As the news continues to come in about the Golden State Warriors proposed move to the San Francisco waterfront, there is much to be critical of. On a personal level, it’s upsetting that the team so many of us have blindly supported for so many years is leaving a great set-up for a luxury pipe dream across the bay. The Warriors may only be moving 20 minutes away from their current location, but the management couldn’t be sending a louder message to Oakland and their loyal fans.
You would be hard pressed to find fans who support their losing team more loyally than Warrior fans. There are other Bay Area teams whose fan bases will defend them to their death, but that doesn’t often translate into ticket sales. When the Raiders are bad, even Raider Nation die-hards aren’t often willing to put on their armor and waste perfectly good face paint to suffer in the Coliseum sun. And people don’t tend to go to A’s games unless they’ve won 15 or so games in a row or the Yankees are in town.
With the Warriors it’s different. Perhaps it’s because even when they’re bad they’re still “exciting” to watch. Maybe it’s because they have rare moments of brilliance against good teams that get us excited about the future. Or maybe we’re just so used to an inferior product that we don’t expect much else and love the game regardless. Whatever the reason, Warriors fans are inexplicably loyal. Most owners would be more than happy to make so much money in a storied basketball city with great fans and an inferior product, but new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber have more glitzy aspirations.
The insult here is partly the middle finger the Warriors are sending to Oakland after 41 years of support, which has included building and retrofitting an arena, supporting decades of bad teams, and accepting that they would never put our city’s name on their jerseys. Don’t even get us started on the fact that the new alternate logo design features the letters “SF” even as they play here in The Town. Oakland has a history of disrespectful and abusive ownership across all three major sports. The Raiders have left, the A’s are doing everything they can to leave, and now the Warriors are making grand gestures to move the team into some swanky overpriced glass arena across the bay. This is where GSW’s latest announcement will get problematic for fans regardless of what city they hail from.
Some will make the argument that this move isn’t an affront to local fans, because the Warriors are moving to another city who already support the team, but there is a financial component to this move too. Warrior fans are widely renowned as the best, most tenacious, and most informed fans in the league. The insult is that in return for being loyal fans throughout years of losing, they will be priced out of attending games just so the owners can sell more luxury boxes. If you were energized by the boisterous “We Believe” Warrior fans of old, be prepared for the distracted corporate networking “fan base” of the future. New arenas don’t bring better teams or championships, they bring rich people in suites who drink wine and talk the whole game with their backs turned to the game. Bleacher Report writer Jeff Carillo agrees, summing his sentiments up as such: “One of GSW’s promos for the Lakers said, ‘Laker fans go to Staples to be seen, Warrior fans go to Oracle to be heard,’ this is exactly what will happen at the new SF arena.”
As a fan I’m insulted by the ownership’s attempt to reframe the conversation about building a successful franchise to focus on spectacle rather than basketball. Don’t be fooled, Lacob and Guber’s decision is not about business, it’s about vanity. Moving to San Francisco won’t make the team better, it will create debt and disgruntled fans in a vain attempt to raise the franchise’s national profile. A new venue would be nice, but this isn’t Extreme Makeover Arena Edition; this is a basketball team we’re talking about. You want to get better? Learn how to run a basketball team.
One of the big reasons Joe Lacob says the Warriors want to build a new arena is in order to attract free agents who want to play in big markets. News flash: San Francisco may be bigger than Oakland, but the Bay Area is the market, not the region’s individual cities. That means that players will be playing in the same size market regardless of what side of the bridge they’re on. Players aren’t scared of playing in Oakland, they’re scared of playing for a franchise that has perennially proved that they don’t know how to be successful, regardless of who is at the helm of the franchise.
Even if this “bigger market” talk is an argument you buy, there are misconceptions about it’s relationship to quality basketball. Perhaps big markets are draws for stars, but not necessarily for good teams. Lots of teams have one or two solid players who get big contracts, but it’s about the players that surround those “stars” that determines whether you’re a successful team. If you look at the teams left in the playoffs, you will see that the majority of the teams are home grown. The teams that have good management that know how to draft the right players and are the ones who are successful in the long term.
Lets look at a couple of the favorites to win the the NBA title this year. Of the 15 players on the Spurs roster, 10 of them were either drafted by the Spurs or signed as undrafted free agents. That includes Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, and Tim Duncan, who comprise the nucleus of that team. Manu has played in the league 9 years, the fewest amount of years of those 3 players. In those 9 years the Spurs have made it to the playoffs every year and won 3 NBA titles in the process. Tim Duncan has played 14 years for the Spurs making the playoffs every year and winning 4 titles. There is no better way to win in the NBA than to draft and develop your own players. Digging deeper into history, the Spurs organization has made the playoffs every year except one since 1990, with the anchor of many of those earlier teams being David Robinson, who was also a drafted player.
Switching our attention from history back to the present day, look no further than the Oklahoma City Thunder who have quickly become the new kids on the block in the NBA. Their “Big 3″ consists of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden, all of whom are quickly becoming some of the best young players in the game. While the Thunder don’t have the rich history the Spurs do, they are quickly finding out the advantage of growing their own players, regardless of the size of their market. And these examples are just the beginning. The Pacers and 76ers, both of whom are fighting to remain in the playoffs, feature core players who were drafted and/or special role players who were brought in to fill a need.
If you follow the Warriors at all, you know our draft history is one of the worst in all of sports. But it’s a new ownership so I will give them a pass because they can’t control what happened before them. As of right now we potentially have four draft picks this year, two in the 1st round and two in the 2nd round. Perhaps the Warriors are beginning to figure out how you make your team better afterall.
Then again, perhaps we’re speaking out of turn. Just last week new Warriors GM Bob Myers hired Kirk Lacob, also known as the 25-year-old son of owner Joe Lacob, as the Assistant General Manager. So you’re thinking, “Okay that’s kinda weird, but this guy must have the resume to back up his new position.” Instead his resume shows that he is in no way qualified to hold this job. A brief stint working for the Celtics, where his dad was also a part owner, and being the general manager for the Warriors Developmental League team, a job his dad also gave him, is not nearly enough experience to be the right-hand man of a NBA general manager.
I say all of this to be clear about how mature and evolved this new ownership is. Will we be a little better? Perhaps, but they’re not setting the foundation to be a successful team for the long-term future. Our new owners have made it clear that they are good at being flashy and putting on a show at press conferences, but have yet to show that it translates to the court, unless you think Lacob getting booed at center court was a positive thing. Warriors fans in the East Bay have long supported this team, and yet we get the short end of the stick again.
Let us know your thoughts about the Warriors proposed move to San Francisco. Will it lead to success? Will it even happen given all the hoops there are to jump though?
As a little bonus reading for all of you who defend this decision on the grounds that it’s “good business,” here is an interesting article that well-respected author Malcolm Gladwell wrote during the NBA lockout about the wacky behavior that is construed as “business” in this league. Check it out here