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Ronnie Lott of the 49ers is pursuing his NBA dream through Golden State

SAN FRANCISCO. When Ronnie Lott watches Golden State play basketball, he may also be reviewing an old All-22 movie about himself as an All-Pro defenseman for the San Francisco 49ers.

He watches Andrew Wiggins position himself for rebounds. He watches how defenders handle screens. He watches Stephen Curry break free for jump shots, and he watches the team stick needle into needle with their passes.

“It’s really art,” Lott said. “In football, you can have one person who can do it. In today’s basketball, everyone should be able to make great passes.”

The 63-year-old Lott also has an analytical side to the experience. But there is also an emotional one. As a Warriors season ticket holder since the mid-1980s, Lott has seen a little of everything. Now, with Golden State looking to clinch another NBA championship on Thursday night in Boston against the Celtics, it’s gearing up again. Golden State leads the series 3-2.

“I know how much this means to these guys,” Lott said.

It may come as a surprise to football fans to learn that Lott’s first love was basketball. He was good enough to play in Division I during the season as point guard in Southern California.

“I wanted to be Magic Johnson,” he said.

Lott said he learned a lot about teamwork and winning that season and it gave him an invaluable opportunity to work on his speed. But after scoring a total of 4 points with 10 personal fouls in limited minutes, he realized his future lay in football.

He was in the midst of four Super Bowl wins with the 49ers when he found an outlet for his other passion: buying season tickets to Golden State home games early in the Chris Mullin era.

“This is my favorite sport,” Lott said. “It’s probably the only sport I dream about more than anything.”

He last played in the NFL in 1994 and announced his retirement in 1996. Hall of Fame 2000.

In addition to enjoying someone else’s joy and overcoming the occasional sadness that came when he watched Golden State play over the years, Lott noticed how much the similarities between basketball and football were, a coincidence that was especially evident in the finals.

“The players are so physical,” he said. “You see guys grabbing jerseys and I’m like, ‘Dude, they’d get a couple of yellow flags thrown at them if they were playing football.’ ”

Lott compared three-point-shooting defenders such as Curry to hit-and-run football coverage, in which defenders obstruct the path of wide receivers moving off the line of scrimmage. In fact, Marcus Smart, one of the Celtics who tried to chase down Curry in the Finals, grew up playing safe.

“It helped me learn how to change direction and use my hips,” said Smart, this season’s best defender.

Winning is universal, too, and Lott saw shades of the 49ers’ championship DNA in the way Golden State does business. Lott recalled seasons when quarterback Joe Montana and wide receiver Jerry Rice were beaten and tired but still found ways to plan Super Bowl runs.

In recent weeks, according to Lott, Golden State has won games that probably didn’t make sense to win. The team returned from a 19-point deficit against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. And in its own way, Golden State’s win over Boston in Game 5 on Monday night was another odd one: Curry missed all nine of his three-point attempts. But experience builds on itself.

“What makes a great team a great team,” Lott said, “is that you can go back to the moment and say, ‘Oh, we’ve been in this situation before, and we know what it takes.’

At the same time, Lott was particularly impressed with Wiggins, who had 26 points and 13 rebounds to lead Golden State on Monday. Lott recalled 2020 when Wiggins joined the team after a mid-season trade with Minnesota and no one knew if he would make a big impact. But sometimes a change of scenery can turn good players into irreplaceable ones.

“I play basketball and I play hard and I feel like people respect that,” Wiggins said, adding, “There are just a lot of great people here — great people who challenge you and hold you accountable.”

Lott saw it happen. In 1981, Lott’s rookie year, the 49ers started the season lukewarmly when guard Fred Dean joined them after a contract dispute with the San Diego Chargers. With Dean wreaking havoc as a pass rush specialist, the 49ers won their first Super Bowl.

“When we got Fred Dean, things got better,” Lott said. He drew a parallel with Wiggins: “He upped his game and his efforts. When you meet such a guy, you get the feeling: “Oh, this is what I have been waiting for all my life, to be in this environment, to be on this stage.”

Although he has been a regular in the Golden State’s early playoff games this season, Lott hasn’t been to the Finals since 2016. Of course, it was in 2016 that LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers stunned Golden State on the road in Game 7. finals to win the franchise’s first championship, losing the series 3-1. The loss seemed to hurt Lott almost as much as if he were in uniform.

Since then, he and his wife Karen have watched various Golden State finals from the safe and relative privacy of their self-proclaimed “man cave.” According to him, it will be better for all participants. He knows it may seem strange, but nothing he does, says or feels in his basement can affect the game.

“I don’t want them to lose,” he said, “and so I feel like the times when I left and they lost – I just don’t like that feeling. And you don’t want to feel like you’re holding them back from anything.”

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