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2019 NBA Playoffs

Warriors aren’t leaving Oakland, they are abandoning fans and the city

Ready or not, a new day — glitz and all — is dawning after team leaves Oracle Arena

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf filters her personal life and political career through the prism of Golden State Warriors basketball.

When she was born in Oakland, California, in 1965, the Warriors had played three seasons in San Francisco after relocating from Philadelphia in 1962.

Schaaf was a year old when what was referred to as the Oakland Coliseum Arena opened, and she was 6 in 1971 when the arena became the Warriors’ exclusive home court.

Schaaf was 9 years old in the 1974-75 season when Golden State won its first NBA championship on the West Coast — and, oh, yes, she went to the seventh-grade dance with Al Attles III, whose father, Al Jr., was the Warriors’ head coach.

Schaaf was elected Oakland mayor in 2014. Two years before Schaaf took office, the Warriors announced their intention to return to San Francisco.

On Thursday evening, Schaaf, 53, will see her Warriors connection come full circle when the Warriors play their final game at Oracle Arena before moving back to San Francisco in September.

“When I became the mayor, I knew this was a done deal, so I have tried to be graceful about it as the mayor,” Schaaf told me last week during a Meet the Mayor event in East Oakland.

“The Finals really drove home to me that it will be different when they play in San Francisco.”

For five years, Schaaf has been in the middle of the Warriors’ success. But if the Warriors reach the Finals next year, the San Francisco mayor will be the one to make bets with the opposing city’s mayor. If the Warriors make the Finals next year, the NBA Cares program will renovate a recreation center in San Francisco, not Oakland.

“As an Oaklander, I’ve been sad. I have felt very nostalgic and a little devastated, a little heartbroken that my team is going to be playing nearby but in a city that stands for things that are a little different than Oakland stands for.” — Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf

“As an Oaklander, I’ve been sad,” she said. “I have felt very nostalgic and a little devastated, a little heartbroken that my team is going to be playing nearby but in a city that stands for things that are a little different than Oakland stands for.” That is the crux of the five-year narrative that has accompanied the Warriors’ move back to San Francisco: what the two cities stand for.

For longtime Oakland residents, including Schaaf, the Warriors’ move from East Oakland to downtown San Francisco seems like yet another slap in the face to a city that has always seemed to live in the shadow of the City by the Bay.

Volumes have been written about the fascinating, often predatory relationship between pro teams and the cities that host them. Schaaf has been an eyewitness to the magic, and the heartache, that relationship can engender.

“It’s where we see ourselves as part of a big, collective, crazy fan base that celebrates together, that mourns together,” she said. “As an Oaklander, there is a lot of symbolism and emotion tied up in this move because it is emblematic of something much bigger.”

Sports teams also represent real and perceived cultural differences among their respective fan bases. Nowhere are the differences as pronounced as they are between Oakland and San Francisco.

While there certainly is great wealth in Oakland as there is poverty in San Francisco, the perception is that San Francisco is the Emerald City with streets paved with gold while Oakland is the forlorn stepchild.

“San Francisco has always been sparkly and fancy, much wealthier, and Oakland has always had grit and grind and celebrates its diversity, authenticity and working-class culture,” she said.

“We all felt the Warriors embrace that. This idea that teams abandoned the communities that have linked their identity with the team for economic reasons always feels hurtful.”

The mayor quickly added that she does not believe the Warriors abandoned Oakland. Her reference was directed more toward the Oakland Raiders, who will be leaving Oakland for Las Vegas.

“The Warriors have been graceful about the transition out of Oakland into San Francisco,” Schaaf said. “It’s not abandonment. They have always been the team of the bay.”

So why has there been so much hand-wringing in Oakland about the Warriors’ move to the San Francisco waterfront? The team is simply crossing the 4-mile-long Bay Bridge and moving just 11 miles away.

“It’s not just across the bay; it’s a whole ‘nother stratosphere,” said John Burris, a well-respected Oakland-based civil rights attorney.

Burris and his wife, law professor Cheryl Amana-Burris, have been fans of the Warriors for decades. They live 15 minutes from the Oracle, and Burris’ office is across the freeway from the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

“It’s just really a loss of convenience,” he said, only partially joking.

