The last opener: Tales from the beginning of the end of Oracle Arena

Warriors begin 47th and final season in Oakland with 108-100 win over the Thunder

Karl Buscheck
October 16, 2018 - 11:56 pm

It was moments after tip-off on ring night when I almost spilled a beer on E-40.

The portly rap legend was making his way through the crush, headed toward his customary courtside perch, adjacent to the Golden State Warriors’ bench. He stopped, as he often does, to take a picture with a fan or maybe just say hello.

The man behind him stopped too — more abruptly than I’d been expecting. I slammed into his arm, nearly splashing his golden beer all over 40’s back, draped in his plush blue jacket.

The beer didn’t spill. 40 stayed dry. Crisis averted.

It was a fortuitous start to the evening for the Warriors’ 47th and final opener at Oracle Arena — an evening that ended with a 108-100 win over the Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Warriors have called this building home since the 1971-1972 season, with the exception of a one-year hiatus while the arena underwent renovations. The team used the building, intermittently, starting in 1966. That was shortly after the Oakland Seals christened what was then the Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum Arena, meeting the San Diego Gulls for an NHL game on Nov. 9 of that year.

For head coach Steve Kerr, who collected his eighth ring on Tuesday night, it was opener No. 5 in Oakland.

Kerr gets it. He gets the connection Oakland.

“We feel very close to the people here — whether it’s walking into Oracle or walking around our facility and going to lunch,” Kerr explained. “Wandering around, seeing our fans, seeing people we know.”

He gets the move to the City too.

“We know that the new arena is going to be amazing and we’re looking forward to it,” Kerr said. “But we’re also going to miss Oracle. We’re going to miss Oakland.”

“There’s not an easy way to slice it. It’s a great move for the organization. We know that. But this place is special. So, we want to make sure this is a special season.”

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It’s 7:25 pm. The ring night ceremony has not yet begun. The power brokers are assembling on the court. Owner Joe Lacob, standing in front of his front-row seat opposite his club’s bench, is talking with Larry Baer, CEO of the San Francisco Giants — the Warriors’ soon-to-be neighbors across the Bay.

Stephen Curry takes a pause from his warm-ups to say hello. So too do NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Peter Guber, Lacob’s co-owner.

“It’s funny,” Kerr recalled, sitting at the pregame podium. “I find myself, now, thinking about the famous Joe Lacob night when he said, ‘We’re going to hang another (banner).”

It was 2010. Kerr was a popular NBA analyst at TNT.

“Everybody laughed. I laughed.”

“I was at home like,” Kerr stops. He smirks. “‘Come on. The Warriors?’”

“So Joe set the goal that night and I think there was a young guy named Steph Curry in the building, who, this whole thing has kind of revolved around in many ways as it’s all crystallized.”

For Curry, that was his second opener at Oracle. Tuesday night was No. 10. He opened it by drilling his first four 3-pointers. He ended it with 32 points, a game high. He chipped in eight rebounds and nine assists.

And he collected his third ring.

“It’s special,” Curry said. “I remember looking up there and there were only Philadelphia Warrior banners and the 74-75 team.”

“So, to come into Oracle every night and go to our practice facility and look at the wall, up on the rafters, and see the three championship banners that we brought back to the Bay, It’s amazing."

“I kind of reminisce on the journey — and those little moments," Curry continued. "Obviously, we’re still trying to go for more. It’s really hard, I think, in terms of putting it all into perspective. But nights like tonight are where you really sit back and feel really proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

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Some three hours before the ring ceremony, a metallic humming fills the air in the tunnel between the loading dock where the away team bus arrives and the visitor’s locker room sits, nestled behind the lower bowl of the arena.

Everyone’s waiting for Russell Westbrook.

An assortment of unfamiliar Thunder players and staffers trickle through. But there’s no Russ, Kevin Durant’s erstwhile running mate turned eternal rival. He must be on the second bus.

Working his way back from arthroscopic knee surgery, Westbrook isn’t taking part in the opener. His absence has taken the air out of a rivalry game that, already, has been decidedly lopsided in the Golden State favor.

Almost an hour later, the second bus — carrying Westbrook — finally makes it. Wearing gold sunglasses, a dark blazer and grey pants that only stretch to the midpoint of his calves, Westbrook bounds into the locker room, looking spry.

A few hundred yards away in the media room, the perfect petty present is on display. On the table sits a tray of championship cupcakes, a not-so-subtle reference to the famous moniker that Westbrook and Co. lobbed at Durant after he spurned Oklahoma City.

Minutes into the game, Durant recorded a steal then promptly stared down Westbrook at the end of the bench.

For Durant, it was his third opener at Oracle — the second in a row that began with a ring ceremony. This time, the ceremony featured a giant hologram ring, projected right in front of the bench. Truly light-years ahead.

For those wondering if this is Durant’s final opener as a Warrior — never mind just in Oakland — it’s worth noting that Durant was the last player to get his ring, earning top billing over Curry.

The recruiting push starts early.

Well, don’t bring that up to Durant. When a reporter asked what he thought about being the last one introduced, Durant, as he likes to do, fired back with a question of his own.

Durant: I don’t know. I don’t know. What’d you think?

Reporter: It’s not me. I mean, does it mean anything special?

Durant: I mean, you asked the question like it did.

He got up from the podium and laughed. And then, as he walked out of the crowded press conference room, he shouted out, in a mocking tone:

“What it mean, man? Tell me. What it mean?”

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Chase Center is 17.6 miles across the Bay. It’s fast rising in Mission Bay amid a forest of cranes. Next year it will be home.

But Steve Kerr knows home can’t be defined by, or limited to, a single building.

“The biggest thing for us, is we have always been the Bay Area’s team,” Kerr said. “Since it began as the San Francisco Warriors and that’s not going to change.”

“But there’s no getting around the fact that we’re leaving Oakland. So, that motivates us. That motivates our guys. And, as I’ve said, we’re looking forward to what’s next. That’s going to be an incredible next era.”

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