With the Golden State Warriors headed to their fifth straight NBA Finals appearance, it’s very easy to forget that it wasn’t always like this in the Bay Area. The Warriors went through their fair share of disappointing seasons in the 40-year gap between their 1975 and 2015 NBA titles. And while the team did have a solid group of fans that packed Oracle Arena, there was nowhere near this amount of media coverage of basketball in the Bay Area before their title run.
For the better part of basketball’s history, the East Coast was thought of as prime breeding ground for basketball talent. Of course that centers on New York as being the Mecca of basketball. The Bay Area was overlooked many times in that regard. Whether that was due to the lack of trophies in the region or another factor, it’s not completely clear. But there have been many amazing players in NBA history that hailed from the Bay Area. Let’s take a look at a some of the most iconic of them.
Jason Kidd was born in San Francisco, California and raised across the Bay in the Oakland. He attended Saint Joseph of Notre Dame High School in the neighboring East Bay town of Alameda. While there he starred at point guard and led his high school to two state championships. In doing so, he earned the distinction as top high school basketball prospect in the nation. When colleges came calling, he decided to stay in California and play for the University of California, Berkeley.
In his first year at Cal, Kidd won National Freshman of the Year. In his sophomore campaign he was a first-team All-American and named Pac-10 player of the year. After those two solid years at Cal, Kidd decided to declare for the NBA draft. And in the first-round of the 1994 NBA draft, the Dallas Mavericks selected him with the second overall pick.
Kidd would go onto have 19 prolific seasons in the NBA, playing for multiple teams. He was a triple-double machine in those years. He would finish his career with 107 career triple-doubles, putting him fourth on the all-time list. Kidd would also finish his career as number two in both steals and assists. His crowning achievement though was when he finally captured an NBA championship as a part of the 2011 Dallas Mavericks team. And in 2018 he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his achievements as a player.
Gary Payton was another Oakland, California native. Born and raised there, he attended Skyline High School. While there, Payton led the school to an All-City title. When the time came to select a college, he decided to head to Corvallis, Oregon and attend Oregon State University.
At OSU, Payton wowed crowds with his scoring and his defensive performances. During his freshman year he earned Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year awards and made the All-Freshman team. In his next three season he would make the All-Pac-10 team in each of them, capping of his college career with a Pac-10 Player of the Year award in his senior season.
In the 1990 NBA draft, the Seattle Supersonics selected Payton in the first-round with the second overall pick. He would go onto have a decorated career with the Supersonics, leaving the franchise as one of its best players ever. He would lead them to the NBA Finals in 1996, eventually losing to the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls. However in 2006, he finally won an NBA title with the Miami Heat. Payton finished his NBA career ninth all-time in career assists, and fourth all-time in career steals. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013 for his contributions to the game as a player.
William “Bill” Felton Russell was actually born in Monroe, Louisiana but relocated to Oakland, California with his family as a youth. There he attended McClymonds High School. After high school he attended the University of San Francisco. Russell played for the Dons for three seasons. In his final two seasons he led the school to back-to-back NCAA championships. He was also named the College Player of the Year for the 1955-56 season. That summer he also helped lead the US Men’s National Basketball Team to gold at the Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.
Russell declared for the 1956 NBA draft and the Saint Louis Hawks selected him in the first round with the second overall pick. They then traded him to the Boston Celtics following the pick. Russell played for 13 seasons in the NBA, all with the Celtics. In that time he was a 12-time All-Star, an 11-time All-NBA selection, and a five-time Most Valuable Player award recipient. He also won a whopping 11 NBA titles. And he earned his spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame with an induction in 1975. And on top of that in 2009, the NBA opted to rename the NBA Finals MVP award the “Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award” to forever immortalize him and his contributions.
Three of the greatest players in NBA history hailed from the Bay Area! If that is not convincing enough to show the level of talent that has come from the region, then I don’t know what is. While New York City for example may have a longer “Who’s Who” list of NBA talent, the Bay Area can still brag about having these three solid stand outs. And who knows what’s to come. The next Gary Payton or Jason Kidd may be shooting hoops on an Oakland playground at this very moment!