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Warriors to show Oakland some love with debut of ‘The Town’ jerseys

Kevin Durant: ‘I feel like this is way past due to incorporate Oakland into this whole thing’

OAKLAND, California — Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant looked like he felt disrespected when recently asked whether he knows what “The Town” means.

The Warriors will begin playing in alternate black jerseys featuring “The Town” in tribute to Oakland beginning Saturday against the New Orleans Pelicans at Oracle Arena. The familiar city symbol of an oak tree is also featured on the jersey, which goes on sale Saturday online and at the arena. But the move is bittersweet for residents of “The Town” because the Warriors, who have played in Oakland since 1971, are moving to a new arena in “The City,” better known as San Francisco, in 2019.

“Yeah, of course I know what that means,” said Durant, a Seat Pleasant, Maryland, native who modeled “The Town” jersey during an offseason Nike unveiling. “It pays homage to Oakland. This city reminds me of where I grew up. I feel like this is way past due to incorporate Oakland into this whole thing. But to incorporate Oakland, I feel a lot of fans have been waiting on this. It will be cool to throw those jerseys on for the first time.”

The Warriors plan to wear the jerseys for most Saturday regular-season home games and select road contests. The Nike-designed jerseys are part of a leaguewide Statement Edition uniform. The Town jerseys include the tree logo inside a circle with the jersey number underneath it and “The Town” atop the circle. Oakland used to be inhabited by a large forest of oak trees. It also was originally called “The Town” when incorporated on May 4, 1852, before being reincorporated into the city of Oakland in 1854.

“The Town” was also popularized by hip-hop artists Too $hort and MC Hammer, both from Oakland. When asked when he thought “The Town” nickname for Oakland was born, Too $hort said: “Around ’93, ’94 or ’95. All you got to do is listen to old Too $hort songs and figure out which album I started saying it on.”

The Warriors have worn “The City” jerseys in recent seasons as a tribute to their San Francisco days from 1962-71. Meanwhile, East Bay natives have asked online for “The Town” jerseys to arrive as a show of respect to Oakland. Warriors CEO Rick Welts said the franchise brought up the idea of getting “The Town” jerseys included in the NBA several years ago, but it took time to get it done.

Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors debuts the new jersey during the unveiling of the New NBA Partnership with Nike on September 15, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

“We wanted something to celebrate Oakland,” Welts said. “This really started two seasons ago. The process included getting an agreement with the league on concept and a design we could protect and trademark. And then getting it to the point, because of manufacturing and distribution, where we could offer it.

“I’ll be honest, when I moved here six years ago, I knew ‘The City.’ But I didn’t understand that Oakland called themselves ‘The Town.’ We started testing it with a lot of movers and shakers in Oakland and it really resonated. ‘The Town’ was a source of pride.”

Quietly, Warriors chief marketing officer Chip Bowers began working on getting “The Town” jerseys created during the fall of 2015. Bowers saw some novice “The Town” jerseys online with the cranes from the Port of Oakland and Oakland’s Tribune Tower building. The Warriors also considered using a logo of the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on “The Town” jerseys.

The Warriors eventually decided to use their own variation of an oak tree as the symbol on the jersey. The Warriors also discussed the use of the oak tree with the city of Oakland and local clothing line Oaklandish. Bowers was hoping “The Town” jersey could debut last season, but the process and excitement over the addition of Nike as a league uniform sponsor pushed it back. Bowers says putting “The Town” on a Warriors jersey has a “different impact” in showing the franchise’s love for Oakland.

“What I was trying to understand was it’s a loving term for Oakland or something people called it that lived in San Francisco that were like, ‘That is our little brother, little sister,’ ” Bowers said. “The more I talked to people, it was like, ‘The Town is who we are and what we’re about.’ About 2 1/2 years ago, I started to go through the process with the league to do a ‘Town’ jersey.

“The ironic thing is people are saying that, ‘Now that you are going to leave to San Francisco in two years, this is kind of your goodbye.’ That could not be farther from the truth. To us, it’s part of our broader brand position in the market. Now historically, we can say we have ‘The City’ uni, ‘The Town’ uniform, we got some other stuff we are working on that will forever be part of our heritage.”

Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who has been with the franchise since 2009, said he quickly learned about “The Town” and the history behind it. The former Oakland resident is excited to wear “The Town” jerseys at Oracle Arena.

“It’s amazing for the organization to recognize ‘The Town’ and the city that supported them through the dog days and some tough times and bright spots, obviously,” Curry said. “Knowing we are soon moving to San Francisco, it’s a silent effort to show the loyalty to the city and the history as well. There have been a lot of great days here. Hopefully, the fans from the East Bay and Oakland can rally around that.”

The Warriors moved to the San Francisco Bay area after playing in Philadelphia from 1946 to 1962. With Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain on the roster, Franklin Mieuli purchased most of the shares of the Warriors in 1962, relocated the franchise to San Francisco and called them the San Francisco Warriors. The Warriors played most of their games in San Francisco and its suburb Daly City from 1962-71 while also playing some contests in San Jose and Oakland. The Warriors also began scheduling more home games in Oakland after the arrival of the Oakland Coliseum Arena in 1966.

The Warriors played their last games as the San Francisco Warriors during the 1970-71 season. The franchise adopted the name Golden State Warriors to appeal to the entire state in 1971. Oakland Arena, now Oracle Arena, has been the Warriors’ exclusive home since the 1971-72 season, except for one season in San Jose during renovations. While Oracle Arena has aged, Warriors fans seem content to watch games there as it is easy to get to by car, subway or train.

Warriors owner Chris Cohan reached an agreement on July 15, 2011, to sell the franchise for $450 million to Boston Celtics minority partner Joe Lacob and Mandalay Entertainment CEO Peter Guber. Warriors fans in East Bay appeared confused about Lacob and Guber holding the introductory news conference in San Francisco. Lacob and Guber eventually made clear their desire to move the team back to San Francisco.

“I was watching from a distance being president of a different team,” said Welts, who joined the Warriors after leaving the Phoenix Suns in 2011. “In retrospect, it’s a question to ask Joe or Peter because I wasn’t here when those decisions were being made. I can understand, in retrospect, how that was a little bit of a jolt. But I think it was more about their vision of this being something much bigger than it had been until that point in time and being a regional franchise, being San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland’s team.

“But I wasn’t part of the process. In retrospect, I can understand if there were those who said, ‘It would have been nice to have [that announcement] in Oakland rather than in San Francisco.’ ”

On May 22, 2012, the Warriors announced plans in San Francisco to build a new sports and entertainment arena there on the waterfront in time for the 2017-18 season.

The Warriors’ initial plan was to have the new arena alongside the San Francisco waterfront on Piers 30-32 to the right of the Bay Bridge. After receiving resistance from San Francisco residents, it is now being built in the Mission Bay neighborhood near a relatively new hospital. Parking and transportation to get to the venue will be an initial challenge. However, a subway extension, a ferry stop and parking for boats is in the works at what will be called Chase Center when it opens in the 2019-20 season with 18,064 seats for basketball.

Welts said the arena is on schedule to open in August 2019. He added that Lacob and Guber are undertaking a “financial risk” in the half-billion-dollar Chase Center project that also will have office buildings, restaurants and retail.

“San Francisco has never had a world-class sports and entertainment arena ever, ever, in its history,” Welts said. “There is no city half its size that doesn’t have a facility like this. We knew going in, and we’re not complaining about it, but to do it with no public money …”

The Warriors had an elaborate arena groundbreaking ceremony in San Francisco in January. It included a gospel choir, gold shovels, Cirque du Soleil performers dressed as construction workers, fireworks during the day and choreographed movement to music by excavators.

The Warriors are building a state-of-the-art arena that they expect to be the best in the NBA after taking notes during site visits across the league. San Francisco currently does not have an indoor venue that has more than 8,500 seats. There is certainly much more money to be made in perhaps the nation’s most expensive city. The venue will also be an entertainment hub in San Francisco and has the ability to shrink to an intimate concert venue of about 5,000 seats. Ticket and suite prices are expected to dramatically jump from Oakland to San Francisco.