Attorney John Burris speaks during a news conference announcing a lawsuit against the Oakland Police Department on Feb. 6 in Oakland, California. Burris filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the mother of Joshua Pawlik, a homeless man who was shot and killed by four Oakland police officers on March 11, 2018.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Burris understands the move but doesn’t like it. “I think it’s betrayal of the city. They didn’t really have to do this, and they decided to do it.”

Burris, 74, is a prominent civil rights attorney who has represented Los Angeles police brutality victim Rodney King, the family of police shooting victim Oscar Grant and others in high-profile cases of police violence. Earlier this month, Burris was hired to represent the family of Miles Hall, a mentally ill man who was fatally shot during an encounter with Walnut Creek, California, police.

He grew up watching the San Francisco Warriors featuring Wilt Chamberlain and later Rick Barry. He cites the loss of jobs from the Warriors’ move as an issue but is more critical of the loss of black fans.

“You have a large concentration of black people at the games,” Burris said of the Warriors’ Oakland fan base. “I don’t know that that will be the same concentration on the same level once they go to San Francisco.

“No. 1, San Francisco doesn’t have many blacks who can afford to go to the games. And the people who live on the peninsula, there are not really many blacks in those areas.”

He added: “We have a large African American middle-class population here in the East Bay, but that’s going to be a hard work, getting over to that game.”

I wondered if Burris felt the “black out” was intentional. If the new regime, in escaping the ethos of black and brown Oakland, is looking for a more elite (and white) clientele.

“I agree that the efforts are more designed for Silicon Valley and the West Bay. That’s clearly white for the most part, and so you will diminish the season-ticket holders and those in the black community from over here,” Burris said. “Whether it was a plan or not, that’s going to be one of the byproducts of it.”

He added: “I think the plan really was more about the upgrade of the stadium, taking ownership of the stadium where they could control all the concessionaires, getting more money for the special seats and the box seats. I see money as the biggest issue. But the byproduct of all that is going to be a diminution, I think, of black support.”

More than anything, the greater loss for Oaklanders, whether or not they attend games, will be a sense of pride and identity. Everyone knows the Oakland Raiders — and, for the past five years, the Golden State Warriors — have become synonymous with championships.

Not everyone knows the Warriors are anchored in Oakland. Cheryl Amana-Burris said their children have gotten into arguments about the team’s location.

“Even on the East Coast, where my kids are living, they’ve had arguments with people who did not know that the Golden State Warriors were in Oakland. They thought they were in San Francisco,” she said.

“They’ve had to show them essentially that they are here in Oakland — they are not in San Francisco. A lot of folks who are not really paying close attention did not realize how closely they were tied to Oakland.”

The franchise adopted Golden State before the 1971-72 season. That always rubbed Burris the wrong way.

“The rub of not being the Oakland Warriors when they have been here for 30-something years,” he said. “I think that one of the arguments that’s always been more about the racial thing, because there was a time when Oakland had a higher percentage of blacks than now. That was when the team was first here and you had all the problems related to Oakland. I think there was a negativism associated with having the name on the team because of the black connection to it.”

Now there is speculation that the Warriors will once again take back the San Francisco name. That would be the ultimate slap in the face.

“I do think it will be a loss to our community when they go to San Francisco because there’s just such a difference,” Amana-Burris said. “Oakland has always had this feeling that they’re a stepchild, the stepsister to San Francisco in any event, and I think this sort of just follows that through, which shows that they didn’t think very much of Oakland at the end of the day, and they didn’t appreciate the community that is in Oakland and how supportive we were.”

Burris thinks a more compelling component of the Warriors’ move is the juxtaposition of black players playing before a well-heeled and predominantly white audience. He thought of this when a white Warriors minority investor shoved and cursed at Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry during a recent playoff game.

Will white and entitled be the Warriors’ new imprimatur?

“You’re going to have all these black athletes performing primarily in front of white audiences, and that is very disturbing to me,” Burris said. “It hearkens back to the turn of the 20th century and black entertainment for the white folks. So you have black athletes performing for white folks and black people will not be able to be there in the same large numbers. That’s a bit of a tragedy, from my point of view.”

On the other hand, while some mourn the Warriors’ move for sentimental reasons, there is no argument that the new arena is magnificent.

Everyone who has had anything to do with Oakland has weighed in on the Warriors’ move to San Francisco.

