SAN FRANCISCO – NBA coaches from George Karl to Doc Rivers hated bringing their teams into Oakland. Or, more specifically, the building formerly known as Oracle Arena.
“It’s probably the loudest arena in the league,” Karl told me nearly seven years ago, when he was coaching the Denver Nuggets.
“This is a really tough place to play,” Rivers, coaching the Clippers, told me in 2017. “As if the team isn’t enough to deal with.”
The Warriors open this season Thursday night in a new place, Chase Center, and we must admit the dress rehearsals at Chase were not impressive, not when compared to Oracle.
Oracle at its best was loud, boisterous and more than a little imposing. Well aware of this, the Warriors were hoping to recreate that sonic blast at Chase Center. With its high and steeply vertical seating, the new place is built for noise. I doubt the contractors and sound engineers could have done anything acoustically different to make the building more conducive to blowing out eardrums.
But construction crews can’t produce game-night noise. That requires actual fans, engaged in the action, clapping their hands, stomping their feet and screaming at decibel levels that indicate they’re willing to risk larynx and lungs and tonsils and maybe even tongues.
In each of the three preseason games played at Chase, the place so obviously flunked the noise test that we’re skeptical about hearing a grand transformation Thursday when the championship-contending Clippers come to town to help christen the room.
The most evident shortcoming was found in the plush gray courtside lounge seats that accompany the lower-bowl suites. They were filled late in the first quarter, as folks trickled in. Then, at halftime, those seats emptied as waves of fans retreated to private lounges before returning at a leisurely pace – if at all.
It’s an odd sight, several rows, a few feet above the floor, forming a band around the court, mostly vacant as the game resumes. And for a good portion of the second half.
If those folks are watching the game, they’re doing it in the seclusion of the lounge. I’ve been in a few, and they are luxurious and very well-appointed dens. Between the various lounges and the high-top pub tables on the concourse, it’s easy to get caught up in socializing while the game plays on.
In delivering every conceivable creature comfort in the new place, the Warriors might have sacrificed their fabled homecourt edge.
Let’s be fair, though. It’s not only the Chase Center crowd that imperils the noise level. Oracle itself had dialed it back a bit the last couple years as fans became accustomed to the Warriors winning championships and generally driving their booted heels into the necks of opponents.
Winning no longer was fresh and new. It was expected. The noise levels dipped, as did the team’s performance. Maybe there is no relation. Maybe there is.
The Warriors were an astonishing 39-2 at Oracle in 2014-15, and they duplicated that record the next season. They sold every seat for every and game and fans took great pride in shaking the building and, sometimes, the opposing team. Seeing their favorite team thrive, after so many years of struggle, they were cheering their bullied buddy for finally rising up to strike down the abuser.
In 2016-17, when Kevin Durant arrived, the Warriors became the established bully. And the fans knew it. They enjoyed the experience but seemed to save their throats for the postseason. Meanwhile, the team’s home record dropped to 36-5 before falling off to 29-12 and 30-11 over the past two seasons.
The Warriors wish to recreate the old Oracle vibe at Chase Center, and they have the team to do it. No longer favorites to win the Western Conference, much less the NBA Finals, they are back where they were before they were sized for rings.
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Maybe the fans will summon something special for the Clippers. Maybe they’ll scream from their toes once it becomes abundantly clear that the Warriors, if they are to push for games beyond April 15, will need every decibel of sound at their backs.
Will the seats stay filled? Will the noise crank up to levels that can make an impact? Can the Warriors get what they want, besides revenue and wins, from the new palace?
It’s your turn, people of Chase Center, to emphatically respond to questions thus far meekly answered.