The Retired Jersey Project is chugging along! (Read this if you need to catch up on the rules.)
The Golden State Warriors are a franchise I’ve been simultaneously reticent and gleeful to get to in this project. Gleeful because there’s such a rich history and reticent because that means I got a lot to write about.
On the positive side of the ledger, the Warriors have done a good retiring jerseys.
#13 Wilt Chamberlain
#14 Tom Meschery
#16 Al Attles
#17 Chris Mullin
#24 Rick Barry
#42 Nate Thurmond
However a good job isn’t a great job.
The Warriors have six players by my estimation who merit jersey retirement. And five of them are intricately connected to the franchise’s days in Philadelphia, which I imagine is the only “reasonable” excuse why it hasn’t happened yet for them.
(This also means we’re getting a banner for the Philadelphia Warriors days).
The sixth player is pretty inexcusable too. A swingman who spent a decade with the team in its California days and was part of their 1975 title team.
As usual stats/accolades mentioned pertain to a player’s time with the franchise.
JERSEYS TO RETIRE
#5 Guy Rodgers (1958-1966)
Hall of Fame—4x All-Star
Guy Rodgers really couldn’t shoot straight, but boy could he pass and dribble a basketball. Few players of the late-1950s and 1960s could set a teammate up like Rodgers. It’s basically Bob Cousy and Oscar Robertson as the only guys you could plausibly argue were better at the task in this era.
True to his passing instincts, Rodgers is still the Warriors’ all-time leader in total assists (4855) almost 55 years after he played his last game for the club. Stephen Curry is likely to pass him soon in that category though.
Even more laudable is that Rodgers averaged 8.3 APG for the Warriors in an era where assists were legitimately hard to come by. Statisticians were grumps on handing out those dimes. So legit kudos to Rodgers for being just the second player in NBA history (after the Big O) to average 10+ APG for a season. He met the mark in 1963 averaging 10.3 APG.
In 1966, his final season with the franchise, Rodgers averaged 10.7 APG to lead the NBA and set a single-season mark that’s yet to be topped by any other Warrior.
#6 Neil Johnston (1951-1959)
Hall of Fame—NBA Champion—4x All-NBA 1st Team—All-NBA 2nd Team—6x All-Star
This dude is the most forgotten about great center in NBA history. He led the NBA in PPG three consecutive seasons. He also grabbed three FG% crowns, albeit not consecutively. And he secured a rebounding title in 1955.
The other players in NBA history to lead the league in PPG, RPG, and FG%?
Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That’s it. That’s the list.
Problem was that Johnston’s domination came in between the reigns of George Mikan and Bill Russell. Plus Wilt Chamberlain showed up in Philadelphia the season after Johnston retired due to a knee injury, so his pivot work in Philly was quickly overshadowed by the titanic Big Dipper.
Despite the relative brevity of his peak (six seasons), Johnston is fourth in franchise history in win shares (92.0) and second in WS/48 with a ridiculous .241. Not bad for a player who stumbled into pro basketball after a failed career as a minor league baseball pitcher.
#10 Joe Fulks (1946-1954)
Hall of Fame—BAA Champion—3x All-BAA 1st Team—All-NBA 2nd Team—2x All-Star
Joe Fulks was the BAA’s superstar.
Forget the FG%. Forget the lack of passing. Forget the afterthought-defense. Joe Fulks was a superstar.
He led the Warriors to the BAA title in 1947 with torrential scoring. He dropped 63 points in a regular season game shattering the previous BAA/NBL records. And was one of the tiny… TINY… handful of players to score 20+ PPG in the 1940s. Between the BAA and NBL in the 1940s, only Fulks, Mikan, and Bob McDermott surged over the 20 PPG barrier.
#11 Paul Arizin (1950-1952; 1954-1962)
Hall of Fame—NBA Champion—3x All-NBA 1st Team—All-NBA 2nd Team—10x All-Star
Paul Arizin was a rarity.
A small forward who led the NBA in PPG and FG%. In the same season no less. That magical 1951-52 season for Arizin augured a great career. It was interrupted by two years of military service, though. When Arizin returned to the NBA in 1954, he practically hadn’t missed a beat. In 1956 he and Johnston led the Warriors to the NBA title. In 1957 he led the league in scoring once again. And in 1962, alongside Wilt Chamberlain, Arizin nearly led the Warriors back to the Finals.
