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Friday, April 12, 2024

Ode to Oracle

After 47 years of memories in Oakland, the Warriors bid an emotional farewell to the East Bay

It’s 2009 and I’m at a rare Fan Fest for a slew of Bay Area sports teams. The 49ers, Giants, Sharks, Raiders and A’s are all represented at tables set up in a semi-circle out on a drab, concrete plaza. A few fans press in at some of the booths, but I don’t really pay them any mind. Toward the center there’s a table with a blue tablecloth and a yellow Golden State Warriors logo on the front. Behind it is newly-drafted point guard Stephen Curry.

He’s sitting alone. No fans around, which is a little surprising to me. But then again, it’s 2009, and they should’ve had Monta Ellis there instead. I blow off the other teams and walk up to Curry. We take a quick picture, and I settle down in a chair next to him. It’s hard to see, but I’m starting to notice that he’s got a full beard and looks more like he’s 30 than 21. I smirk and think to myself, I swear I know this guy.

I ask him, how many rings are you expecting to win? “Oh, I don’t know,” Curry says without even looking at me. “I’m just excited to get started and begin my NBA journey.”

What do you think about the possibility of playing with Kevin Durant at some point in your career? He gives me a sarcastic side-eye, like he’s trying to hide something from me and looks away. “Man, Kevin is a great player; it would be great to play with him at some point.”

I suppress a chuckle. How many MVP’s do you think you’re going to win? Curry stops and turns his head and shoots me a wry smile. We both start cracking up, and I playfully slap his chest before getting up and walking away.

Then I wake up.

In my dream, it seemed only Steph and I knew the future — we shared that commonality while everyone else passed him by. But really, in 2009, who knew? Who could have predicted all of his success, and the quench he would bring to a thirsting city, a tired team and a franchise plagued by missteps and seemingly perennial failure? I sure didn’t. Except maybe in my dreams.

For 47 years, the Warriors occupied an arena at 7000 Coliseum Way in East Oakland. On Sunday, April 7, the Warriors played their final regular season game underneath its storied canopy. They still have a playoff run left on its hardwood, but that Sunday was the emotional tip of the cap to an arena that has stood in Oakland for more than half a century. It was a time to pause and appreciate its history and to reflect on all the memories that have been made there since its construction in 1966. To remember the days before the back-to-back Larry O’Brien trophies and five-all-star-lineups; before the MVP’s and 35-foot threes; before We Believe and Nellie Ball; before Run TMC and Sleepy Floyd; before Rick Barry and a 1975 championship; and long before the Oakland Oaks and California Seals.

The Coliseum may not necessarily be the house that Curry built — there’s far too much history within its walls for that to be true — but he certainly has his fingerprints all over the blueprints of Chase Center, the San Francisco arena the Warriors will call home next season. In a way, he is the one who has afforded the organization the opportunity to leave Oracle behind and to privately fund an arena built by and for champions.

But to many long-time, diehard fans, the move across the bay is bittersweet.

From a business standpoint, Chase Center is a no-brainer. Its construction fills San Francisco’s need for a state-of-the-art venue and moves the league’s most illustrious team to a city that is becoming increasingly that — and away from a city that is historically not. And while The City anxiously awaits its shiny waterfront addition, The Town is already lamenting the void.

In a city of hustle and grit, Oracle is something much more dear to the heart of Oakland than a basketball stadium. The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson, an Oakland native, declares it “a symbol of possibility, Oakland’s Statue of Liberty. It was a place where cool things happened, something to work towards. We didn’t have a bustling financial district to soak up, skyscrapers to stare at and dream, a big beautiful university to sharpen our determination.”

“We had the Coliseum.”

In many ways, the Coliseum embodied an entire community’s hope. It stood as the vanguard of what could be. That making it to Oracle was akin to making it out of Oakland. And it was the appetite for such hope that drew sellout crowds during the 13 seasons between 1994 and 2007 when the Warriors never made the playoffs. When they were racking up paltry win records of 21 games, 19 games, 17 games…

As a wide-eyed kid, these are the first Warriors teams I remember. But even in those frustrating, losing years, those games still lived and breathed all of Oracle’s intangibles. To a boy, launching Krispy Kreme boxes out of a pressurized cannon into the last few rows of the upper level was nearly as exciting as seeing Jason Richardson reverse slam an alley oop from Baron Davis. Or watching color commentator Jim Barnett sink corner three’s before a game in a full suit — jacket and all. Or the acrobatic trampoline dunks from the team mascot, ‘Thunder,’ at half time, or the way the crowd would erupt into a frenzy when Andris Biedrins would finally make a free throw. See, at Oracle, it was the game that mattered. Sure, fans wanted to see their team win, but that was secondary to the magic that made an evening at Oracle so exhilarating.

