'We Believe,' Vinsanity and Steph from the tunnel: Tales of Oracle Arena

The Warriors franchise has won four NBA titles since moving to the Bay Area, but only three -- 2015, 2017 and 2018 -- have been played inside the walls of Oracle Arena. And for that, we can thank Big Bird.

Back in 1975,the booking of the Ice Follies, a skating show starring Sesame Street characters,forced the championship series between Golden State and the Washington Bullets to shift Games 2 and 3 to the Cow Palace in nearby Daly City. It didn't stop Finals MVP and Hall of Famer Rick Barry from sweeping for the title.

But during its 47-year run as home of the Golden State Warriors, Oracle has still played host to more than its fair share of history.

As the current-dayWarriorsget ready to embark on their final postseason quest before moving across the bay to San Francisco's Chase Center, we're paying tribute to the oldest -- and arguably the loudest -- arena in the league.From NBA Finals battles to historic upsets and the crowning of a dunk icon,Oracle has been the site of some of the league's most unforgettable moments.

The upset -- and the chair -- heard 'round the world

Dirk Nowitzki thinks he did the damage with a chair, but maybe it was a trash can. It's understandable that the details are hazy, considering it happened during a fit of rage at perhaps the lowest point of his career, ranking right down there with theDallas Mavericks' NBA Finalscollapse the previous season.

Whatever he threw, it was a heck of a heave in the wake of the "We Believe" Warriors eliminating the 67-win Mavs in Game 6 of the first-round Western Conference playoff series in 2007. But it probably didn't hit the intended target, considering how bad Nowitzki's aim was that night, when he went 2-of-13 from the floor to wrap up the worst playoff series of his career. It was the first 8-over-1, best-of-seven upset in NBA history.

The memory is immortalized, for now, high on the wall across from the Oracle Arena visitors' locker room. The Warriors plan to cut out that section of the wall and showcase it in Chase Center.

That hole, in part due to the big German's good nature, has become part of the Oracle legacy. Years later, Nowitzki signed a piece of plexiglass that covers the hole, and the Warriors tacked a bright yellow "WE BELIEVE" T-shirt above it.

"There's nothing I can do about it now but embrace it," said Nowitzki, who was named the NBA's MVP days after that series ended. "It was part of my career, part of my history. I always say without these [playoff] losses in '06 and '07 back-to-back, I wouldn't have been the player I was in '11 to close the whole deal.

"This is part of my journey. It was brutal and tough to go through, but I grew from it a lot."

The Warriors wisely waited until Nowitzki had earned a championship ring before asking for his autograph.

The Mavs' title run ensured that the misery of the Mavs' abbreviated 2007 postseason was a footnote in Nowitzki's career, not the defining moment.

"That's why I signed it with a smile in my face," Nowitzki said. "If I hadn't won [a title], I probably would have said, 'Get the hell outta here with that.'"

-- Tim MacMahon

Steph Curry from deep ... in the tunnel

Stephen Curry's tunnel shots have become a unique part of the Oracle experience through the Warriors' journey to three titles in four years. So much so that when Warriors coach Steve Kerr gives tickets to his friends, many of them have a similar question.

"I have friends who -- I get them tickets to the game -- they go, 'What time can I get in and what time does Steph do his shooting drills?' I've never heard of that before. Nobody's ever asked me, 'What time is somebody warming up?' But people now, my guests, my visitors, are coming an hour early to see Steph warm up."

Curry's pregame shooting prowess has become one of the game's highlights in any arena he performs in, but it's the tunnel shots, on his way back to the Warriors' locker room, that fans seem to take particular joy in. The shot, which Curry shoots from the tunnel that takes Warriors players from the locker room to the floor, is set up by a pass from longtime Oracle security guard Curtis Jones. Curry isn't sure exactly when the tradition started, but he takes pride in the way it has grown.

"I think it was around 2013-14," Curry said recently, while adding that it was actually a former teammate, Monta Ellis, who came up with the original idea.

"Monta started it," Curry said. "We used to have shootarounds there and he'd do it before he left shootaround. After that, we didn't have shootarounds anymore at Oracle, so we went there for games. I think I had a bet with a front-office guy, just messing around one day and it kind of became an every game thing and then it evolved to Curtis being involved. The rest is history."

Kerr can think of only one comparison for what Curry has perfected in the art of the tunnel shot.

"Kevin Love, when he was at UCLA, used to make shots from right here," Kerr said, pointing to the far corner of the court. "From the corner of one side of the court, all the way -- 94 feet. He would do it every game, before every NCAA game or practice. And he'd usually make one. What he did back then, I've never seen anybody do it. How strong do you have to be?"

