As the Warriors vie for their fourth NBA championship in eight seasons, some 49ers legends can relate, and they’re doing so in awe.
“I have mad respect for all of them, because they don’t shortcut,” Ronnie Lott said in a phone interview Tuesday. “They leave it all on the court. We’ve all seen how they’ve done that.”
“To consistently win in that environment, it’s special,” Keena Turner added.
The Warriors resume their title hunt tonight, when they visit the Boston Celtics for Game 3 of an NBA Finals that’s tied at 1-1.
Lott is rooting for the Warriors’ core – Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala — to join an exclusive Bay Area club of players who’ve won four titles.
Lott and Turner are among five 49ers to play on the franchise’s first four Super Bowl-winning teams, from 1981 to ’89. Joe Montana, Mike Wilson and Eric Wright are the others. When the 49ers won the Lombardi Trophy a fifth time in 1995, that put offensive lineman Jesse Sapolu in the four-ring fraternity, too.
“There are so many reasons why four is better than three,” Lott said. “What does that mean? It might mean you’ll be in the Celtics’ club.”
By that, Lott referred to admiring the Bill Russell-led Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships from 1957-69.
“Some kid is sitting there right now going, ‘Wow, (the Warriors) are in that club,’ ” Lott said. “To do it the way it looks like they’re going to have to do it, to me, it’s going to be pretty special.”
Lott has had a long-time courtside seat amid this Warriors’ dynasty so he’s keen on what will decide this championship.
“The way that other team (Boston) is playing defense, it made me realize it’s going to be one of those series. You have to earn it,” Lott said. “Whoever earns it is going to have to really earn it. Nobody is laying down.”
When it comes to the 49ers of the 1980s and this era’s Warriors, there’s no need to debate which championship core is better — or will be more revered into eternity. The 49ers’ respect for these Warriors is cool and obvious.
“As big as any one of those guys are, they acquiesce to the group,” Turner said. “I’m in awe of them.”
Turner wants them to join the four-ring fraternity, to know what it’s like to be forever adored in this region, to rally together a community for a seemingly growing sport.
The 49ers’ first Lombardi Trophy came 40 years ago against Cincinnati, and it remains the highest-rated Super Bowl broadcast, with a 49.1-percent market share. Back then, San Francisco was reeling from the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, all while the AIDS epidemic spread.
Not to draw too many comparisons but, gun violence remains a dire issue, and health concerns (COVID) force media members to wear masks during NBA Finals interviews.
Montana and Steve Young both won their first Super Bowl rings at the start of their Pro Football Hall of Fame careers. Then they helped develop the next wave of stars, just as this Warriors group is doing.
“They feel like champions. That definitely rubs off on all of the new guys,” Lott said. “Who is their Charles Haley, their young guy that’s playing hard and giving extra rebounds and extra efforts. … You transition to a new group of people and teach them the essence of why we won and how we won.”
When this Warriors homegrown core captured its first championship in 2015, Curry was in his sixth season, Thompson in his fourth and Green in his second. Iguodala was a 12th-year veteran who arrived one season earlier.
“To perform at that level, with all the scrutiny and attention that we didn’t have to deal with,” Turner said. “What was our news cycle? It lasted seven days. They now last a minute.”
Both the 49ers’ and Warriors’ championship mainstays morphed from youngsters into veteran leaders. And when they were young, they had role models and mentors. Turner, a 1980 second-round pick, pointed to the veteran knowledge sprinkled onto the 1981 team by players such as Hacksaw Reynolds, Charlie Young, Keith Fahnhorst and Randy Cross.
The Warriors spoke recently of veteran leaders who assisted as their own future Hall of Famers were coming along. They also have a competitive coach with a magic touch in Steve Kerr, who’s deeply admired not just by Turner and Lott but also by 49ers owner Dr. John York.
“What’s fascinating to me is each person of that (Warriors) group understands what they bring to table and they try to exert it and see it every night,” Lott said. “You get a chance to see the best part of Draymond, of Klay, of Steph.
“The best part is their will to find a way to win, despite all the things that are going on. My point about that is the greatness of champions: you have to find a way to win in tough times. A lot of times we forget what that means. It’s valuable to know we can win a lot of different ways.”
Basketball runs so deep in Lott’s soul that, (1.), Playing hoops (and scoring one basket) on USC’s 1979-80 team was “bigger than playing in the Rose Bowl,” and, (2.) Attending the Warriors’ NBA Finals Game 7 loss to the Cavaliers in 2016 gave Lott that same “nasty feeling” as when the 1990 49ers’ three-peat bid ended on a New York Giants field goal in the NFC Championship Game, “because losing is so powerful.”
Lott’s advice: Seize the moment — and the championship, which would be No. 4 for the Warriors’ core four.
“My heart is with them,” Lott said.
Contributed by local news sources