In case you haven’t noticed, Bay Area sports fans have it just fine lately.
For the baseball crowd, it doesn’t get much better than the San Francisco Giants winning two World Series championships in three years. Led by potential Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy, the Giants erased years of mediocrity in the middle of the past decade with a combination of versatile talent and expert leadership.
For those who gravitate to the gridiron, this upcoming Sunday ought to be fun. That’s thanks to Jim Harbaugh, who traveled an hour north from Stanford and turned the San Francisco 49ers into arguably the best team in football in less than two years. A win on Sunday against the host Atlanta Falcons, and the Niners go to the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years.
The man who replaced Jim Harbaugh on The Farm, David Shaw, recently led his Cardinal to the team’s first Rose Bowl victory since 1972, or three years before the Golden State Warriors last won an NBA championship.
Which brings us to Mark Jackson, a splashy but completely unproven hire when Golden State brought him aboard in June of 2011. Jackson, who had never coached at any level prior to accepting the Warriors job, immediately preached defense, the aspect of the game most lacking under previous head coach Don Nelson.
“”I’m totally convinced that if you want to win in this league, then you have to defend,” Jackson said at the time. “It’s going to be a great challenge, and it’s going to start from Day 1.”
Fine words, but how much substance did they have at the time? The Warriors have appeared in the postseason just once in the last 18 years, and recently the main reason for that drought was a porous defense that simply could not stop any half way decent opponent. At the only Warriors game I attended in 2009, Golden State scored 130 points…and still lost to the Phoenix Suns by 24.
That’s the situation the new Warriors coach walked into. As was the case in Harbaugh’s first season as coach of the 49ers, Jackson’s initial campaign was hindered by a league-wide labor dispute, preventing him from working with his players until shortly before the actual season began. It was apparent from the start that the lockout had hurt the Warriors more than most teams, and a 23-43 record followed. Perhaps unfairly, Jackson was drawing more comparisons to Mike Singletary than he was to Harbaugh.
And yet, here we are, a little under halfway through the 2012-13 season, and the Warriors look like the team jackson promised they would be when he took over. Sure, some issues (difficulty closing games out and a lack of consistently strong post play) still linger, but Golden State is allowing under 100 points per game. For comparison, the nadir of Nelson’s tenure as coach, 2009-10, saw the Warriors finish last in the league in points allowed (12.4/g). That’s a big leap, and Jackson is making it happen by instilling his players with discipline and a better sense of what it takes to slow opponents down.
The Warriors aren’t close to an elite team, yet. You might even say they are no better than simply “good.” But like Giants, 49ers and Cardinal, they’re undoubtedly moving in the correct direction, and a lot of that has to do with Jackson. Because the NBA is an extremely top-heavy league, it might take longer for Jackson and Golden State to ascend to the heights that other Bay Area teams have enjoyed over the last several years, but if they continue on their current path, they’ll get there before too long.