Only winning will make Warriors fans forget Oakland betrayal

Warriors are the first of two pro franchises that Oakland will lose in the next 12 months

 Stephen Curry in action for the Golden State Warriors at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. Photograph: Getty Images

Stephen Curry in action for the Golden State Warriors at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. Photograph: Getty Images

 

There is no precedent in American pro sports for the relocation that the Golden State Warriors will make this summer from Oracle Arena, their unlovely yet beloved home in Oakland for the past 47 years, to the $1bn Chase Center, located across the bay near downtown San Francisco and stocked with all the amenities that 21st century sports fans supposedly require (luxury suites, locally harvested avocado toast) and that 21st century superstar athletes definitely require, like locker rooms that don’t flood.

For one thing, the Warriors are the first of two pro franchises that the city of Oakland will lose in the next 12 months. The Raiders will be right behind them, relocating to Las Vegas in 2020. And yet, even though the Raiders are leaving the state entirely, the Warriors’ departure for San Francisco – wealthy, impenetrable, white; everything Oakland isn’t – may be the more painful exit of the two.

Don’t say that in the presence of a Raiders fan unless you want your head split with a pole axe, but the fact is, the Raiders have already left once (for Los Angeles) and as long as Al Davis’s nitwit son owns the team there’s no reason to think they won’t be back. After all, this wouldn’t be the first shotgun marriage in Vegas to go wrong in a hurry.

What’s really unusual here is the combination of a team with a legendarily rabid fanbase at once staying close to home and moving to another world entirely. The Warriors are moving from a place (Oakland) where everyone is a Warriors fan to another place (San Francisco) where everyone is a Warriors fan – but something much more elemental about the team is going to change along with the zip code. In true Silicon Valley fashion, Golden State’s relocation – they played their final regular season game at the Oracle on Sunday night – is like gene therapy, a rewriting of the core DNA of a franchise that forged its identity in Oakland and in direct opposition to what its fancy new home represents.

The Oracle is the league’s oldest arena, and possibly its loudest. When the Warriors depart, they will leave behind some cherished, but ultimately replaceable, details – like the tunnel from which Steph Curry used to launch his fan-favorite shootaround-ending bombs. It will be harder to replace the deafening frenzy that helped the Warriors pull off one of the the few No8-seed-over-a-No1-seed upsets in NBA playoff history, over the Dallas Mavericks in 2007.

What’s more, the story of the Warriors is inextricably linked to Oakland’s racial and political fabric at a key moment in post-civil rights USA, not to mention in the NBA’s evolution as a league, both on the court (Nellieball!) and off it, from a niche league with a primarily African American fanbase to what it is now: the most dynamic league in America, led by Curry, a superstar whose mere physical appearance – light skin, boyish smile – reflects for many black NBA fans the gradual whitening of the league and the erosion of the game’s inner-city roots. And nothing – nothing – drives that feeling home for the city of Oakland like their Warriors leaving for upscale, IPO-inflated, impenetrably expensive, lily-white San Francisco.

The truth is, stadiums haven’t been an especially egalitarian place for a long time. Warriors ticket prices have risen each of the last three years, which, yes, sucks – but it’s also inevitable when a team gets not just good but historically dominant. There tends to be a kind of “what about the children” concern for kids who now can’t afford that magical trip to the ballpark, or to a Warriors game. But guess what? Most of us never could!

And yet, in this particular case, with this particular team, something is being lost that goes way beyond better sightlines. The closest historical precedent is a move that didn’t wind up happening, in the early 2000s, when the Yankees came very close to moving out of the Bronx for an elevated stadium above some dormant railroad tracks on the far west side of Manhattan. It fell apart for all kinds of reasons, though, not least the threat of armed mutiny from the north, and it’s almost impossible to imagine now what the Yankees would’ve lost if they’d left the Bronx.

The Warriors are doing it, though, and for the Oakland-based fans, it’s akin to watching your first love move on to someone richer, taller, and more attractive but agreeing to remain friends, go to their wedding, and watch them raise a family, knowing all the while that they’ll never have what you had.

There is also one genuine basketball-related consequence to the Warriors’ relocation: the Oracle facilities were awful, yes – but they were convenient for the players. With the notable exception of Kevin Durant, who lives in downtown San Francisco, at least for now, most of the Warriors have homes with their families in the East Bay and they do not intend to move. Getting to San Francisco is a rough commute – the Bay Bridge is in between – and unless the Chase Center adds a helipad, there’s no avoiding it. Curry, in fact, recently joked about on a podcast that he might have to “pull a Kobe,” and chopper in. “That commute on the bridge…,” he said, his voice trailing off. “If I had to bet, someone is going to be late to a game.”

According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the Warriors front office know this is a real issue and are looking for ways to minimise the inconvenience. Good luck. It’s a bridge. And it may seem like a tiny thing, but how many superstars do you think enjoy hour-long commutes in both directions 50 times a year? Is it going to stop an All-Star free agent from choosing Golden State? Of course not. But it may make that player want to move on sooner. And it may contribute to the slow erosion of the Warriors’ feelgood era until all that’s left is another clock-punching excellence machine.

The binding force is Curry. He’s the constant, the figure that the Warriors are counting on to help bridge this literal and metaphorical divide separating the franchise’s past from its future. Curry’s indispensability will only increase with Durant’s likely flight from the Bay Area before the Chase Center opens. And if he does leave, it’ll make the arena’s opening night on September 4th an even bigger deal than it would have been if he’d stayed. It’ll be the debut of the reborn Warriors, liberated from all that KD angst – the perfect galvanising force for a likely threepeat champion in need of a new mountain to conquer.

This is the best possible outcome for the Chase Center’s debut: that it is less about the arena, and more about Steph Curry. The arena will get the headlines, but the subtext will be that this is Steph’s team again, Steph’s town again – his towns, the fancy one and the abandoned one – and at least on the surface, all will be fine. Because there’s a simple truth in sports, and it will apply here even for a fanbase whose feelings of a betrayal may never go away: winning solves everything.

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