The End of the Warriors as We Know Them

OAKLAND, Calif. — There was a game at Oracle Arena, the clunky old building that squats tight to the old erector-set of a coliseum, two time capsules next to a freeway. Inside, the lights glared and the scoreboard flashed, and the sellout crowd roared for another runaway victory by the Golden State Warriors.

A day later, there was a tour of the team’s new home in San Francisco, Chase Center, its swirling facade wedged into the cocoon of glassy new skyscrapers. Inside, the light was cavelike dim and hard hats were mandatory. The few installed seats were covered in protective plastic, and the only sounds were the beeps, whirs and bangs of construction equipment.

“We’re not leaving a city,” the Warriors team president Rick Welts told reporters invited along. “Just a building.”

The Warriors, two-time defending N.B.A. champions, winners of three of the last four titles, are paddling for one more in Oakland against an undercurrent of change and the foreboding sense that these good old days are ending.

All dynasties fade, even those — especially those, maybe — building new temples for themselves.

The Warriors lead the Houston Rockets, 3-2, in a best-of-seven second-round playoff series heading to Game 6 on Friday night. They will be without the injured star Kevin Durant, who may or may not stay with the team in this summer’s trading. If the series goes to a seventh and deciding game, it could be the last at Oracle Arena, the Warriors’ home for nearly five decades.

The Warriors’ move after this season comes amid concerns about an aging roster, the future contract status of Durant and others, and creaks in the team’s run of exuberant dominance. Most meaningfully, the Warriors are wading through the churning gulf between Oakland and San Francisco.

Between one night’s game at Oracle Arena this spring and the next afternoon’s tour at Chase Center, the distance felt far wider than the 10 miles or so across the bay, as the sea gull flies, or the 16 miles and $7 toll through the knots of traffic across the Bay Bridge.

The Warriors, understandably, want people to think that location does not matter. They will always be the Bay Area’s team, they say.

But it does matter. Of course it matters. And it matters most to Oakland, where the Warriors have played for 47 seasons.

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Fans brought their typical exuberance to Wednesday’s game at Oracle Arena. The Warriors won 104-99. CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

“They can spin it any way they want, wrap it in any wrapping paper they want, but when there has been an intimate relationship for years, and then you move, it changes everything,” said Paul Brekke-Miesner, author of “Home Field Advantage: Oakland, CA, The City that Changed the Face of Sports” and a lifelong Oakland resident.

“Ten miles, 20 miles — the bay might as well be 1,000 miles.”

Can something move and remain the same? Can anything be replanted without changing the landscape?

No place tries like California, a mind-set as much as a place. California always leans toward reinvention. It is closer to the future than anywhere else. Nothing feels permanent, even without earthquakes and fires. So it is with the Warriors.

It is so California to come up with something cool and coveted, and at its peak try to lift it to something bigger and better, risking all that made it cool in the first place.

It is why In-N-Out Burger expanded to Texas, why Levi’s made Dockers, why skateboarding is joining the Olympics.

Will Apple, with origins in a suburban garage, ever be as loved as it was before it grew big enough to build a $5 billion headquarters that looks like a spaceship? Will the San Francisco skyline ever be as beautiful as it was before the Salesforce Tower rose like a middle finger to the city’s low-slung aesthetic, amid a rising fist of preening (and leaning) towers?

The Warriors did not need to leave the grit of Oakland for the gloss of San Francisco. They chose to do so. Like most franchise leaps to new homes, it is a move borne of vanity, dressed as necessity.

What will Oakland lose when the Warriors move to San Francisco?

“I’ll answer it with a question,” Brekke-Miesner said. “What will the Warriors lose?”

The Warriors’ new home, Chase Center in San Francisco, is a $1.3 billion bet that old fans will join new ones.CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

The franchise worries about any perception that it is abandoning Oakland. It says that roughly 70 percent of current season-ticket holders have bought into the new building, which is privately financed on private land, despite price increases and expensive seat licenses.

“Substantially we are keeping the same crowd,” Welts argued. It will take until next season to figure out how much the remaining 30 percent is missed, or what and where it represented.

At the regular-season finale on April 7, the team celebrated its Oakland heritage. Former stars like Rick Barry and Sleepy Floyd were on hand. The Oakland Symphony performed during a historical montage. After the game, the team raised a banner to the Oracle Arena rafters that read, “Oakland, California, 47 Seasons.” It, too, will move to Chase Center.

To help keep a physical presence in the East Bay, the Warriors will convert their downtown Oakland headquarters and practice facility into a community center. It will house nonprofit organizations and youth basketball camps.

“You heard it here first: The Warriors are not leaving Oakland!” Mayor Libby Schaaf said at a March ceremony.