“Half of our season-ticket holders live in Oakland and half live on the other side of the Bay,” said Welts, who resides in San Francisco. “The promise is that every one of those season-ticket holders has the opportunity to move with us to San Francisco. Our hope and our expectation is a great number of those season-ticket holders will choose to come with us.

“We have to tell the story of why it’s not hard to get to. One, it’s going to be an amazing place. Second, access to it is going to be much better than people expect.”

Before the Warriors won a title in 2015, their fans had been loyal for decades watching them mostly lose in Oakland. Keep in mind that there is also sensitivity in Oakland over the NFL’s Oakland Raiders’ announcement this year that they are eventually moving to Las Vegas. Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics also threatened in the past to move to San Jose before deciding to stay in Oakland with a new venue in the works. The city of Oakland has also celebrated the Warriors’ NBA championships with title parades in 2015 and 2017.

Oakland has emerged in recent years as one of the nation’s up-and-coming cities because of its diversity and infusion of restaurants and hip nightlife with numerous tech-working residents. Even so, Oakland is hampered by its past reputation involving drugs and violence, and some knock this gentrified, now majority-white town for being a “black city.”

“How Oakland right now is moving and the decision their sports teams are making are kind of in contradiction a little bit,” Welts said. “My personal view is Oakland is headed in the right direction. There is a lot of hope and promise for the future in Oakland. At the same time, the reality of the sports teams here is what it is. I know that to set up the stability of this franchise for the next 40 years, we needed a facility like [Chase Center].

“All the right factors came together in San Francisco. All the right factors did not come together in Oakland. The Raiders are where the Raiders are. The A’s will hopefully be successful in building a new home here. But in some ways, what is happening with sports teams is opposite of what is happening in the city.”

The Warriors are not expected to change their name to the “San Francisco Warriors” when they depart, as ownership considers the Golden State name popular and familiar worldwide. While there is a change in city and bridge crossover, Welts noted that the move is actually 11 miles.

None of the Warriors players currently lives on the San Francisco side of the Bay Bridge. They live in Oakland, as Durant does, or in neighboring East Bay cities. Curry said half-jokingly and half-seriously that he has asked the franchise to provide ferry service for the team when they move to San Francisco. Curry used to live in Oakland’s Jack London Square neighborhood and still lives in the East Bay.

Curry relishes his time left in Oakland, as he knows the clock is ticking.

“There are two years left. Next season is going to be really interesting just to feel the vibe in the arena here knowing it will be the last year,” Curry said. “Right now, hopefully, we can push forward to winning championships. My memory two of the last three years of celebrating a championship in Oakland has been unbelievable.

“Hopefully, we can do it a couple more times before we cross the bridge. It’s still kind of early to get wrapped up in the emotions of it.”

The Warriors also plan to wear “The Town” jerseys for most games during Black History Month in February, Bowers said. Many of the tributes during Black History Month during Warriors home games will center on African-Americans who made an imprint on Oakland. “The Town” jerseys are also expected to be worn during select games after the Warriors move to San Francisco as a tribute to its Oakland days. Welts said that half of the Warriors’ fan base is in Oakland and the East Bay area.

“This isn’t just a this-season thing. Obviously, we want to see how people react to it,” Welts said. “But assuming they like it as much as we think they’ll like it, this is something that we’ll want to have as one of the uniforms that we wear as far into the future as we can see right now. This is a uniform we are going to be wearing in Chase Center as well as Oracle Arena.

“It’s not a one-off. It’s been a long time coming in the planning stages. But I’m really excited about the reaction so far. We think people will be really excited about it.”

The Warriors had the first of four refurbished “The Town” court unveilings in Oakland on Wednesday at Youth UpRising Center. Too $hort and former Warriors guard Kelenna Azubuike were expected to be there. “The Town” court at Oracle Arena will be in place for Saturday’s game. The Warriors also plan to continue to give money to Alameda County, where Oakland is located, through their community foundation and youth groups after departing. Welts also said the Warriors are working to continue a long-term physical presence in Oakland that “will be significant.” The Warriors’ offices and practice facility are currently in Oakland as well.

“We love being here. We’re going to have a big presence here going forward after the team starts playing in San Francisco,” Welts said.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.