OAKLAND, Calif. — If anybody understands an arena’s link to a city, to a faithful fan base, Kevin Durant does.
Durant played the final NBA game in KeyArena for the Seattle SuperSonics a decade ago before the franchise’s relocation to Oklahoma City, then returned for a nostalgic exhibition earlier this month in the venue’s final event. On Tuesday night, he will play an opener against his former Thunder team to begin Golden State’s goodbye season at Oracle Arena.
The two-time reigning NBA Finals MVP wants to make sure the Warriors leave more positive memories and defining moments before next year’s move to new Chase Center in San Francisco.
“Luckily we’re not moving to the middle of the country, we’re moving across a 20- to 30-minute drive,” Durant said, “so hopefully that’s a little better for fans to take.”
The Warriors’ pending move comes amid a recent spate of upgrades for NBA franchises.
In Milwaukee, the Bucks will try to build momentum in their new downtown Fiserv Forum next door to the old Bradley Center where they spent the past 30 years. The Timberwolves will play in new-look Target Center following a two-year renovation that cost about $140 million and features a complete overhaul of the arena bowl, a glass entryway outside and other amenities such as a modernized team store and concession stands.
The Sacramento Kings begin their third season in sparkling Golden 1 Center.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was an assistant in San Antonio when the Spurs moved from the Alamodome to a new basketball-only arena in 2002.
“There’s nothing like having a great home atmosphere, having great energy in the building,” Budenholzer said. “There’s no doubt you go into certain cities in the NBA, you know that the crowd is going to be on top of you, the crowd is going to be loud. You have a tough night as a team because of that crowd.”
Golden State’s move across San Francisco Bay will be a tough one for many. Fans, players, coaches, even executives, realize how much the Warriors have done for the East Bay in nearly five decades at Oracle. Even through all the down years.
In blue-collar Oakland and right off one of California’s busiest freeways, Oracle has become one of the most imposing stops for opponents on either coast — with Stephen Curry’s dagger 3-pointers from way downtown, Durant’s drives through the paint for dazzling dunks, Klay Thompson’s beautiful shot-making and all those biceps-flexing celebratory plays by Draymond Green on both ends.
“It’s still tough for us moving out of Oakland,” Durant said. “But we’re just trying to come out this season and let them know that even though we’re moving we’re still going to be here in the Bay Area, we’re still going to be your team and hopefully people understand that and realize we’re still going to be the Bay Area’s team no matter if we’re playing in San Jose, Oakland or San Francisco. I think everybody’s still going to come watch us play.”
The Warriors are offering a similar message: “We’re leaving a building, we’re not leaving a city.”
That’s the motto COO and President Rick Welts is sharing as Golden State, winner of three titles over the past four years, prepares to move into that snazzy, privately funded new arena. Welts hopes fans will stick it out through the transition — realizing full well some might feel abandoned.
“When we talk about the magic of Oracle, the magic of Oracle is the people that are in Oracle,” Welts said. “And to know that four out of five of those people are coming to Chase Center it’s one other element of wanting to maintain that incredible atmosphere that we have.”
From all the down years to the thrilling “We Believe” playoffs of 2007 when Baron Davis and the Warriors ended a 12-year post-season drought then stunned the Mavericks in the first round, loyal fans in the East Bay have experienced all the highs right along with the lowest of lows.
One of the arena’s loudest moments ever was when Davis drove left to the baseline for a powerful one-handed slam over Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko during a 125-105 Game 3 victory in the Western Conference semifinals, Golden State’s lone win of that series.
The lead up to that playoff run left a lasting impression on those players involved in the turnaround. Long before tipoff, the noise was deafening.
“It didn’t matter who showed up, whether we had 10 people, they were going to be as loud and as proud as they could be for our team,” former centre Adonal Foyle recalled. “There’s a really amazing spirit to Oakland and what the teams mean to their lives. I think more than anything else what I wanted more than anything with ‘We Believe’ was to just win one for the people that were in the stands every day supporting us. I remember they would bring people down from the balcony upstairs to the lower bowl. I knew those kids who would be outside wanting that autograph, I knew who I was going to see during the game, the regulars that showed up no matter what.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr could feel it even back during his playing days coming through.
He always loved playing in Oakland even when the Warriors were bad because the fans were so committed, so loud.
“It is bittersweet. I think the new arena’s going to be amazing and we’re all excited about that but we’re all bummed to be moving on from Oracle,” Kerr said. “So, we would love to finish it the right way. It’s hard to replicate an atmosphere like Oracle’s. I think back to Boston Garden, going to the new Garden, the old Chicago Stadium where I played to the new one. It’s hard to create that same sort of intimacy when you’re building a new arena with suites and concourses and everything else. We know this new arena’s going to be great for our organization. It’s going to provide an incredible viewing experience for people coming in. But that doesn’t make it any easier to leave Oracle and leave Oakland.”
At Chase Center, white exterior panels have already gone up on the east and south sides and are beginning to wrap around to the western end near the main lobby entrance. A waterfront park project is also underway.
“It is crazy. I don’t even know what to think about that yet because Oracle has always … that’s been my experience as a Warrior,” two-time MVP Curry said. “I don’t think I’m ready to think about what’s next yet.”
AP Sports Writers Genaro C. Armas in Milwaukee and Dave Campbell in Minneapolis contributed to this report.