Maybe Oakland already lost them — to success. For most of five decades, the Warriors were habitual losers loved only by the most faithful, an alliance of geography.

These days, you can find someone wearing a Warriors logo in any city in the world.

“There’s nothing particularly unique about being a Warriors fan — they’re not the town’s team anymore,” said Liam O’Donoghue, whose podcast, East Bay Yesterday, explores culture in and around Oakland. “They’re, like, the world’s team. I don’t know if that makes them less cool. But it makes them less Oakland.”

They were never the Oakland Warriors. But the team developed a strong bond with the city.CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

By this time next year, there will be one main franchise left in Oakland: Major League Baseball’s Athletics, who, after decades of unrealized wanderlust, will stay behind, with plans to build anew on the Oakland waterfront. The N.F.L.’s Raiders are headed to Las Vegas.

Of course, Oakland would love to keep its teams, but not at the financial and moral costs of today. The corporate and gentrified world of professional sports no longer fits neatly in places as diverse and independent as Oakland.

N.B.A. revenues topped $8 billion last year, according to Forbes, and the Warriors are worth $3.5 billion — more than seven times the $450 million that a group led by Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber paid in 2010. Perhaps a move to a $1.3 billion arena in San Francisco is fitting, considering it has more billionaires per capita than any city.

Not so fast, said Pendarvis Harshaw, an author and public-radio arts columnist raised and living in Oakland.

“The N.B.A. tries to sell cool, sell hip, sell urban,” Harshaw said. “The N.B.A. tries to sell Oakland.”

Oakland has a rich history of producing artists and athletes, including basketball players like Bill Russell, Paul Silas, Jason Kidd and Gary Payton.

True adoration is reserved for the ones who stay true to their Oakland roots. It is why M.C. Hammer, Rickey Henderson, Marshawn Lynch and Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, a Warriors’ rival, remain so popular. The film director Ryan Coogler could run for mayor after setting key scenes of “Black Panther” in his native Oakland.

The Warriors’ co-owners — one whose success was spawned in Silicon Valley, the other’s in Hollywood — are eager to tap into the riches and reputation of boom-time San Francisco, even with its vast inequality and homeless problems.

Some say those problems have created a spillover effect in Oakland, where there are intense worries over gentrification, housing costs and the erosion of the city’s identity.

Stephen Curry, on a mural in Oakland, has powered the team to three of the last four N.B.A. titles.CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

West Oakland, for example, a historically black neighborhood between downtown and the Bay Bridge, was once the home of Russell, and of baseball legends like Frank Robinson and Curt Flood, who attended high school together in the 1950s. It’s increasingly abuzz with tech workers, many commuting to the skyscraper forest swallowing up the Warriors across the bay.

The franchise arrived in the Bay Area in 1962, from Philadelphia, and claimed San Francisco for its name. The Warriors resided mostly at the Cow Palace in Daly City, just over San Francisco’s southern city limit.

They played some games at Oakland’s new arena during the 1967-68 season. They moved across the bay full-time a few years later (with one notable return during the 1975 N.B.A. finals, forced by the Ice Follies) and changed the name of the franchise from “San Francisco” to the more collective “Golden State.”

That still gnaws in Oakland. They were never the Oakland Warriors.

Draymond Green, the Warriors’ forward, came to tour the new building this spring with Welts, the team president, and about a dozen members of the news media. Green was about 30 minutes late — traffic from the East Bay.

Welts and Green stood in the bowl of the new arena, gazing up at the empty air where the giant scoreboard will hang. It took imagination to see where the court will be, where the benches and baskets will be.

Welts pointed out that the Chase Center capacity will be 18,064, about 1,000 seats smaller than Oracle Arena. The ceiling is lower than in a lot of new arenas, he said, to help give Chase Center the acoustics and intimacy of Oracle Arena.

In some ways, many ways, the Warriors want fans to feel as if they never left. But injecting a new building with the old atmosphere is an impossible trick for a sports team.

The Warriors, playing both offense and defense, spent the season promoting the move while trying to be respectful of their past. Kerr, the coach, has used the final season in Oakland as daily motivation — “finishing the right way and doing it for Oakland,” he says.

Then — poof — the Warriors will reappear in September, 10 miles or 1,000 miles away.

What will Oakland lose when the Warriors move to San Francisco?

Answer that with a question: What will it gain?

It gets the good old days, the best of days, and the sweet nostalgia unique to cities and arenas left behind. No one takes that away.

And it gets the satisfaction that it handed over something at its apex, something cool and substantial that San Francisco did not create, and probably never could have, and might not ever capture.

The Warriors move leaves the question: Can something move and remain the same?CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

Source: NYT

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