Sadly, the days of the tunnel shot appear to be numbered. With a different setup in Chase Center, Curry knows the shot will likely fade away with the Oracle building itself -- but he is confident he will come up with something new for fans in his new basketball home.

"I think geometrically speaking it's not likely," Curry said of continuing the tunnel shots at Chase Center. "Because of where the entrance to the new arena is, but I'll probably get creative with something."

-- Nick Friedell

When Vinsanity saved the dunk contest

Vince Carter has enjoyed a wealth of accolades during his 20-year NBA career: eight All-Star appearances, more than 1,400 games played and more than 25,000 points scored -- and don't forget that he began his career as 1998-99 Rookie of the Year.

But when the 42-year-old finally unlaces his sneakers, he might reflect most fondly on arguably the greatest dunk contest performance in NBA history at Oracle Arena in 2000.

"I didn't know I would become a star player that night," Carter told ESPN's The Undefeated. "Prior to it, I wasn't a star player. I was [a high] pick. But after that night, my life changed."

Carter wasn't the only notable dunker in the final event of NBA All-Star Saturday, either. Raptors swingman and Carter's cousin, Tracy McGrady, Houston Rockets guard Steve Francis and Philadelphia 76ers guard Larry Hughes were also among the contestants.

After years of lackluster events, the sold-out crowd was hoping for a night that would make Dr. J, MJ and The Human Highlight Film proud. Well, they ended up getting that from a budding star who would later earn two nicknames of his own: "Vinsanity" and "Half-Man, Half-Amazing."

Carter first drew the roar of the crowd and a camcorder-holding Shaquille O'Neal with a 360 dunk. On his third dunk, Carter caught an alley-oop, put the ball through his legs, dunked and then pointed at the sky after landing on the hardwood. With contest judge Isiah Thomas standing up with his arms to the sky in amazement, Carter looked into a television camera and said those now-iconic words:

"It's over."

It was over as Carter also wowed the crowd with a dunk in which he flushed his forearm into the rim. The crowd was confused until they saw the memorable slam on the Jumbotron replay. Carter went on to beat Francis easily in the finals in perhaps the greatest slam dunk performance ever.

No, Carter didn't play for the Warriors and nothing that night counted toward the standings. But when it comes to greatest basketball moments in Oracle Arena history, Vinsanity in this vintage venue has to be viewed as one of the greatest.

-- Marc J. Spears

LeBron James, the visitor

The plastic tarp covering the floor had pools of liquid making it slippery, and it almost caused the guard who ambled across it to wipe out. He was yelling a command, but there was no way it was going to be obeyed even if it could've been heard above the din.

"Please put out the cigars, there's no smoking allowed in the building," he pleaded.

It was no use. A handful of Cleveland Cavaliers players had lit up, and smoke was wafting as champagne sprayed in all directions in the visitors' locker room at Oracle Arena.

Along the back wall, the door to the coach's office was open and blocked with bodies. Then-Cavs coach Tyronn Lue towered above them, standing on the desk and reaching up into the ceiling where he'd hidden an envelope with more than $5,000 six days earlier. It was a motivational move after the team had won Game 5. Everyone in the traveling party had put up $100 to be reclaimed when they came back for Game 7.

LeBron James stood in front of his locker, the last one on the corner, and hugged teammate after teammate. That room -- just inside the north loading dock to the left -- has been one of the most transformational places in James' long career.

It's one of the most spacious visitor locker rooms in the league. A wide space with a high ceiling, plenty of room to spread out and celebrate as the Cavs did when they won the 2016 title.

Yet no place to hide when emotions are raw.

What a spread of emotions James had in this place. There was the night he celebrated in 2009 when he nailed a shot at the buzzer to beat the home team by one. Five years later he did it again, and sat in front of his locker and compared the two shots, move by move.

There was the silence in the space after Game 1 of the 2015 Finals when Kyrie Irving limped out of the trainer's room and told James his knee felt different than it ever had after he'd hurt it in overtime.

The same night he'd smoke and drink Moet in the locker room, James cursed at his coach and stormed out of the locker room after Lue had challenged him at halftime.

On a June night in 2017, James walked into the locker room arm-in-arm with Irving. Confetti was falling behind them, the Warriors celebrating a championship in front of their fans. A totally drained James put his hand on Irving's back and swore they'd both be back. They would not. Irving demanded a trade just a few weeks later.

Then there was last season. James entered the room as mad as he's ever been. He was incensed that a call had been reversed -- from him taking a charge to a blocking foul -- on a crucial possession. Then teammate JR Smith, with a chance to win the game, lost track of the score and dribbled out the clock. James was so angry he punched a dry-erase board, cracking a bone in his hand. The smell of the cigars was long gone.

The best of times, the worst of times. The tale of that room for James.

-- Brian Windhorst

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