Mariotti: Give Lacob his props — and his new S.F. arena 

click to enlarge The Warriors' proposed arena in Mission Bay is a good thing for owner Joe Lacob, the franchise and, most importantly, their fans. - COURTESY RENDERING
  • Courtesy Rendering
  • The Warriors' proposed arena in Mission Bay is a good thing for owner Joe Lacob, the franchise and, most importantly, their fans.

Carlos Santana was warming up for his Game 2 national-anthem gig, hopefully mixing in strains of "Oye Coma Va." LeBron James was daring to take "58 shots" without Kyrie Irving tonight, though I was figuring 70 or 80. And Warriors owner Joe Lacob was handed a heaping pile of pressure by his Cavaliers counterpart, Dan Gilbert, who joked (sort of), "I just wouldn't want to be Golden State and lose when two of our best players are out."

This being the same Dan Gilbert who wrote the infamous scathing letter after James fled Cleveland for Miami, then crawled on his hands and knees and did who-knows-what-else to woo him back, meaning Lacob got off easy.

Yet, the biggest news story Saturday at the NBA Finals — yes, bigger than even Lacob admitting he moved away from Rihanna at courtside Thursday because she was rooting for the Cavaliers and screaming for "LeBron!" — was on a vacant plot of land where only a breeze could be heard. This was the corner of 16th and Third streets, at Mission Bay in San Francisco, and if the intersection address isn't confusing enough, consider all the swirling politics that are flagrant-fouling what deserves to be a layup for a transcendent sports franchise.

The Warriors need a new arena commensurate with their bullet status as an emerging basketball powerhouse. They've long outgrown the charmingly raucous but hopelessly archaic Oracle Arena, in an industrial district of Oakland that has served them well for parts of six decades but now works best for Aerosmith shows and roller derby reunions. They want to build privately financed digs — NO PUBLIC MONEY — and they want to summon the bulldozers next winter so Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Steve Kerr can have a shiny, $1 billion-plus workplace for the 2018-19 season. It's called maximizing one's vast potential in a large market that adores a fun and likeable team with fun and likeable characters, a large market filled with tech people who fit the desired demographic in the 21st-century sports industry — affluent, young, fast-paced, anything but baseball — and will pump a new arena with so many revenue streams that the bay just might turn green. I understand the soul and history of Oracle, the decibels and intimacy, that you went there with your dad and brother as a kid, that you were there for Run-TMC and "We Believe" and maybe even Rick Barry when the last NBA title team wasn't forced to play two Finals games at the Cow Palace.

But the Warriors swear they're committed to recreating the Roaracle experience in the new place. They vow to keep the roof low, reduce seating to 18,000 and — this knocks me over like an open-court LeBron charge — design only one level of suite seating. What ruined the arena experience was the greed of multi-tiered suites, born in Chicago during the Michael Jordan era, when the rat who owns the Bulls turned his new building into a cavernous, 23,000-seat warehouse by pushing the roof toward the sky with three decks of luxury suites. It's no secret why Oracle is Roaracle: the seating bowl is set low, and the concrete lid seals the noise like music in an ear bud. With all the financial opportunities in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, the Warriors easily could have announced plans for a 24,000-seat monstrosity dominated by rings of suites. Lacob prefers to replicate the Oracle experience. He is a fan at heart, always in the same courtside seat in his golden-yellow jersey, not at all kidding when he said, "I didn't want to do it. Thought about it," after someone asked if he'd considered trash-talking Rihanna following Game 1.

He's no idiot. The new place will have more than enough suites in the single deck — and the richest naming-rights deal in the history of arenas — to satisfy all cash-cow urges. At the same time, he can maintain the wild atmosphere that gives the Warriors the NBA's best home-court advantage. They've lost at home only three times this season, once in the playoffs, and if the Finals end in a sweep, their Oracle record will top at a mesmerizing 48-3. Why would a team want to lose any of that dominance, regardless of the financial killing to be made across the bay?

