When the Giants won the World Series in 2010, for the first time in 56 years, San Francisco fans turned on The City. Rioters set fires and smashed windows; instead of happy celebration there was self-destruction. When they won again two years later, the mayhem reignited. And again in 2014.
So when the Warriors won the NBA Finals, it’s safe to say that residents of Oakland were a little nervous. Across the Bay from San Francisco, The Town is better known as a city of conflict than a city of love. It consistently ranks among the top five most violent cities in the United States. According to neighborhoodscout.com, there are 19.9 violent crimes per 1,000 residents, almost five times the average in California. The intersection of Broadway and 14th Street has been a site of repeated protests against police brutality. Graffiti on the road surface calls out “I can’t breathe”—the last words of Eric Garner, who died in police custody last July in New York.
And Oakland sports fans have a lot to be bitter about. The A’s, the Raiders, and the Warriors combined for zero trophies in a quarter century—until this year the last Oakland victory was the 1989 World Series. In return for the loyalty of diehard fans who stuck by their teams through that drought, though, all three franchises planned to leave.
Green signs strung up above the streets of downtown Oakland encourage passersby to “Build in Oakland” and “Invest in Oakland,” but Oakland fans almost faced the sports equivalent of The Rapture. The A’s were blocked from moving to San Jose only by the MLB, but are still desperate enough to get out of Oakland that they’re trying to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court. The Raiders already deserted to Los Angeles once, and are now working with bitter rivals the Chargers on a new stadium project in Carson, Calif., just south of LA. And the Warriors will almost certainly be gone in 2018—after 52 years San Francisco is taking them back.
“Man I hope they don’t take them out of my city,” said Marcus, holding a “Keep the Warriors in Oakland” sign at the victory parade on Friday, June 19. Now working as a barber, Marcus, from West Oakland, was in and out of trouble growing up. “This is the best thing that’s happened to Oakland,” he said, “but you can’t do nothing.”
Oakland feels like it’s at a crossroads. Gentrification is taking over, forcing out older residents and sucking the soul from the city. Along stretches of Broadway, one of the main streets, boarded up shops are slowly being replaced with chic cafes. Signs proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” mix with others advertising “Today’s Special: Wild Catfish Sandwich.”
Rallies and protests have made Oakland national news over the past few years. Occupy Oakland took over Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in October 2010, dubbing it Oscar Grant Plaza in memory of a man who was shot and killed by Bay Area Rapid Transit police in January 2009. The protesters were forced out two weeks later, but then recaptured the square for another three weeks. Oakland has been one of the cities at the forefront of protests against police violence. There have been rallies for Travyon Martin, Ferguson, and Garner. And when mayor Libby Schaaf banned nighttime marches in May, protesters came out after dark in defiance.
But sports can unite better than almost anything. “East Oakland, West Oakland; it’s all Oakland,” shouted a fan outside the Halftime Sports Bar on 14th Street a few minutes after the Warriors had sealed the championship on Tuesday, June 16. Even the nearby mob of cops had crowded around to watch the final minutes of the game. Fans flowed out onto the sidewalk, lighting up cigarettes as they stepped outside. The cool night air filled with the bitter smell of tobacco and the sickly sweet aroma of marijuana. Cars sped by, fans hanging out of windows, doors, and sunroofs, horns blaring. Those on the sidewalk replied with whistles and cheers.
Further along 14th street, at the intersection with Broadway, next to Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, a crowd began to gather. The mass of people quickly closed the street. Unable to continue his route, bus driver Matt Moeller parked up and got out to take in the celebration. “What can I do?” he asked. “I might as well enjoy it.” But the celebrations stayed small, restrained.
Wearing a blue and yellow wig, Fasil Lemma walked round with a picture of Warriors MVP point guard Stephen Curry held high above his head. A biblical reference was written underneath: “Acts 6:5 – Stephen, a man full of faith.”
Lemma was back at the parade three days later, same wig, same sign. “I love the Warriors,” he said. Born in Ethiopia, he’s lived in Oakland for the last nine years. According to Lemma, who owns De Lauer’s newsstand on Broadway, Schaaf has told business owners that she is trying to reverse the Warriors decision to leave. “They don’t need to go to San Francisco.”
If that is true, Schaaf is campaigning behind the scenes. Her presence at the victory parade and the rally that followed seemed more like a chance to join in the celebrations of the success of her hometown team. And perhaps to gain a little political street cred. She rode a giant, fire-breathing, mechanical snail through the streets alongside iconic Oakland-born rapper MC Hammer.
In reality, the Warriors aren’t really moving far, and Oakland residents travelling to home games won’t have that much farther to go. Their new home will be less than 11 miles from the Oracle Arena, where they currently play, and less than two miles farther out from Oakland’s center. In comparison, the 49ers recent move to Levis Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., added 31 miles to the commute from San Francisco. But the west side of the Bay is San Francisco’s territory, not Oakland’s—the A’s move to San Jose was blocked by the Giants’ territorial claim to that city.
On the same day as the victory parade, former Oakland mayoral candidate Bryan Parker launched a campaign on change.org to petition Warriors co-owners Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber to keep the team in Oakland. A week and a half after that launched, the movement was still short of its target of 2,500 signatures, and far below last season’s average home attendance of 19,596.
"Our city has had a love affair with this team," said Schaaf onstage at the victory rally. That romance looks like it might soon be over. And although the team was never the Oakland Warriors, it could again be the San Francisco Warriors. President and COO Rick Welts floated that possibility to ESPN.com back in April 2014. The justification for being called Golden State was that the Warriors were California’s team—forgetting the Kings, Lakers, and Clippers. Changing the name back would be a cruel reminder that this was never Oakland’s team.
The good news for Oakland sports fans, though, is that in all likelihood one of their teams will stay put, even if not entirely willingly. The A’s want to play in a baseball park and the Raiders in a football stadium, and neither is happy with sharing. Barring a shock reversal by the Warriors, Oakland will fight harder to please one of the remaining two franchises. And when the dust settles, either the A’s or the Raiders will get what they’ve wanted for a long time, a city all to themselves.