Their highest highs were achieved in Oakland and the echoes still bounce off the lonely walls of the workshop where the dynasty was built.
There was a charm about Oracle Arena, perhaps because the noise, which rattled brains and threatened eardrums, was proportionate to the performance of the greatest NBA team of the millennium.
Oracle is a dive by NBA standards. Opening in 1966, it lost its primary tenant two years ago, when the Warriors packed up their magic and took it with them across the bay.
That magic, however, was lost on the way to the new home. Chase Center, smothered in amenities and built for now, has spent its first two years as a stylish but sterile structure. A meticulously designed palace without warmth.
Year 3 begins Thursday night, against the Los Angeles Clippers, and it offers the first real chance to see if the Warriors can find what has been missing. They hope they do. Coach Steve Kerr believes they can.
“We want to be able to dominate at home,” says Kerr, at Chase but coincidentally wearing a dark blue T-shirt with “Oakland” across the chest. “But it takes a number of things to build that,” Kerr says. “You obviously need talent. You need a smart team, a team that knows how to get the best out of the crowd without resorting to showmanship.
“If we play smart basketball, don’t try to do too much, don’t go for the (showstopping) moments, I believe our fans will still be able to give us a boost. I think it can happen here.”
Color me skeptical.
Through the first two seasons, there has been no sign of the Warriors feeding off Chase Center energy as they did at Oracle. Thus far, there have been legitimate reasons.
The inaugural season, 2019-20, had no chance. Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston were gone. Klay Thompson was rehabbing an injury that would sideline him all season. And when Stephen Curry was injured in the second home game, fans quietly hoped there was no curse. The team’s record, 15-50 (8-26 at home), their worst in 19 years, offered no argument. Nor did the abrupt end of the season due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Year 2 was worse in the most important respect: There could be no crowds, so there could be no noise. No playoffs, either, and the last chance to get there died when the Warriors were beaten at home by the upstart Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in tournament.
The Warriors, 33-37 in two seasons at Chase, now find themselves in a place no self-respecting team cares to be: Trying to climb above .500 at home. To be the team they believe they can be, capable of earning a top-four seed in the Western Conference, they need Chase Center to become a weapon similar to what existed at Oracle.
That would require fans in San Francisco to be as loud and engaged – and as eager to roar into open air – as they were in Oakland. That’s where Chase simply can’t compete. Too many fans have been willing to abandon floor seats – row of which often go empty after halftime – to watch from courtside Lounges and club Suites, private spaces equipped with massive 4K flat screen TVs.
“That’s one thing that’s different for sure,” Kerr concedes. “When it comes to suites, this place is on a whole different level.”
It’s also a different kind of fan. To have a chance to get in on one of Chase Center’s courtside lounge VIP packages, which include butler service, you’d need to bring millions. Literally.
None of the seats available at Oracle afforded such seclusion and opulence. There were attendants but no variety of plushy quiet rooms – and no butler on call. Though the demographics changed over time, as ticket prices zoomed upward, there remained a vocal attachment.
That’s the root of my skepticism. Oracle had a rawness, an organic passion. Even if there were a bunch of private rooms without a view of the floor, they likely would have been empty. How loud can you be while sitting out of view in a back room?
The Warriors once had the most imposing homecourt in the NBA. They went 39-2 at home in 2014-15, and repeated the feat in 2015-16, when they won 73 regular-season games. Over those two seasons, they won an NBA-record 54 consecutive games at home. Winning at home was an expectation. It was an assumption.
Andre Iguodala, in his fourth season as a Warrior, said Oracle was the best homecourt advantage he’d ever experienced. This from someone who had been in the NBA for 12 years, and visited dozens of venues. This from someone who spent a year in Denver, which where the mile-high altitude provides a natural disadvantage for visitors.
It was during that season that the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), of which every player is a member, voted the Warriors as the team with the “Best Home Court Advantage” in 2016-17.
The Warriors recognized what they would be losing and did their part to address it when constructing Chase Center. They wanted acoustics that amplify crowd noise. Done. They wanted tight seating and a low ceiling. Done and done.
“This is a great building for sound,” Kerr says of Chase. “It’s a pretty small building, not one of those massive structures like Staples Center (Los Angeles) or the United Center (Chicago), where the roofs are so much higher.”
When I pointed out the number of retired players and veteran journalists who claim the Bulls had more of a homecourt advantage at old Chicago Stadium than at United Center (opened in 1994), Kerr conceded there was an element of truth. He should know, for he played in both.
The home records, however, do not reflect that, revealing the Bulls were slightly better at home in the new building than the old. That may the result of a hungrier and more mature Michael Jordan, who anchored teams that accomplished “threepeats” in both places.
The Warriors have their own franchise icon in Curry. Optimism is higher this season than in the previous two. The Warriors are widely considered a top-five team. Iguodala has returned and looks revivified. Thompson is expected back, maybe as soon as December.
These Warriors have the goods to make noise around the NBA, but can their fans be counted on to holler along in harmony as they did in Oakland?
That, after all, could make a difference in the standings.