Something strange happened on Sunday night at Oracle Arena. But if you’ve been paying attention, you should’ve seen it coming.
This isn’t about the best team in the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors, getting beat at home by a team, the Phoenix Suns, that is 30 games behind them in the standings.
It’s about Klay Thompson realizing that the fans inside Oracle have changed over the years, a trend that will continue when the team moves to their new arena next season.
The Warriors are about to leave their souls behind in Oakland, and no amount of money will ever be able to buy the organic love and enthusiasm they’ve received until recently.
Coming into Sunday night’s game, the Warriors were a 17-point favorite and the Suns hadn’t won a road game against a Western Conference team all season, but quirks tend to happen in an 82-game season.
Sunday night wasn’t about who the Warriors lost to, but more about who was there when it happened: unenthused fans.
“I expect our crowd to be little more into it, too. Like, I know it’s not the playoffs, but it is our last go-around at Oracle,” said Klay Thompson after the game. “Least you can stand up or something when we make a good play, especially in the beginning. We need that energy, especially this time of the year. It’s hard to conjure up energy every single night ’cause you’re looking forward to the playoffs and that run.”
The Warriors have always had one of the best fanbases in the league. It didn’t matter who was on the team and how many games they won, or didn’t win, you could always expect a raucous crowd in Oakland. It’s just who they were.
However, success changes things.
Over the past few seasons a more laid back and melancholy crowd has taken over Oracle. I reached out to a handful of sportswriters who call Oakland home and have covered the team, and they confirmed my suspicions.
Oracle is lame now.
Marcus Thompson (no relation to Klay) of The Bay Area Athletic tweeted in January that he had to wonder how many fans in attendance recognized the songs by by halftime act and local legend E-40.
“Seriously, they don’t know the song,” Thompson followed in amazement that a Bay Area crowd didn’t know any of the lyrics to one of the Bay Area staple’s most popular songs.
Warriors “fans” not losing their minds over E-40 performing at Oracle is comparable to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” being blasted during halftime of a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden and nobody singing along.
The blue-collar minority fanbase is being pushed out due to skyrocketing ticket prices, as it’s replaced with a more “corporate” fanbase.
This isn’t like when Lakers and Bulls fans got comfortable when their teams were on dynastic runs, choosing to sit on their hands during the regular season until the playoffs started. Because Oracle used to still be a party no matter if the Warriors were headed for the postseason or the lottery.
Last week, the Washington Post got a look at the Warriors’ boughie new home, the billion-dollar Chase Center in San Francisco that will feature suites that cost $2.5 million per year, as the new arena will include wine cellars and private butlers for the filthy rich that believe that these amenities are necessary to watch a basketball game.
Chase Center will be the complete opposite of what Oracle Arena always stood for.
Out in Oakland, there have been tensions for decades between the locals and the team as some in the African-American community felt slighted due to the team being named “Golden State” instead of Oakland. They felt like the team didn’t want to be tied to the negative stereotypes that had been associated with their community that’s historically been listed as one of the most dangerous cities in the country.
“There became this cultural divide of grassroots and elite, so to speak,” Thompson explained to the Daily News. “In many ways, how it plays out in the Bay Area is that where you stand on that becomes which side you’re on, and that was the first time the Warriors as an organization were put in a position where it was time to take a side.”
“It also starts with the area that the Warriors are playing in,” said Logan Murdock, a Warriors reporter for NBCSports to the Daily News back in 2017. Even then you could feel that things had changed in Oracle.
“They’re playing in Oakland which is the birthplace of the Black Panther Party, and across the bridge was the Peace Movement and Harvey Milk (the first openly gay elected official in the state of California), and then Colin Kaepernick started his protest in Santa Clara with the 49ers. It’s really a hotbed, and the birthplace of a lot of revolutions.”
According to reports, Warriors season ticket holders will see an increase of around 10 percent at the Chase Center for the same seats they had at Oracle. Add that to the fact that seniority discounts won’t carry over for longtime season ticket holders. If you’re a Warriors’ fan your pockets are about to take a hit. But it also means that blue-collar fans that were there from the start are really about to feel the squeeze.
On one hand, it’s a great business move for the team. But on the other, it could cost them their culture.
“We’re transforming from being a basketball team that rents its building to a sports and entertainment organization that’s responsible for every aspect of its business,” said Warriors chief operating officer Rick Welts to the Washington Post. “Oracle is owned by the city and county, and none of the Oracle staff works for us. At Chase Center, we will own and operate this building.”
The “We Believe” Warriors of 2007 used the energy of their home crowd to become the first eight-seed to beat a one-seed in a seven-game series in NBA history. The crowds were more reserved in the second round against the Jazz, once ticket prices skyrocketed, and the Warriors lost the series. The crowd showed out in 2015, though, when the Warriors won their first title in 40 years, after going 9-2 at Oracle during that playoff run.
“So we expect our fans to kind of bring that from the jump. … It’s like us, though. You can’t bring it every night, but still it helps. … It doesn’t matter if we’re playing the Suns or the Bucks, whoever it is. We need that energy from them because we feed off that,” said Klay Thompson on Sunday.
Look, we all know that the Warriors are a juggernaut and are expected to capture their fourth championship in five years this season. Dynasties don’t last forever, though, and this summer’s free agency period could bring the reigning champs back down to Earth.
We have no idea what the Warriors’ roster will look like next season when they travel across the bridge to San Francisco.
But I do know that Thompson and his teammates would probably prefer the kinds of fans that would get hyphy in the stands instead of the ones that need their own butlers at a basketball game.