Oakland’s last hope for a championship could be Golden State now

With Oakland’s sports teams each exploring new stadium options, Golden State’s NBA finals run could represent a city’s last shot at a title

Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors are back in the NBA finals for the first time since 1975. Photograph: John G. Mabanglo/EPA

When the final whistle sounded on Wednesday evening in Oakland, the celebrations began. For the first time in 40 years, the Golden State Warriors are heading back to the NBA Finals in what could be the city of Oakland’s last chance for a championship, with the Warriors moving to San Francisco in a couple years, the Raiders wanting a new stadium or an exit strategy and the Athletics attempting to make leave of Oakland for San Jose to the south.

That was no impediment to the party outside Oracle Arena in Oakland as fans remained after the game to show their support for the ‘Dubs’.

“Bring on the King,” said one Warriors supporter in reference to Cleveland Cavaliers star Lebron James outside the stadium minutes after Golden State had clinched the Western Conference championship with a 104-90 beating of the Houston Rockets to win the best-of-seven series four games to one.

As the Warriors were making their way to the NBA Finals, to begin 4 June, National Football League owners had recently met just across the Bay in San Francisco, and the topic of the Oakland Raiders were high on the agenda.

The Raiders, the NFL’s embattled franchise who left the Bay Area in 1982 for Los Angeles only to return in 1995, are once again on the prowl for a new home. While staying in Oakland would be ideal, says owner Mark Davis, the city has refused to offer assistance to erect a new single sport stadium, leaving the possibility of a move more likely.

Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf has been firm on her stance toward a new stadium, arguing the money could be spent better elsewhere. “That money we’re paying now is general fund money we could spend on police, parks or libraries.” Her office confirmed that there would be no public money spent on a new stadium.

Ironically, it was Oakland who fronted the funding to rehabilitate the Oakland Coliseum in the early 90s that enticed the Raiders to move back to the Bay Area. But now, two decades later, the stadium is dilapidated and renovations will not suffice, both city officials and Raiders management agree. With Oakland continuing to pay the bill on the stadium until 2026, a new building is unlikely.

This has led to Oakland and the San Diego Chargers looking to LA once again, with the teams having partnered on a potential new stadium to be built in Carson, California, a short drive from LA, where the they would share the stadium and its costs, much like the New York Jets and New York Giants do at the Meadowlands.

The teams received preliminary approval for the shared $1.7bn stadium, and NFL owners appear willing to listen to relocation ideas for both franchises. LA hasn’t had a team in 20 years after the Raiders, and the Rams, left.

“The Coliseum and the (Oracle) Arena are regarded as antiquated by the tenants, and both the city of Oakland and Alameda County are unwilling to subsidize new facilities other than by offering a site and tax forgiveness,” said Roger Noll, a professor of economics at Stanford University.

That is where the Athletics come into play, as they also currently call the Coliseum their home. The Major League Baseball franchise does not want to leave the Bay Area, but Oakland is not the team’s choice home. Instead, the team is looking south to San Jose and the heart of Silicon Valley for a future stadium.

But the problem with that move is their neighbor across the Bay, the San Francisco Giants, who according to MLB mapping of territory, owns rights to San Jose and has been unwilling to allow their rival to move south. This has led to court battles, with the A’s and the city of San Jose arguing the Giants’ hold on the area is akin to a monopoly. However, an April ruling by a Santa Clara County judge dismissed the claim, saying the city must first put the concept of the A’s moving to San Jose to the voters.

Superior Court judge Joseph Huber was siding with a citizens’ group, Stand for San Jose, which sued to block the city’s option agreement with the A’s.

Baseball’s mapping issue has been contentious for some time now, which allows franchises to hold “possession” of an area and can bar other teams from entering the market. A’s representatives confirmed the biggest obstacle is not San Jose voters or the logistics of establishing the A’s in San Jose, it is the San Francisco Giants and their refusal to give permission to move.

The Giants head office did not comment on the issue, citing MLB regulations and ongoing litigation.

The Santa Clara court ruling essentially invalidates a deal between the city and the A’s that was established last year. It puts the A’s in an increasing predicament, and as year-to-year leases of the Coliseum are not ideal, the team is continuing to explore other options and potential cities.

At least the Warriors, who have shot to the top of the NBA in the past few seasons, largely thanks to this year’s MVP Stephen Curry, are staying in the Bay Area. The team plans to move to San Francisco as early as 2017.

The new stadium will be a waterfront building with a large business and conference area in San Francisco’s Mission Bay, near the Giants’ AT&T Park. While the club and the city are pushing the endeavor as a cash cow and economic jolt to the city, evidence of professional teams sparking economic growth is debatable, said Noll, who argued this was one of the reasons the city of Oakland is unwilling to put forward the funding necessary to keep the remaining two franchises.

Noll said that if Oakland loses all its teams, “the economic impact is minor – the cash flow through a sports facility is not a big business – smaller than a major department store – and the number of full-time employees is minuscule.”

Noll, who has become a leading expert on sports economy, said the “so-called ‘publicity effect’ of hosting a team has never been shown to be real and so is speculative.”

He added “we are left with the self-image of people in Oakland if the city is no longer ‘major league’ – also speculative.”

In the end, money will be the deciding factor, and public officials have been quite public about the current state of affairs facing Oakland and Alameda Country.

“If my income has gone down, and my housing costs have gone up, it doesn’t make sense for me to go out and buy a new car,” Alameda county supervisor Keith Carson told The San Francisco Chronicle, adding that the idea would be foolish “if I’m paying an existing car note.”

The uncertainty of Oakland’s remaining two franchises has given Warriors fans more reason to cheer this season, knowing their beloved team, who they struggled with despite decades of losing, is leaving. The now of the Finals is seen as potentially Oakland’s final flirtation with a championship. The city hasn’t experienced a championship since the A’s won the World Series in 1989, defeating the Giants in the ‘Battle of the Bay’.

“This really could be our best shot and I really hope the Warriors bring home the trophy because it would be really amazing to see the parade and show off this great city,” said season ticket holder Ramon Gutierrez, a 59-year-old Oakland native who says he remembers the euphoria of the Rick Barry 1975 squad that won the NBA title.

“It feels a lot like now,” he said. “People are smiling, they’re happy and after all these years, the stadium is still packed, loud and cheering our boys on. This is great for Oakland and I hope it will bring interest to our other teams.”

Interest and popularity may not be enough for the A’s or the Raiders to remain in Oakland. Public officials remain adamant that the city will not fund a new stadium, leaving the future of Oakland’s major sports franchises in jeopardy. The Warriors shot at an NBA title has galvanized and rejuvenated a city behind their team. The question many are asking is if the city will get another shot?