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Warrior town

Golden State Warriors president Rick Welts on leaving Oakland, and what the future in San Francisco holds
The return of star Kevin Durant is one of the big questions hanging over the Warriors’ future. Photo: Cyrus Saatsaz

As the two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors — let that fact sink in for a moment — begin their final season at the historic Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena, head coach Steve Kerr recognized the importance of the occasion.

“We love Oakland,” Kerr shared in his 2018 Opening Night pregame comments. “We know the new arena in San Francisco is going to be amazing, but this place is special. Our success is a source of pride for the city. We feel the same pride in Oakland. We are the Bay Area’s team but we’re leaving Oakland, the arena, and there’s no easy way to slice it. That’s why we’ve got to make it a unique season for our fans here.”

In an extended, exclusive interview with the Marina Times, Warriors team president and chief operating officer Rick Welts discussed his history with the Oakland Arena as well as the new Chase Center opening next year in San Francisco.

Welts, a 2018 inductee into the Basketball Hall of Fame, remembered his first time in Oakland for a Warriors game.

“Well, it was 1978 when I was with the Seattle Supersonics. The Coliseum Arena had the same reputation then as it does now — a really hard place for a visiting team to win a basketball game. If you want to pick one thing that’s been consistent throughout the history of Oakland it’s been this great home court advantage that the fans have given the Warriors, whether or not the team is performing well on the court. It was amazing to come to the arena for the first time and see that crowd that everyone talked about. I can understand why people thought it was such an intimidating place to play.”

Welts added, “It is a very, very knowledgeable crowd, but for whatever reason the level of sound seems to go to a different place in this building than it does in other places. I think it’s the people.”

Welts believes that the people will come to the new building.

“We’ve had such great success with ticket sales, even though we still have months to go in the process. Since we started bringing season ticket holders to the Chase Center Experience in San Francisco, four out of the five people who walked through the door walked out with season tickets for Chase Center next season. That’s a way, way higher percentage than we guessed because we had no real roadmap to go by, but we didn’t think it would be that good. The fact that four out of five people who came down there to see the value proposition and take in what it’s going to mean to come to San Francisco for a game and 80 percent want to do it, that to me says the feeling inside the Chase Center is going to be very, very much like it is in Oracle.”

The Coliseum Arena crowd reflects the Oakland culture, its constituents and working-class grit. Knowledgeable, yes, but boldly appreciative of the great talent on display, be it home team or visitor. They’re passionate, too, and faithful. Will the San Francisco crowd be as fervent, as dedicated? That remains to be seen.

Amidst these heady days let’s not forget the four-decade run of Warriors futility between the Al Attles-coached 1975 NBA Champions and the 2015 title. Yes, Run TMC was electric and the “We Believe” team had its moments, but neither of those (nor any other Warrior team) had made it past the second round of the playoffs since 1976.

“I find myself thinking of the now-famous Joe Lacob night in 2010, when he just bought the team, that he was going to bring titles and everyone laughed. I laughed. I was at home and I said, C’mon, the Warriors?” Kerr remembered. “I think there was a young guy named Steph Curry in the building that night, who this whole thing has sort of revolved around in so many ways as this all has crystallized.”

Welts says the atmosphere in San Francisco will be much of the same.

“The vibe may even be better,” Welts offered. “There’s going to be a little better scoreboard, the food is going to taste a little bit better, getting in and out, it’s going to be better. I really do think that. The atmosphere of being in the district where there’s a lot of other activities going on in addition to the game that night, I think it’s going to change the fans’ experience on how they plan their day and how they plan their arrival, their departure, and the things they can do in addition to the game. I think it’s going to be a really much richer experience.”

After this season, the Warriors will be moving from the oldest arena in the NBA to the newest. Winning a title this season and more championships in Chase Center may be just as simple as keeping the core three of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green together, and retaining the talents of two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant.

On court at the championship ring presentation to the players, team owner Joe Lacob half-joked to Durant, “You can have this ring . . . if you re-sign!”

Durant would certainly help, but it’s about more than an All-Star player in the Warrior way. “Everyone matters,” Kerr said. “That’s the hallmark of this organization. Championships reflect the efforts of everyone. Of course the team gets the most credit, as they should, but it’s also the fans, the ticket sellers, the ushers, media relations — except for [VP of Communications] Raymond [Ridder]. He gets way too much ink already [laughs]. But everyone . . . this is how we operate. Strength in numbers. It’s not just the team, it’s the whole organization.”

The team gets one last turn to operate at Oakland’s “Roaracle Arena,” and Welts plans on making the season memorable.

“I think everyone is a combination of excited and nostalgic. It’s an opportunity to celebrate teams, players, fans that have made this such an amazing place for 47 years. We go into it with a lot of excitement, a lot of enthusiasm for the opportunity to really take all those great moments and bring them back to life for people and celebrate what a great time it’s been here.”

Dub Nation is beyond fortunate to have the Warriors team, coaches, and management for this goodbye season in Oaktown. As team captain Stephen Curry told the fans before the home opener, “Let’s celebrate this to the fullest.”

 

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