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    Photo courtesy Louisville Legends Open Facebook Page
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    Forty years ago the Golden State Warriors pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history, sweeping the favored Washington Bullets.

    And the Warriors did it with an assist from the University of Louisville. Former Cardinals star Butch Beard was a key contributor for Golden State that season.

    So as the Warriors prepare to try and end their forty-year championship drought against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers (who have never won an NBA title), let’s look back at how Beard helped Golden State win it all in 1975.

    Beard, a 6-foot-3 point guard, was in his fifth NBA season and playing for his fourth team in ‘74-'75. However, the former first-round draft pick (10th overall by the Atlanta Hawks) seemed to have found his niche in the Bay Area playing alongside star forward Rick Barry. Beard, who has the second-highest scoring average (19 points per game) in UofL hoops history, had averaged 10.2 points, a career-high 4.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game in the ‘73-'74 season for the Warriors, who had finished three games behind the Los Angeles Lakers in the Pacific Division (their fourth straight runner-up finish in the division).

    He played an even larger role the following season. Beard wasn’t quite the Steph Curry (that role was played by Barry) or Klay Thompson (that role was filled by smooth-shooting rookie forward Jamaal Wilkes) of the team, but he was a vital player for the Warriors, akin to Harrison Barnes or Andre Iguodala on this season’s team. He averaged 12.8 points (behind only Wilkes’s 14.2 ppg and Barry’s 30.6 ppg), 4.2 assists (second behind Barry’s 6.2) and 3.9 rebounds per game. He also shot a team-high 52.8 percent from the field and 83.2 percent from the free throw line (second on the squad behind Barry and his famous under-hand foul shots) during the regular season for Golden State, which posted the best record (48-34) in the Western Conference, to win in the Pacific by five games over the Seattle SuperSonics. He had the highest scoring average (108.5 ppg) in the league.

    In the postseason, Beard's scoring dipped slightly, but his overall contributions to the team didn't. 

    He averaged 8.2 points in the Warriors’ 4-2 series win over Seattle in the Western Conference semifinals. He tallied 13 points in Golden State’s 124-100 win in Game five.

    Beard upped the ante in the Warriors’ 4-3 series win over the Chicago Bulls in the conference finals, averaging 10.9 points per game. He scored a team-high 28 points in Game 3 (a 108-101 Chicago win).

    In the finals Golden State faced a very strong Washington team, which was led by another former UofL star, Wes Unseld, and another future Hall of Famer, Elvin Hayes. Unseld, who was one year ahead of Beard at UofL and had been the NBA’s MVP and Rookie of the the Year in 1969, averaged 9.2 points and 14.8 rebounds per game in the regular season for the Bullets, who had tied the Boston Celtics for the best record (60-22) in the league. Washington went on to best the Buffalo Braves (4-3) and the Celtics (4-2) in the Eastern Conference playoffs to reach the finals.

    In the finals, though, the Warriors surprised the Bullets and many others around the league, with a 4-0 sweep. Beard averaged 7.3 points, three rebounds and two assists per game in the best-of-seven series. Although he started slow, scoring three points in Golden State’s 101-95 victory in Game 1 and going scoreless in the Warriors’ 92-91 win in Game two, Beard finished strong. He tallied 10 points in his team’s 109-101 win in Game three, then scored 16 in Golden State’s 96-95 series-clinching victory on May 25, 1975. With the Bullets focusing their defensive efforts on Barry, Beard took over down the stretch in Game four. He scored the Warriors' final seven points, including the game-winning free throws.  

    Now, 40 years later, let’s see if Curry & Co. can follow the lead of Beard and his teammates.


    Photo courtesy Louisville Legends Open Facebook Page

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