Baron Davis, who played for the Warriors from 2005 to 2008, said the change would be palpable. “I think a part of the Warriors is definitely going to be lost,” Davis said last week. “San Francisco is a great city, but Oakland is a melting pot. There is an authenticity in Oakland. Oakland is more Bay Area-friendly than San Francisco. San Francisco is going to have a lot of bells and whistles, fireworks and things like that, but my heart always remains in Oakland.”

Retired NBA player Baron Davis (center) attends Game 1 of the 2019 Western Conference finals between the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, on May 14.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, earned her law degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

“I love Oakland because that’s where I lived,” she told me last week. “I feel badly for Oakland. They can’t seem to hold on to a team, but they’ve been there for 48 years.

“Do I blame Golden State for moving to San Francisco? No, not really. I mean, I feel badly for Oakland, but the team is still there. It’s not far. I don’t have a problem with the good of the decision to move to San Francisco. I would have preferred they stayed in Oakland, but I’m not mad at them.”

Reggie Jackson led the A’s to five consecutive American League West divisional titles, three consecutive American League pennants and three World Series titles from 1972 to 1974.

Like Roberts, he wished the Warriors had stayed in Oakland but is resigned to the change. “I’m disappointed with what has happened in Oakland the last few years,” Jackson said, referring to the departure of the Raiders to Las Vegas and now Golden State to San Francisco.

“I’m disappointed, but I reluctantly accept and understand the progress. I mean, the new arena looks like something that Joe Lacob, the majority owner, would think of and dream of. No shortcuts, and just a special place for the community.”

Andre Adams is that rarest of breeds: a black San Franciscan. Now a resident of Oakland, Adams was born in San Francisco in 1962, the year the Warriors moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco. He grew up a Warriors fan and still has a program from 1971.

He watched the Warriors play in the old Cow Palace. “That place was basically a dump,” he said. The team moved from a deteriorating facility in a neglected part of the city to a shiny new place in Oakland.

This is the urban removal story played out in sports: black people allowed to exist in a rotten mess, then removed when the mess becomes valuable.

Reggie Jackson (left) signs an autograph for Marcus Semien (right) of the Oakland Athletics at a ceremony for the inaugural class of the Oakland Athletics Hall of Fame before a baseball game between the Athletics and the New York Yankees at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Sept. 5, 2018.

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

“In San Francisco, the majority of the African American population has been basically gentrified, priced out of San Francisco,” Adams said. Black people live in places such as Hunters Point and Bayview — “for lack of better words, the ‘hood,” Adams said. The San Francisco he knew as a child does not exist. The pro basketball team he knew as a child does not exist.

“I’ve been with them when there was no Steph [Curry] and Klay [Thompson]. There was no Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson. It was Vonteego Cummings and Chris Gatling, Mookie Blaylock and that type of thing. And the team was bad for 20 years after they messed up and decided to keep [coach] Don Nelson over Chris Webber.”

Adams has to remind fellow Oaklanders that the Warriors aren’t leaving Oakland, they’re going home to San Francisco.

“A lot of people from Oakland are bent out of shape because they say, ‘They’re stealing our team.’ I’m saying, ‘Sorry, there’s a reason why they have those jerseys that say “The City.” That’s where they came from; that’s a San Francisco team.’ A lot of people don’t realize that.”

Adams is not upset that the Warriors are moving from Oakland. “I am concerned about the fan base because that Oakland fan base was phenomenal,” he said. “It’s a bittersweet thing. I’m just worried that they won’t have the loyal fans. I just worry that it’s going to be a lot of your dot-com people, your Silicon Valley-type of folks, that are going to be pretty much filling the stadium. It’s going to be interesting to see who is going to actually be there.”

The Warriors have moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco to Oakland and are now headed back across the San Francisco Bay. They’ve played in the Cow Palace and the Oracle and now are set to move into the Chase Center — everything that Oakland is not: “It’s slick and glittery and expensive,” Schaaf said.

Ready or not, a new day — glitz and all — is dawning.

But for one final game, salt of the earth Warriors fans, politicians and folks of unpretentious wealth will gather Thursday night for one last emotional farewell to pro basketball in Oakland.

William C. Rhoden, the former award-winning sports columnist for The New York Times and author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves, is a writer-at-large for Andscape.