After the Richmond Tigers’ second premiership in three years, coach Damien Hardwick said he had used US sports teams the San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Red Wings as examples to live by.
He wanted his side to believe in sustained success, even with a disappointing year in between.
These comparisons must have resonated. After bombing out in last year’s preliminary final, the Tigers finished this year on a 12-game win streak, capping it off with an 89-point shellacking of the GWS Giants in the grand final.
But in the pursuit of comparing apples and American oranges, Hardwick missed out on the most obvious (and intriguing) comparison of all.
The Tigers and the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.
It’s a tale of two long-established teams haunted by decades of missed opportunities. Each with a large and loyal supporter base returning to success after more than 30 years.
The parallels are endless, and they forecast a frightening future for non-Richmond fans.
Club history aside, similarities began to bug me two weeks ago while watching Richmond steamroll the Cats in the preliminary final.
After being down a game-high 21 points at the end of the first half, the Tigers put on a second-half clinic. It was a devastating flick of the switch, a sudden change of momentum that NBA fans of the last five years are quite familiar with thanks to the Warriors.
At the peak of their powers in 2016, Golden State went on a 24-game winning streak. During many of these games, they were down at the half or three-quarter time but knew, as their opponents did, they were saving their best for last.
Ball and player movement would kick up a notch. Steph Curry would make a ridiculous three, do a corny celebration and all of a sudden a game seemingly in the balance would be essentially over.
Like the Tigers, they had a switch to flick. The opposition knew it was coming, they just didn’t know when.
During Golden State’s 2016 season they also set the record for the longest home winning streak of all time. Their fans at Oracle Arena would come alive when they did — a genuine momentum changer.
AFL, like basketball, is a game of momentum. At the MCG, the Richmond fan-base can be like Oracle Arena on steroids. It’s the side’s ability to harness this momentum that makes them so scary.
Against the Giants, they did exactly that once again after the quarter-time break and just like that, a game seemingly in the balance was all over.
Commentator Brian Taylor likes to put it down to “chaos-ball” but it’s more than just a play-style. It’s extreme, collective confidence.
Confidence which rendered the Giants’ competitive first quarter irrelevant. Confidence that the outcome of the game is inevitable.
But where does it come from?
Both Golden State and Richmond have hit rock bottom several times since their glory days in the seventies. Bereft of a winning culture, their big-market fan-bases waited a long time for their light at the end of the tunnel.
Their Steph Curry. Their Dustin Martin.
Both drafted in 2009, Curry and Martin gradually changed the way their respective teams played. Curry with the three-point shot, Martin with the ability to play on the ball and in the forward line equally well.
These game-changing players are barometres for their teams. When on song they not only kickstart victories but exude a level of confidence that rubs off on their teammates.
In Curry’s first MVP season and in Martin’s first Brownlow year, they lead their teams to long-awaited premiership success.
Both were poised to go back-to-back but had famous collapses in big moments. The Warriors at the hands of LeBron James, and the Tigers at the hands of another great American athlete. Mason Cox.
So what next? Recruit a big free agent, of course!
Golden State obtaining Kevin Durant in the 2016 off-season made winning the NBA title almost a forgone conclusion. Predictably, frustrated footy fans didn’t hesitate to compare this to Tom Lynch’s move to Richmond.
In a rare deviation from all this synchronicity, 2019 success proved to be not so simple for the Tigers. A chain of significant injuries left them sitting on seven wins and three losses at the bye.
But after going 12-0 since that point, it is clear that Richmond have internalised success.
They might not be an official dynasty yet. Brisbane won three flags in a row, the Cats three in five years, and Hawthorn won four over just under a decade.
The Tigers need one more to reach this illustrious category.
But unless all these Golden State parallels are a complete coincidence, there won’t be anything stopping Richmond’s momentum in 2020 either.