These are memories that fueled Warriors fandom. The days that didn’t hinge on wins and losses as much as they did just being a part of something that was somehow bigger than yourself, but you could never quite put your finger on what that something was. Even in the Days of Suck, the hustle and grit were always there — there was always that thirst to make it.

Which is why the 2007 playoffs are forever burned into the mental retina of Warriors fans everywhere. Because for 13 parching years they existed as a team shrouded in a cloud of perpetual disappointment. Coaches and players came and went (some even choked their way out), draft picks became flops, budding stars were lost, the team couldn’t even tank properly. The heartbreaks are endless. But finally…finally…the Warriors snuck into the postseason in 2007. Poised to face MVP Dirk Nowitzki and the 67-15 Dallas Mavericks in the first round, it was the classic David and Goliath matchup. Only instead of a rock and a sling, the Warriors were armed with the vocal ammunition of more than 20,000 fanatical believers, who wanted victory as badly as the players did — if not more.

I was in fifth grade during this legendary run and remember climbing the stairs to section 209 and finding my seat next to my dad in the very last row of the arena on that May evening before Game Six. With my back against the wall, I crawled into the yellow We Believe shirt that was draped over my chair. On my 10-year-old body, the extra-large tee wore more like a dress than a shirt, but it didn’t matter — nothing mattered that day except for Warrior basketball. Nothing mattered except the possibility of what was previously unthinkable.

The energy inside Oracle was palpable. You could sense what was coming; you could feel it on your skin, in your heart, everywhere around you. It plays back in my mind similar to how that dream with Curry does. It’s somewhat distant like a dream can be, but the whole time I somehow knew what was going to unfold. Everything seemed predetermined by some outside force long before the ball tipped. I spent almost the entire game standing on top of the seat I paid to sit in, straining to take it all in because with every anything — a made basket, tipped pass, block, forced turnover — Warriors fans exploded.

“What emotion and what energy from this crowd here in Oakland,” TNT play-by-play announcer Marv Albert exclaimed into his microphone during the third quarter.

“I think it’s the best crowd in the NBA,” then-broadcaster Steve Kerr responded, “and they deserve what they’re getting right now. It’s been a long time coming for Warriors fans.”

So, two weeks ago, when the current Warriors took to the court and peeled off their warm-up jerseys to reveal the throwback We Believe uniforms underneath — the hairs on my arms stood on end. The moment was electric. It was the amalgamation of new and old; the visible recognition of all those years of struggle and the ultimate victory of hope. And with Curry standing at mid-court, flaunting the throwback logo on his chest a-la-Mac Dre, he seemed to scream, look at all we’ve done, what we’ve made here, how long we’ve dreamed this dream. And this dream is mine. And this dream is yours.

He dreamed it as an undersized, overlooked and under-appreciated player most of his life. And he dreamed it in 2009 when he wore that horrendously classic jersey during his rookie year, before anyone could have genuinely predicted the game-altering talent he would eventually become. In a sense, he has that Oakland spirit in him, too. The one that flouts adversity and doubt, and crafts its cards into winning hands. And, really, those are the best human experiences, aren’t they? The underdog victory that makes the sweetest story. That makes hope come alive and dreams come true.

It’s easy to write off the Warriors move to San Francisco as a business play — and for owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, it may be — but in a way, this is often how the story goes for those that do what it takes to make it out; for those that finally succeed. And it might be tempting to cast the organization as sellouts to Bigger and Better. But no matter what, the history that the Warriors made in The Town, and the memories they gave the fans — and that fans gave them — will live on forever. Regardless of area code.

Because no matter how many luxury suites sell, or how many Tesla’s line the parking lot, you will never be able to take Oakland out of the Warriors. Ever.

Written by: Carson Parodi — sports@theaggie.org


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