Golden State center J.B. Carroll’s love affair with Warriors fans has been bittersweet at best during his five years with the NBA club.
He has been jeered and blamed by fans for the club’s failure to make the NBA playoffs in this decade. He has been the brunt of jokes which claimed his initials didn’t stand for Joe Barry, but instead, represented Just Barely Breathing.
However, all that changed last year. He spent the season playing basketball in Italy and came back with renewed spirit.
Carroll felt insulted last year by the new contract offer made to him by Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli. The contract would have maintained Carroll’s ignominious honor of being one of the lowest paid starting centers in the NBA.
“For a long time I was the one of lowest paid centers in the league,” he said. “But I’m not a complainer. I thought when the time came around I’d be justly compensated for my play.”
Carroll had not played that badly since being the team’s top pick in the 1980 NBA draft. He averaged 20.1 points and 14.2 rebounds a game over his first four years with Golden State.
But his play was overshadowed by his team’s failures on the court and in the draft.
The Warriors did not have a first round pick in the 1981 and 1984 drafts. Their top picks in the 1982 (Lester Connor) and 1983 (Russell Cross) drafts did not come to terms with the team until the regular season had already begun.
The club’s history of failure forced Carroll and his agent Howard Slusher to take a calculated gamble. They decided the Warriors center would sit out the year and play in Italy.
Carroll signed a contract with Olympic-SIMAC of Milan. For the first time since he left Purdue, he became a favorite of the home crowd. He rewarded the fans’ appreciation with outstanding play and led SIMAC to the Italian national title and the 1985 European Kirac Cup Championship. The 7-footer averaged 24.9 points a game and pulled down 277 rebounds.
The success stirred Carroll’s competitive spirit.
“The game was fun again,” he said. “I learned what it was like to win again.”
At the conclusion of the European season, Carroll decided it was time to come back to NBA. However, he did not want to play for the hapless Warriors.
Golden State’s interest in re-signing Carroll centered on the NBA draft lottery. The club ended the 1984-85 season tied with Cleveland for the worst record in the league. Normally that would mean a coin flip between the Cavs and Golden State for the first pick.
But this was the year of the lottery. The names seven worst teams in the league would be thrown into a drum and the draft order would be determined by the order the names were picked. True to form, the Warriors were selected to draft seventh.
The draft position meant the team could not pick up a big man and the team’s interest in re-signing Carroll began to peak. Golden State matched an offer sheet by the Milwaukee Bucks and retained Carroll on its roster.
From the start of the season, the man in the middle for the Warriors seemed to be a different Carroll from the one that departed to Italy the year before. He had fire in his eye and was talking to the press.
The Warriors got off to a miserable start to the 1985-86 season. Unable to come to terms with top-pick Chris Mullin and without high-scoring Purvis Short due to a holdout and power forward Greg Bullard due to injury, Golden State dropped its first three games.
Then Carroll took over in game four and put on a clinic against New York Knick star rookie Patrick Ewing. The Warriors center scored 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead Golden State to a 111-104 victory.
One later, Mullin and Short came to terms and the team won four straight. Golden State’s mark stood at 7-7. The Warriors were 8-10 as of Friday.
Carroll, who is nearly 22 points and 11 rebounds a game, said his style of play this year is the result of maturing as a basketball player.
“I think all players develop from year to year,” he said. “That perhaps is what is happening to me. But I would not say that I’ve arrived as a basketball player. I would still like to think I will improve next season.”
Carroll said his goal this year is to make the playoffs.
“It’s inconceivable to me that I could play five or 10 years in this league and never make the playoffs,” he said. “I’m committed to being there this year.”