His powerhouse scoring came via the age-old set-shot, but also from his awkward but effective variant of the jumper. Furthermore he drove to the basket like mad and three times averaged 10 FTAs per game. He was the linchpin of the Warriors franchise during its Philly years being the only player to suit up with every single Philadelphia-era Warrior with either their jersey retired or recommended retired.
And he trails only Wilt Chamberlain in win shares in the franchise’s history.
#15 Tom Gola (1955-1962)
Hall of Fame—NBA Champion—All-NBA 2nd Team—3x All-Star
When Draymond Green made his ascension to jack-of-all-trades stardom back in 2015, I couldn’t help but think of Tom Gola.
If Arizin, Johnston, and Chamberlain were resolute scorers, Gola did pretty much everything else. At 6’6” he rebounded superbly, passed slickly, and hunkered down on defense. He was the ultimate “gap filler” able to slide up and down the lineup fulfilling pretty much any role needed.
His season-by-season ranks during his time with the franchise illustrate how he masterfully backed up his teammates. On most other teams, Gola would have been the leading rebounder and assistman, but playing beside Wilt and Rodgers makes that a tough order. Gola was an auxiliary star in the best sense.
#23 Jeff Mullins (1966-1976)
NBA Champion—3x All-Star
Jeff Mullins unfortunately is the greatest Golden State Warrior that time forgot. During his five-season apex (1968-1972), Mullins averaged 21.2 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.8 APG, .461 FG% and .824 FT%. He was the Warriors’ go-to scorer in this period where they reached the Western Division Finals once and the semi-finals three other times.
The overall problem here though is that Rick Barry ditched the Warriors for the ABA in the summer of 1967, right after the Warriors had reached the NBA Finals. This opened the door for Mullins to have his larger role, but also undermined the Warriors’ ceiling of success.
The 1972-73 season gave a glimpse of what could have been when Barry rejoined Mullins and Nate Thurmond. “Pork Chop,” as Mullins was affectionately known, saw his PPG dip to 17.8, but he shot a career-high .493 from the field as he and Barry were a double dose of trouble for opponents. The Warriors again reached the West Finals. But it was ultimately too little too late, at least for Mullins and Thurmond.
Nate the Great got traded to Chicago before the 1974-75 season and Mullins was demoted to the bench. But that means Jeff was at least around for the Warriors finally winning the NBA title in ‘75. He averaged 8.1 PPG on 488 FG% that postseason. Certainly not the best production of his career, but great stuff off the bench.
Besides, he deserved a ring after nearly a decade with the Warriors and carrying the franchise when the self-described “basketball Gypsy” Barry decided to go roaming.
Stop! Banner Time
As you might have noticed from the suggested jerseys to retire, the Warriors’ Philly days were pretty good. They won a BAA title in 1947 and an NBA title in 1956. Between Joe Fulks, Paul Arizin, Neil Johnston, and Wilt Chamberlain, a Warrior seemingly always led the league in scoring.
And this operation all got started thanks to Eddie Gottlieb in 1946. A veteran of professional basketball’s ins and outs, primarily through the Philadelphia South Hebrew Association basketball team (SPHAs), Gottlieb brought a tireless ethic to the Warriors—first as their coach and manager, later as owner.
He mined Philadelphia schools for talent. He went so far as to use a territorial pick on Chamberlain when the Big Dipper had just graduated high school. And he was willing to wait four years before getting Chamberlain. The NBA closed that loophole thereafter.
Anyhoo, like many of the NBA’s early owners, by the early 1960s Gottlieb realized he was out of his financial depths and sold the club. In 1962, they left Pennsylvania for the California Bay Area.
Here are some Philadelphia-era standouts to honor on the banner in addition to Arizin, Attles, Chamberlain, Fulks, Gola, Johnston, Tom Meschery, and Rodgers, who all already have their jerseys retired (or should have their jerseys retired).
#17 Jack George (1953-1959) — 2x All-Star; longtime point man who held the backcourt in check during the Warriors 1956 title run.
#9 Joe Graboski (1953-1961) — the frontline muscle with Arizin and Johnston who was good for a double-double almost every night during his pek, even if he couldn’t shoot straight.
#7 Andy Phillip (1950-1952) — Hall of Fame; All-NBA 2nd Team; 2x All-Star; obviously didn’t spend much time with the Warriors, but racked up two APG crowns while at it.
#8 George Senesky (1946-1954) — The franchise’s first point guard and helped them win the BAA title in 1947 as player, then transitioned to coach earning another title in 1956.