Will the new experience be entirely like Oracle? Of course, not. The infrastructure will be modern, the amenities will be state-of-the-art. But what Lacob and team president Rick Welts don't want to do is replicate what the 49ers have done in Santa Clara. Jed York did not respect the traditions of Candlestick Park when he built his wine-and-cheese castle, and while Mission Bay is another planet compared to the endangered Coliseum complex — with new construction everywhere at the UC San Francisco campus and accompanying university hospitals — there's no reason the internal arena vibe can't continue to rock on.

Because this is San Francisco, a group of dissenters have emerged from somewhere to fight the project. They call themselves the Mission Bay Alliance, and they've vowed to spend multi-millions through multiple law firms to block the Warriors. Publicly, they are posed as rich people in the UCSF community — some in bioscience — who don't want an arena anywhere near their hospitals and research centers. Privately, take your guess on who might be opposed to two outsiders — Lacob is from Massachusetts, co-owner Peter Guber is a Hollywood guy — invading the rich turf of the city's 49-mile expanse. What they probably don't know is that Lacob grew up poor and became a billionaire the same way many of his opponents did: by coming to California and striking it big in the modern gold rush that is venture capitalism.

The one good point made by this so-called Alliance involves traffic and parking. It's tight down there, with the arena planned for a 12-acre parcel across from a hospital. A concern, for instance, is how emergency patients will reach the hospital when fans and their vehicles are pouring in and out after a sports event. But the city has responded with plans of hospital-specific routes and, more to the point, prefers that the arena becomes a magnet for public transportation similar to the AT&T Park experience. The Warriors won't be involved in bioscience, as the Alliance wants, but they will cooperate with alleviating congestion. They don't want to block ambulances, either.

Lacob has established quick credibility in a town of established bedrock power. Don't take it lightly when Giants CEO Larry Baer, who could run for mayor after three World Series titles in five years, dons a yellow shirt himself and hangs out at Oracle, then has his players and manager congratulate the Warriors on the ballpark big-screen after their Western Conference title. The boos he heard three years ago after the Ellis-for-Bogut deal — don't you feel a little silly now, birds? Everything Lacob has touched lately turns to gold. He summoned Jerry West, maybe the greatest of all NBA executives, to fix the basketball operation. He reached into the agent ranks, of all places, and found a young general manager, Bob Myers, who just was named Executive of the Year. Myers supported Lacob's delicate decision to dismiss Mark Jackson, a favorite of Curry and Green and other players, and hire Kerr, who has been an all-time coaching revelation. The Lacob administration kept Thompson instead of trading him in a Kevin Love deal. The Lacob administration created and marketed the Splash Brothers. The Lacob administration dreamed of being bigger than losing in seven games to the Clippers.

And here are the New Warriors, three wins from an NBA title no one thought could happen again in the Bay Area. "Top to bottom in their organization, they're top-notch," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. "They went about it in a particular way, and Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, in addition to having an outstanding group of partners and ownership, brought in first-class people to run their organization. They're very hands on in terms of management. ... I am in a position where you get a chance to see sort of the ebb and flow of teams that are applying themselves and other teams that are making mistakes."

The Warriors, ahem, are applying themselves, to the point Silver is using the weekend to lobby heavily for the arena. When asked at his news conference if he's thought about the high attendance and great enthusiasm at Oracle, he couldn't respond quickly enough.

"No, it doesn't concern me because, one, the team needs a new building," Silver said. "I think that's apparent every time I come here. It's apparent when we bring in big events like the Finals and we need to accommodate 1,800 members of the media and broadcast crews and everything else."

An unnecessary cheap shot? Not when you consider how many Finals the Warriors could be hosting.

"Ultimately this team needs a new arena. There is no doubt about that," Silver said. "This is one of the oldest arenas in the league and can't support long-term the NBA infrastructure. But at the end of the day, I have tremendous confidence in Joe and Peter and Rick Welts to get this done."

Contrary to popular Oracleist thinking, the building hasn't always been a madhouse. Long periods passed with nothing but losing and moderate crowds. You realize this team was middling-to-bad for a long time when you see P.J. Carlesimo, covering the Finals for ESPN, back in the place where Latrell Sprewell choked him.

But those memories are as distant as they are dark. The Warriors are about to win a championship trophy, maybe the first of several. The kings deserve a palace, not a pit.

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.

About The Author

Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti

Bio:
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.
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