Will Warriors lose soul by moving across bridge to San Francisco?
I know what I was supposed to feel on Tuesday, sitting in the morning sun on Pier 30 in San Francisco as Warriors owners Joe Lacob spoke about the franchise's move to San Francisco:
And, without question, the pitch was impressive. The Warriors had turned the end of a dilapidated parking lot into a white-tented oasis complete with glass-topped tables, coffee served from silver carafes and pretty women in nice clothes, all with the backdrop of the Bay Bridge and the glittering water below. That unavoidable anthem of corporate blandness, Train's "Hey Soul Sister," blared from speakers as Ahmad Rashad stepped to a podium. Behind him, weathering the wind, sat a row of high-profile smiles: Lacob, David Stern, Jerry West, Gavin Newsom, David Lee, Mark Jackson and San Francisco mayor Ed Lee. One after another, these men took the mic and proceeded to sell the assembled bigwigs and media on the plan: in 2017, the Warriors will move to a new arena here on the waterfront, just down the street from the San Francisco Giants and within walking distance of bars, restaurants and public transportation.
The presentation lasted nearly an hour. It was grand, if lacking in specifics. It was optimistic, with lots of phrases like "most spectacular arena in America" being deployed. It was even convincing -- with talk of private funding, strong city support and so on.
And yet, it felt all wrong.
Season after disappointing season, the East Bay has supported the Warriors. There are no fans in pro basketball who are more loyal, and no arena more boisterous than Oracle on a good night. Even Jerry West, a man not given to hyperbole or provincialism, said Tuesday that, "I haven't seen any better fans." Take the Warriors out of Oakland and I wonder if, on some level, you take away their soul.
For me, it's personal. Like many in the Bay Area, I grew up with this team, living through the Joe Barry Carroll era, enduring the Chris Washburn non-era and watching a staggering succession of failed big men, from Uwe Blab to Les Jepsen to Todd Fuller. I was there for "Sleepy Floyd is Superman," for Run TMC and then Spree and the long, dark era that followed. Years later, I stood in the bowels of Oracle, press credential around my neck, as the Warriors players sprinted down the hall after beating the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, trailed by a beaming, sweaty Don Nelson, Bud Light can clasped in his hand. I've been to hundreds of sporting events in my life but I've never seen a crowd like the one that night at Oracle -- a roaring, hugging yellow-clad mass of WE BELIEVE-rs that had waited decades for this one moment. For Warriors fans, that really was enough. That was our championship.
And now all that energy is supposed to just magically transfer to San Francisco? Live in the East Bay, as I do, and you'll be amazed by the stubborn pride people here take in the Warriors, even as the team continually disappoints us. It's an Oakland thing -- an underdog thing. And San Francisco, despite all its charms, is not an underdog city. We all know what will happen if the team moves there. Ticket prices will rise, corporate types will migrate straight from happy hour to the arena and the team will change its name, even if Lacob claimed Tuesday that such a thing would happen only, "if the fans want it." Slowly but surely, the history of the Warriors will be overtaken by the future.
Naturally, this is not how Warriors brass sees it. Lacob claims that the fan base is 'really 50-50" split between San Francisco and the East Bay anyway, and that if you find this surprising it's only because, "we don't release that information." Then, talking to reporters afterward, he told us that internal polling showed that not only did the vast majority of San Francisco residents support the move, but that 66 percent of East Bay residents did too. If this is indeed the case, I'd like to meet those 66 percent.
To Lacob, all Oakland fans will need to do is drive over the bridge. And this is true. But anyone who's lived in the East Bay -- or Brooklyn or any other secondary city -- knows that's not the issue here. This is about a community investing in a team and supporting it through thick and thin, about fans feeling like they've become part of something larger than themselves. To marginalize that -- to not realize the difference between business and real, true fandom, which is exceedingly rare in the sports world -- is risky.
Some would argue that this proposed move isn't a big deal, nothing like the Sonics bolting for Oklahoma City, and they'd be right. The Warriors aren't leaving, just moving on up. Why should anyone care what the address is?
And logically I know that's the case. At the end of the ceremony on Tuesday, Stern and Lacob and friends posed in front of the bay holding up Warriors jerseys while an SFPD boat fired off water cannons behind them and Steve Perry warbled about the lights going down in that city by the bay-ee-ay. Watching it, I knew the move to San Francisco was inevitable, whether it's this arena or a different one, whether it's 2017 or 2019. I knew the move made economic sense and I knew it made practical sense.
But I'd be lying if I said I was excited.