics. They won the first series after being down 3-2, which prompted coach Dick Mota to famously say, “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”
Rick Barry: The Lonesome Legend
The Warriors star Rick Barry has to be the least-liked star of his era.
What bothers him isn’t that he’s not beloved. “It bothers me,” Barry says, “that I’m not even liked.”
. . . Barry averaged 30 or more points a game in four different seasons; only Chamberlain, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar attained that plateau. He was the best foul shooter in the history of the NBA, with a lifetime percentage of .900. No true forward ever had more assists. “He was Larry Bird before there was a Larry Bird,” says Al Menendez, director of player personnel for the New Jersey Nets. . . .
In sum, Barry was so good that he awed people. But he was so uncompromising that he antagonized them, too. He couldn’t understand why the game didn’t come as easily to others as it did to him. And for 15 years, in the NBA, the ABA, and on CBS he told them so—in private, in public and in no uncertain terms. He had no patience for mistakes, no tolerance for mediocrity. “He was such a perfectionist,” says Butch Beard, who played with and against Barry. “He wanted the game to be perfect. And when it wasn’t, he would jump all over you. He didn’t mean it maliciously, but it could be very intimidating.”
You’ll never find a bunch of players sitting around talking about the good old days with Rick,” says Ken Macker, the Warriors’ executive vice-president. “His teammates and his opponents generally and thoroughly detested him.” . . . Another friend, the Spurs’ Billy Paultz, who played with Barry on the Nets and the Rockets, says, “If you got to know Rick you’d have realized what a good guy he was. But around the league they thought of him as the most arrogant guy ever. I couldn’t believe it. Half the players disliked Rick. The other half hated him.”
A Voice Crying In The Wilderness: Rick Barry has a problem. He would like people to regard him with love and affection, as they do Jerry West and John Havlicek. They do not.
Sports Illustrated (April 25, 1983)