San Francisco – When Ronnie Lot watches Golden State play basketball, he might analyze all 22 films he has been with with the San Francisco 49ers during the All-Pro Safety and Corner Days.
He watches as Andrew Wiggins sets himself up for a lift. He watches how the defenders treat the screens. He watches as Stephen opens the door for a free kick and watches the team thread the needle with his passes.
“It’s really art,” Lot said. “In football you can have one person who can do it. In today’s basketball game everyone should be able to make excellent passes.
For 63-year-old Lot, the experience has an analytical side. But it is also emotional. As a Warriors season ticket holder since the mid-1980s, Lot has seen little of everything. Now that Golden State is trying to win another NBA championship, against the Celtics in Boston on Thursday night, it is once again fortifying itself. The series is led by Golden State 3-2.
“I know how much that means to those guys,” Lot said.
It may come as a surprise to football fans that Lot’s first love was basketball. He was good enough to play one season in Division I defending the streets of Southern California.
“I wanted to be Magic Johnson,” he said.
Lot said he learned a lot about teamwork and winning that season, and that gave him an invaluable opportunity to work on agility. But after he scored a total of 4 points and scored 10 personal fouls in limited minutes, he knew his future was in football.
He was in the midst of winning four Super Bowls with 49 when he found a way out of his other hobbies: he bought season tickets to Golden State’s home games at the beginning of the Chris Malin era.
“This is my favorite sport,” Lot said. “This is probably the sport I dream of the most.”
He last played in the NFL in 1994, and announced his retirement in 1996. In 2000, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In addition to overcoming the alternating joy and occasional sadness that followed watching Golden State play over the years, Lot noticed how great the overlap between basketball and football was – the overlap that was especially evident in the finals.
“The players are very physical,” he said. “You see guys taking off their T-shirts and I say, ‘Man, if they were playing football, they’d drop some yellow flags.’ ”
Lot compared the defense to 3-point shooters, such as door-to-door, “grasp and run” football coverage, in which the defensive back blocks the path of wide receivers coming out of the collision line. In fact, Marcus Smart, one of the Celtics who tried to chase after him in the door finale, grew up with free security.
“It helped me learn how to change directions and how to use my hips,” said Smart, the best defensive player of the season.
Winning is universal, too, and Lot saw the DNA shadows of the 49s Championship as he led Golden State in his work. Lot recalled seasons when quarterback Joe Montana and receiver Jerry Rice were beaten and tired, but still found ways to engineer Super Bowl racing.
In recent weeks, Lot said, Golden State has won games in which it probably had nothing to do. Was the team returning from a 19-point deficit in the 2nd game of the Western Conference Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. And in a way, Golden State’s win over Boston in Game 5 on Monday night was another oddity: Karim missed his three-point nine-point attempt. But experience is based on itself.
“What makes a great team a great team,” Lot said, “is that you can go back in time and say, ‘Oh, we’ve been in this situation before and we know what it takes.’
At the same time, Lot was particularly impressed by Wiggins, who scored 26 points and 13 rebounds for Golden State on Monday. Lot was thinking about 2020 when Wiggins joined the team through a mid-season trade with Minnesota and no one knew if he would have a big impact. But sometimes changing the landscape can make a good player irreplaceable.
“I play basketball and I play hard and I feel that people respect that,” Wiggins said, adding: “There are just a lot of wonderful people here – wonderful people who challenge you and hold you accountable.”
Lot saw this happen. In 1981, Lot’s rookie year, the 49s started the season smoothly when defensive finalist Fred Dean joined them after a contract dispute with the San Diego Chargers. When Dean broke up as a passing specialist, the 49ers won their first Super Bowl.
“When we got Fred Dean, everything got better,” Lot said. He paralleled Wiggins: “He is stepping up his game and his effort. When you find such a guy, you think, “Oh, I’ve been waiting for this my whole life, to be in this environment, to be on this stage.”
Although he has been a regular in Golden State playoff games this season, Lot has not attended a final since 2016. In 2016, of course, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers stunned Golden State in Game 7. Won the first franchise championship in the final, after losing 3-1 to the series. It looks like the loss has left Lot feeling as if he was in shape.
He has since watched Golden State’s various final appearances with his wife, Karen, in a safe and relative separation from what he calls a “human cave.” It’s better for everyone involved, he said. He knows it may sound weird, but nothing he does, says or feels in the basement can affect the game.
“I do not want them to lose,” he said. And you do not want to feel that you are holding them back. “