When fans of the Golden State Warriors walk inside the hallowed confines of Oracle Arena on Friday night for Game 4 of the NBA Finals, it might be the last time they set foot in the storied building to watch a game.
The Warriors trail the Toronto Raptors 2-1 in the championship series. But 19,596 fans will be jammed to the rafters going wild for their team yet again, marking the 342nd consecutive sellout at the arena in Oakland.
At the end of this season, the Warriors are leaving the old arena the team has called home full time since 1971 and moving across the bridge into shiny new digs in San Francisco.
Like most decisions involving sports franchises, the move is about money.
“The Warriors have created a product that has very high demand,” said Brett Green, associate professor of sports business at the University of California, Berkeley.
“The San Francisco market is much more lucrative. You can’t look much beyond that. It’s too bad for fans in Oakland, but sports are a business.”
That’s the harsh reality. The team will play at the state-of-art Chase Center, with all the bells and whistles and suites anyone could want. The seating capacity will be 18,064 for Warriors games.
But it certainly won’t have the character of old Oracle.
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The spherical arena is located just outside of Oakland’s city centre, nestled next to a busy highway. Directly beside Oracle sits Oakland Coliseum, home to MLB’s Oakland Athletics and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, who will move to Las Vegas for the 2020 season.
The complex has been a sporting mecca and has provided euphoria and heartbreak for people in the community for decades.
Grace Smith has experienced those highs and lows for years from her concession spot at Oracle.
“I started one summer all those years ago, at the baseball stadium. It used to be all the same company,” she said. “I’ve always worked a regular job. But I thought I’d try this for one season.”
Thirty years later, Smith is still working at the Coliseum and Oracle — selling peanuts and beer. Born and raised in San Francisco, Smith was a fan of baseball’s San Francisco Giants and football’s 49ers. When she started making the trip to Oakland, she couldn’t help but fall in love with that city’s teams.
“I came over here and saw how hyped up these fans got and I wanted to be a part of that,” she said.
Prior to tip-off of Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night, Smith was inundated with fans coming to her familiar concession spot – to buy beer and peanuts, but also to say goodbye.
“To me, this is a family. The fans like to see the same people,” she said. “It’s just so sad.”
Smith used all of the money she made working at the concession stands over the years to travel the world. From Africa to South America to Asia, she’s seen it all. Smith is retired from her day job now but continues to come to the arena to work games. She’s unsure whether she’ll continue when the team moves to San Francisco.
Fans say their goodbyes
Warriors fans have been basking in some of the best basketball in the history of NBA. The team has won back-to-back titles and three of the last four championships. They are making their fifth consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals.
But for as much winning as the team has done, fans don’t take it for granted.
“I went through all the terrible, terrible years. We deserve this,” longtime season ticket-holder Richard Zitrin said. “It’s a dedicated fan base that managed to fill the arena even when they were terrible.”
Zitrin has sat in the same seat at Oracle Arena since 1980 — seven rows up from the court, in Section 122.
He sat through some horrible stretches of Warriors basketball. In fact, going into the 2006-07 season, the Warriors held the active team record for consecutive years missing the playoffs — 12. The Warriors closed out that year with a 16-5 record down the stretch to make the playoffs, giving rise to the “We Believe” slogan.
“That was fun. That was an amazing time to be a fan here,” Zitrin said.
Then the Steph Curry era in Oakland began and everything changed. Fans like Zitrin watched this skinny basketball player grow into superstar in front of their eyes.
And now this — a dynasty.
“It’s been blissful because not only is the team winning … they play such a beautiful style of basketball,” Zitrin said.
The building called “Roaracle” for the ear-splitting sound created by fans is going out with a bang. These have been the best of times for Golden State.
Zitrin wants to return to Oracle one more time next week, for Game 6 on Thursday, but that depends on the Warriors extending the series. But if this is it tonight at Oracle, he’s OK with how it all finished.
“It was like going from the wilderness to the Garden of Eden,” he said. “I’ve reconciled myself to going to San Francisco. But this has been magical and so has this building.”