The Golden State Warriors: A 20-year turn from the lowest lows to NBA’s highest ever heights

Jonathan Raymond chronicles journey of the Golden State Warriors from their late-90s ebb to completing the NBA's best regular season on Wednesday night at 73-9.

Confetti falls after the Golden State Warriors beat the Memphis Grizzlies 125-104 for their NBA record 73rd win on Wednesday night in Oakland, California. Jeff Chiu / AP / April 13, 2016
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Almost 20 years ago, at their turn-of-the-century nadir and when Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls were at their height, the Golden State Warriors went through a four-year stretch (1997-2001) in which they won 76 games, total.

On Wednesday, they won their 73rd game of this season.

It is impossible to overstate the transformation of this franchise, from what it was and historically has been, and what is has become. From one of the NBA’s consistently worst organisations to emerging as one of its greatest dynasties.

From their first season in California after moving from Philadelphia, 1962/63, to 2012/13, across 50 years they won a lone title (1975) and missed the play-offs 34 times. That includes a near-unthinkable stretch from 1994-2012 in which they missed the post-season in 17 of 18 years, in a league where half the teams are admitted to the play-offs every season.

For 30 years, from 1982-2012, then won 1,025 games. They lost 1,469.

Read more: NBA MVP – Stephen Curry will win it, but who is No 2? (Draymond Green, maybe?)

Also see: Stephen Curry and Golden State Warriors win NBA record 73rd game – in pictures

Generations grew up with the Warriors as bad. Occasionally fun – the Run TMC era of the late 80s/early 90s, the brief glory of the ‘We Believe’ team who upset the top-seeded Mavericks in the 2007 play-offs – but by and large and with only rare interruption, bad.

They will, almost certainly, be bad again. But now they are marked with an indelible greatness.

The journey is only half-way complete, and the American sports psyche has little respect for regular-season accomplishments that aren’t accompanied by a championship (see the 2001 Seattle Mariners in baseball, or 2007 New England Patriots in football), but nonetheless 73 wins represents something undeniable.

It is, at the very least, a validation of last season’s title. Even if the Warriors go on to lose to the San Antonio Spurs or some other team in the coming two months, Stephen Curry and the Golden State team of a year ago have proven they were no fluke. There is no gimmickry to what we have witnessed in Oakland the last 18 months.

And if they go on to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy again, as would seem likely, 73 wins lays the foundation for the argument the 2015/16 Warriors are, indeed, the greatest team of all time (not, of course, that it would settle the debate).

As early as November, just weeks into the season, it was already possible to see them marching down this path. They staggeringly won their first 24 games, and from there set their sights on this mark.

They did not shy from it. They acknowledged wanting it. They fought for it.

"If we have an opportunity at the end of the season to go get it, we should go get it," Stephen Curry said in January. "Because that's a huge record most people thought could never be broken."

It sure didn’t seem like it, 20 years ago, when Jordan’s Bulls comparatively smashed the previous record, 69 wins (‘71/72 Lakers).

And 20 years ago, the Warriors could not have seemed farther from being the team that could do it.

But here we are, and Draymond Green can say something like, “I’m part of the best team ever,” as he did after win No 73.

We have the President of the United States offering the Warriors – the Golden State Warriors – a congratulatory tweet. We have Michael Jordan himself issuing a laudatory statement that acknowledges "the game of basketball is always evolving and records are made to be broken".

We should probably remember this moment and soak up its significance, because it’s not likely to come around again.

But then again who knows, maybe in 20 years the Philadelphia 76ers will be celebrating 74-8. It is just as likely as what has come to pass today once was.

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