By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com
Sunday, April 7th against the L.A. Clippers marked the last time I will likely ever set foot inside the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena for a Warriors game. The 47 years the Dubs have spent on the hallowed ground of 7000 Coliseum Way along the 880 have come and (almost) gone. As the Grateful Dead sang so many times in Oakland, “wo, oh, what I want to know, where does the time go?”
By now, the walk from the Coliseum BART station across the “scenic” pedestrian bridge is always a sentimental one for me, even if it’s a Tuesday night A’s game versus the Royals. There’s just too much history on that bridge. The fog rolling out in the distance over San Francisco, the scrappy scalpers, the underrated musicians, the one dollar waters, two dollar canned domestic beers and the 10 dollar fake T-shirts get me semi-emotional every time.
This particular evening was already sure to add an even higher degree of sentimental value. Even more than you could imagine there would be on the last regular season game in the the history of Warriors basketball in Oakland. But what I wasn’t expecting was the death of my childhood friend Brian Hammons just days earlier. “Hambones,” as they called him, spent his whole life living and rooting for the Warriors from various locations in the East Bay. His fandom never once wavered, even in the LEAN years of the early 2000’s, when the idea of a .500 team playing at the Arena in Oakland was almost laughable. The type of guy that wouldn’t rush you to leave a game early, but instead citing the small pleasures of small beer lines, lenient ushers, and the unpretentious fan base all around us.
Maybe it was just the nostalgia talking, but Sunday’s game felt in many ways like it did back in the 2000’s. The beer lines were still manageable, the ushers weren’t tripping if you needed a different view, and the season ticket holders were all there. The seats were still blue, the ceiling somehow still made me feel like I was in Rome, and the jerseys still featured a Thunder lighting bolt on the backside of the shorts. At least for one more night, everything was the same as it was back in 2001.
I remember the 2000-2001 season like an addict who got sober 18 years earlier. 2001 was rock bottom, no doubt about it. Coached by Dave Cowens, the Warriors went 17-65 that year. That season, it had been six years since the Dubs had made the playoffs. It would also be another five year wait until they would make it again. It was the middle of an NBA nosedive of unprecedented proportions. The Warriors sucked. There was no other way to describe it. You could sit virtually wherever you wanted, so long as you were willing to pull back a curtain and step over a row of seats to get into the lower bowl. The rotation of starters was absurd. An aging Mookie Blaylock, Marc Jackson, Larry Hughes and a frosted tipped Bobby Sura in the backcourt, coupled with Adonal Foyle and Erick Dampier down low. Antawn Jamison was their franchise player at that point. Off the bench that year you had studs like Bill Curley, Vinny Del Degro, Corie Blount and Vonteego Cummings. Hell, you even had 37-year-old Chris Mullin, playing in his final NBA season.
The winter of 2001 was extremely dark, but the following season, after drafting Gilbert Arenas and Troy Murphy, the Warriors were able to claw themselves back over the 20-win mark for the first time in three years. It gave them the modest amount of “momentum” they needed to push toward the 2007 “We Believe” team led by Don Nelson, Baron Davis and company.
Yet however terrible the brand of basketball was in 2001, the Bay Area fan was always easily convinced to heed to call of the Warriors marketing campaigns and come out to the Arena to have a “Great Time Out,” with the late great Thunder mascot grinding to make as many people happy as humanly possible.
The 2001 fan was in attendance on Sunday. They didn’t sell their tickets to an online ticket brokerage or a guy on the peninsula with a red Tesla. Uncle Bob from Hayward who owned the tix wouldn’t have allowed that. Hell, he still doesn’t know how to scan his tickets on his phone properly yet. But no, Bob won’t be in San Francisco next year. He’d love to be, but it just doesn’t work like that anymore around here.
The loudest roars from the Oakland faithful on Sunday night came for their adopted son, Stephen Curry, and understandably so. They roared when he ripped off his jacket at the end of warm ups to reveal his “We Believe” era whites that he wore as a rookie in Oakland a decade ago. They roared when he knifed through the L.A. defense to find easy layups that shouldn't have been there in the first place. They roared when he launched one of his signature rainbow contested threes and splashed it. “CURRY HIT IT FROM THE BART STATION!!!” announced Bob Fitzgerald for the 1000th time in his life. By Q4, The Baby Faced Assassin had nothing to do but throw a towel over his shoulders and laugh.
After the final buzzer sounded and the ceremonial confetti dropped, the die-hards from the second deck were invited down to share a moment with the second coming of Al Attles, a skinny white dude with a bad back named Steve Kerr. Trained by legends Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson, Kerr scrapped the sarcasm of Pop and sided with the thoughtful zen of Phil as he addressed the emotional Warrior fans that were left standing with 47 years of Oakland basketball memories Run(TMC)ing through their heads.
Just like any great party you go to, once it really gets going, once you think it will never end, you look up and it’s over. For the past 47 years, the Oakland Coliseum has hosted great company in East Oakland. Everyone has now started to show up for the three-peat going away party. There’s no telling how wild it will get over the next couple months. All we know is that it will be over soon, whether we want to believe it or not.