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Former Warriors coach Don Nelson jokes that small ball came about because he never had a good big man

Don Nelson

The present iteration of Golden State Warriors changed the league forever. By bombing away from three, pushing the pace, and switching across five positions without negative recourse, Steve Kerr’s team not only sparked an ongoing dynasty but introduced a style of play that’s taken basketball by storm. Over a decade earlier, Don Nelson was doing something similar.

Unlike his Warriors predecessor, though, the Hall-of-Fame coach was pressed into playing small by a lack of viable big men – or at least that’s what he said on Thursday at Oracle Arena, flanked by former players Jason Richardson and Stephen Jackson.

Quick, someone check on Andris Biedrins.

Before the current iteration of the Warriors rose to prominence, the last time Bay Area basketball fans were whipped into a frenzy by the Warriors came during Nelson’s second stint with the club, in 2006-07 and 2007-08. The “We Believe” Warriors, as they’ve come to be commonly known, beat the top-seeded and championship-favorite Dallas Mavericks 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs, routinely employing a five-out look that left Avery Johnson’s comparatively lumbering squad running ragged.

Golden State’s long-shot title hopes were dashed one round later by the Utah Jazz, but not before Baron Davis unleashed a poster dunk that will forever live in basketball lore.

Golden State failed to live up to heightened expectations the following season, going 48-34 but missing the playoffs after the Denver Nuggets secured the eight seed in the Western Conference by winning 50 games. Still, the imprint “We Believe” left on the league remained, and lives on some 12 years later as the modern-day Warriors – with their vaunted death lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green – try to win an unprecedented fourth championship in five seasons.