When Joe Lacob and Peter Guber bought the Warriors in 2010, it was assumed by many that they eventually wanted to move the team to San Francisco, where they played for several years after their move from Philadelphia in 1962. While Oakland has served as the franchise's permanent home since the early '70s, "The City" promises a more affluent fan base and greater free-agent draw than "The Town." All the Warriors needed to make the move work is a suitable arena, which San Francisco doesn't currently have.
However, if reports are to be believed, there's a plan in place to build the arena and get a move worked out soon. According to Adam Lauridsen of the Fast Break blog of the San Jose Mercury News, the Warriors could announce their plans as early as this week. From Lauridsen's Twitter account:
Sources: Warriors have finalized plans to move to San Francisco. Announcement could come as early as Tues. Pier 31/32 arena w/ private $$$. [Note: Since corrected by Lauridsen to Piers 30/32, which are adjacent to each other.]
New arena would be state-of-the-art multi-use (basketball, concerts) facility, making the most of Bay-front location.
Move is planned for 2017, presuming no red-tape and funding problems. Access remains a major concern. Only 1000 parking places in plan.
Lauridsen isn't a reporter — he writes for the newspaper's website as a volunteer fan blogger, albeit an exceptionally good one. There is likely some truth to this report, though, because Ric Bucher of ESPN.com followed up and returned with the same information. Lacob, for his part, told Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News that the franchise is "not prepared to make any announcements at this time."
The arena spot is effectively right next to the San Francisco Giants' beautiful AT&T Park, arguably the finest park in Major League Baseball. While the open air of a baseball stadium lends itself particularly well to a waterfront location, there's no doubt that a nearby basketball arena would be a major upgrade for the Warriors, who currently play in a not-especially-central area of Oakland. The area around AT&T Park — once called China Basin, now a mix of South Park and SoMa — has also been built up considerably with restaurants, bars and office buildings (Twitter is within walking distance). If the Warriors want to leverage the area's tech companies and business interests to their advantage, this move would certainly help accomplish those goals.
The downside is that it would change the Warriors' fan culture significantly. For many years, observers around the league have praised the team's Oakland crowds for their devotion, passion and knowledge of the game. At times, they get a little out of control, like when fans booed Lacob (perhaps rightfully) during Chris Mullin's jersey retirement in March. Yet playing in Oakland makes Warriors games an experience that few arenas around the league can recreate. Regular-season games are raucous; when the team is actually good, as they were during the 2007 "We Believe" run, Oracle Arena becomes one of the most feared venues in the NBA.
Moving to San Francisco would change that. Games would become much more accessible for casual fans able to afford them, and corporations would have plenty of reasons to buy up seats to entertain clients and reward employees. Fans would cheer for the team, to be sure, but not to the same degree as in Oakland. As a point of comparison, something very similar happened when the Giants moved from the dilapidated Candlestick Park — many diehards still attended, but the less invested fans began to overwhelm them.
At the same time, that move allowed the Giants to compete for more free agents, and the crowds have been plenty loud during the team's playoff games. For better or worse, this is the new reality of professional sports: most franchises need arenas and locations like this one to succeed.
I'm a San Francisco native, a current resident, and a Warriors fan. I'd certainly be glad to cut my commute to games by more than half, and I'd be even happier to see more wins. Still, there's something sad about saying goodbye to a franchise's particular fan culture, even if it was also one associated with years of losing. Those years produced a lot of fantastic memories, no matter what terrible muck attended it. Whenever this move happens, whether in 2017 or later, it will give the Warriors a shot at lasting success they would not have had otherwise. But it'll also be a substantive change, and that period of adjustment might be a little uncomfortable for those used to the old ways.
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