A 4/20 Flashback to the ‘We Believe’-Era Golden State Warriors of Weed

From basketball to bud, former Warriors power forward Al Harrington is now a pot pro.

Somewhere out there, in a coronavirus-free alternate universe, this weekend marks the beginning of the NBA Playoffs. In our timeline, however, pro hoops are postponed indefinitely.

With 4/20 also upon us — and also cancelled — it’s a tough time to be a weed-loving Warriors fan. To satisfy all those jonesing for buds and basketball, we spoke to Al Harrington, a member of the 2007 Golden State Warriors “We Believe” team, about his time with the Dubs and how he’s now selling dub sacks (in the form of legal flower, prerolls, and concentrates) with his premium cannabis brand, Viola

Harrington was not even with the Warriors for one full season. But the few months he was here were among the most magical memories in franchise history. The losing team of misfits, who hadn’t made the postseason in 12 years, barely squeaked into the playoffs by winning their last game of the regular season. They then proceeded to beat that year’s winningest team, the Dallas Mavericks, to become the first eighth-seeded NBA playoff team to upset the No. 1 seed in a seven-game series.

The Cinderella team had a few unrepentant stoners. “Stephen Jackson for sure. Matt Barnes one thousand percent,” Harrington says in a recent interview with SF Weekly. “Those are the two guys who were most open about it.”

And they are even more open about it now that cannabis is legal. “All my best games I was medicated,” Barnes told Bleacher Report in 2018. “It wasn’t every single game. But in 15 years, it was a lot.”

Teammate Stephen Jackson blazed up before games too. “It’s been a couple games where I smoked before games and had great games. It’s been some games where I smoked before the game and was on the bench after three minutes,” Jackson laughed while telling ESPN, “I shot three shots that went over the backboard, I gotta be honest with you.”

The squad’s coach, Don Nelson, now retired and living in Hawaii, grows his own strain called Nellie Kush and has said publicly that he smokes pot every day. But Nelson didn’t use marijuana during the 2007 season, nor did Al Harrington, though many of his teammates did. “I enjoyed a cocktail. They enjoyed a blunt,” he tells us.

Nelson was no choirboy either. “During baseball season, he would come to practice with two beers, with his dog, a cigar in his mouth and say, ‘Hey, you guys run practice. I’m going to the ballgame,’” then-Warrior Jason Richardson told NBC Sports.

Harrington was used to playing on better teams than that. He made the playoffs in his first six years in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers. But on Jan. 17, 2007, the Pacers traded him and Jackson to the Warriors.

“I was pissed,” Harrington admits of being traded to a losing team. “Indiana was a guaranteed playoff team, then being shipped off to Golden State where 12 years in a row they hadn’t been a playoff team.”

“I didn’t think I was going to a great opportunity,” he tells us. “But as soon I got there and got in that locker room, watching Baron [Davis] and watching Monta Ellis, J-Rich, and Biedrins, I was like, these dudes can play.”

What they played was Nelson’s quirky style of run-and-gun “small ball,” and the team’s secret weapon was a passionate Oakland fan base at recently-renamed Oracle Arena.

“I never had home fans like those home fans,” Harrington says. “Those people would be at every game, win, lose or draw, and they’re standing up and going crazy. That was probably my favorite stop of my career.”

Those retooled Warriors still hit rock bottom in a March loss to ex-Golden State star Gilbert Arenas and the Washington Wizards. “Agent Zero” beat them on a bonus free throw with 2.9 seconds left in the game, after officials hit Coach Nelson with a highly questionable technical foul.

“You’ve got to thank the refs for that one,” Arenas gloated afterward

But at nine games under .500, those Warriors wouldn’t stop believing. “We Believe came from one of our players, or a commentator might have said it,” according to Harrington. “Then the next thing you know a fan came to the game with a We Believe sign, then it just spread like wildfire.”

That fan was Paul Wong, owner of an Alameda restaurant called Hawaiian Drive Inn. According to his interview with Alameda Magazine, Wong brought 150 simple yellow We Believe signs to a home game against the Nuggets three days later, and the Dubs won.

Wong made more signs and We Believe T-shirts too, handing them out for free, and blowing more than $5,000 of his own money in the process. It was money well spent.

“In order for us to make the playoffs that year, we had to win like 16 out of 19 games down the stretch,” Harrington remembers. “We set our minds to doing something special and we did it.”

An April 18 win over Portland clinched the Dubs’ their first playoff spot in more than a decade. The Warriors snuck in just two games above .500, and faced the defending Western Conference champion Dallas Mavericks and their reigning league MVP Dirk Nowitzki. Vegas had Golden State as 14 to 1 underdogs.

What the bookies seemed to forget was that Don Nelson had coached those same Mavericks, and their new coach (and former Warrior!) Avery Johnson was still running plays that Nellie himself had written up. The Warriors stunned Dallas to win Game 1, with Nowitzki shooting a pathetic 4 for 16, and Baron Davis exploding for 33 points.

“Baron just put the whole team on his back in that game,” Harrington remembers. “That was one of the best performances I had ever seen any of my teammates have. He really set the table.”

Those pesky Dubs kept beating the Mavericks, and the series started to attract stoner celebrities like Snoop Dogg, Woody Harrelson, and Owen Wilson to front row seats at Oracle.

“Those guys were courtside,” Harrington recalls. “We won that series, but they acted like they won.”

On May 3 the Warriors won the series and drew the raucous cheers of believers at “Roaracle.” The team proceeded to celebrate with some of their newfound fans.

“We got up to (Don Nelson’s) penthouse in Lake Merritt and he tells us, ‘Woody’s in the back rolling doobies’ and our coach is telling us to go back there and smoke with him,” Matt Barnes told the Los Angeles Times. “Nelly had the whole roof and we go up and there’s Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Owen Wilson and Snoop. 

“We ended up going out to a club in San Francisco and lived it up after that and then we went back to Snoop’s hotel and blew it down. There was so much smoke in the room, they came knocking on the door and we were thinking, ‘Oh shit, here we go.’ They came in, unscrewed the window, opened them up so the smoke went out, asked us if we needed anything and they left. They helped him vent the room. I’d never seen anything like that before. Only Snoop.”

Regrettably for Harrington, he did not attend those proceedings. “I heard it was one hell of a party.”

The Warriors ultimately fell to the Utah Jazz in the second round of the playoffs. Monta Ellis had his infamous moped accident three months later, and Harrington was traded for Jamal Crawford just weeks into the next season. Monta finally wore out his welcome with the Warriors when he was accused of sending unsolicited dick pics to a member of the team’s staff in 2011.

He was replaced by a young man named Stephen Curry.

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