Every September for seven years straight, the Golden State Warriors came walking down the hill, descending onto San Quentin State Prison’s Lower Yard. The last two years, General Manager Bob Myers carried the actual Larry O’Brien NBA Trophy followed by Assistant GM Kirk Lacob.
They were greeted like old friends by men serving long sentences. Donning plain-green visitor basketball jerseys, Golden State took the blue-green basketball court for a community game against incarcerated ballers, while NBA players like Marreese “Mo” Speights or Kevin Durant rooted from the sidelines, and Javale McGee or Draymond Green played chess and dominoes surrounded by incarcerated fans. Over the years, retired-players-turned-NBA-coaches Mark Jackson, Brian Scalibrini, Willie Green, Jarron Collins and Luke Walton competed against the prison team.
“We were star struck, but after we got to know these guys, it was like seeing your friends come back for the summer,” says Alan McIntosh, the 46-year-old veteran and leading scorer for the San Quentin Warriors prison team.
The games are the highlight of the year for many incarcerated people. But since 2018, lockdowns have canceled the annual event for three years straight.
“I miss walking out onto the yard,” Lacob said. “I miss warming up while people are in my ear, talking to me about what’s going on with people in SQ, those who are now out, and getting a little trash [talk] my way.
“I miss the physicality of guarding Ant (Anthony Ammons) and Allan McIntosh. I miss the feeling when the jumper is going and the crowd around the court lets you know you are balling. I miss the sneers when I don’t have it. I miss the back and forth with the refs. I miss the finality of it all when the game ends and we all get together and tell each other, ‘I’ll see you next time, but I hope not,’” Lacob, reflected.
McIntosh jokes, “I miss getting fouled by Kirk Lacob,” as he grins with a hardy laugh.
In 2012, Myers and Lacob started bringing in NBA Hall of Famers, All-Stars, coaches, and players. The games usually took place in September, during the small scheduling window just before the Golden State NBA players start their season.
“You never knew who they were going to bring,” McIntosh says. His favorite year, he says, was the first time he saw the championship trophy. “Not many people in the world get to hold the Larry O’Brien trophy,” he says. “I’m a Laker fan, but holding that trophy made me feel like I was part of that Warriors’ championship.”
Over the next several years, Kirk Lacob, son of the team’s billionaire owner Joe Lacob, could be spotted playing at San Quentin without the press or the rest of the Golden State squad. He played with Christian Sports Ministry’s “Green Team,” sponsored by Don Smith and Bill Epling. He has brought in his brother Kent and sister Lacey—even his dad came in and played against the SQ Kings a day before Father’s Day. His sons won the game for him.
Lacob would also show up between NBA playoffs games just to play basketball and see his incarcerated friends.
“By going to play in SQ over the years, I found humanity,” Lacob said. “I talked and competed with real people who went through real life experiences that I never had and likely never will go through. I learned perspective. None of this happens without basketball, but you find that basketball, in the end, has given you a pathway to learn more about life and more about people.”
Lacob always looked comfortable on the prison yard, until it was time to leave.
“I started going to SQ because I wanted to play basketball and it seemed like a really different sort of experience to play in prison,” Lacob said. “In some ways, this was no different than playing in an AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] tournament or a pickup game in an area I don’t live in, but then you finish playing and remember where you are.”
The streak of successful Golden State events halted at seven. In 2019, an ill-timed institutional lockdown caused the cancellation of the yearly festivities. In 2020 and 2021, COVID-19 lockdowns and precautions killed the possibility of resuming the annual games.
Golden State is up four wins to three against The Q. During the three years since the last Golden State versus SQ Warriors games, most of the inside team has paroled.
Ammons, sentenced to 102 years to life, paroled in early 2021 due to a commutation for exemplary rehabilitative conduct. Later, Lacob ran into SQ forward Ammons working the elevator at a Golden State game.
McIntosh, still incarcerated at San Quentin, has been practicing with the new Warriors lineup in anticipation of the basketball program resuming this summer. Lacob and McIntosh say they are ready for a rematch. McIntosh recalls the first San Quentin victories.
“My favorite game was the first time we won,” McIntosh said. “I got two dunks, one on Bob Myers shielding himself.”
That was the 2015 game where at the start of the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 72, San Quentin Warrior Joshua Burton threw an alley-oop to McIntosh for a tie-breaking slam-dunk.
Golden State plans to resume the annual games when conditions permit. And if history is any indication of this friendly rivalry, Myers will return with a vengeance.
—Brian Asey contributed to this story.