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Where the Warriors fit in the messy, changing Bay Area

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What happens when Oakland's underdogs become Silicon Valley's darlings?

It gets cold in Oakland, too. San Francisco is the place with fog and Oakland is the place with sun, sure, but that's a vast oversimplification of the 39,941 different microclimates in the Bay Area. The two cities share the same Bay, and the same cold breeze blows off it at night. Everyone around here waits until autumn for the real heat wave, and until then, it can get damned cold everywhere at night.

The cold summer nights are the best backdrop for the lunacy of Oakland fans. If you want the soul of Oakland sports, get into an A's game on a cold night. Here be lunatics. Coordinated drum attacks and raucous cheering on any foggy night, regardless of how the team might be doing, a righteousness and sense of purpose that doesn't always exist in other ballparks. It doesn't matter how many people are there (and there can be plenty): Here be lunatics. In a good way. This lunacy has its roots in something from the East Bay called oh-fuck-you, and I've learned not to poke a stick at it. The oh-fuck-you is a powerful force, something teams would bottle and sell if they could.

The cold summer nights aren't necessary to peer into the soul of a San Francisco sports fan. People at a Giants game will bundle up if they need to, but they would take a warm night if you have one. Whatever. It doesn't matter. They're just happy to be there, in which there is defined as one of the best places to watch sports in North America. Don't bother with the fair-weather-fan insult. A few years ago it might have indicted a large swath of the crowd, but it doesn't take long for fair-weather fans to turn obsessive. They cheer just as hard for a grounder to the right side.

That doesn't mean they can't stop, occasionally look around, and say, "Gee whiz, look at how wonderful everything is." This is the we-are-pretty-great-aren't-we of San Francisco and Silicon Valley that initiates the feedback loop of oh-fuck-you from the other side. It's a self-satisfaction that's easy to despise, easy to explain. Look at the place. Look at all of the good sports that have been played there. AT&T Park is the wondrous place that Barry Bonds built, so why wouldn't it be teeming with arrogance?

This is the yin-and-yang of Bay Area sports, in which one side openly despises the other, and that other side pretends not to care or notice (even if they most certainly do). It's fun, it's annoying, it's sports, it's life. It's also the pool from which all Warriors fans are drawn. That weird team is the nexus of the two, the annoyed and the entitled, a mix that's spawned some of the best fans in sports, where everyone gets along and roots for a team like a bunch of fools, regardless of how good or bad that team might be.

The Warriors are making a choice, though, moving to the we-are-pretty-great-aren't-we side of the Bay. Let's spend a couple thousand words exploring what they'll give up, and if it's a good idea.

★★★

The idea has its roots in the Warriors moving back to San Francisco, moving from the land of oh-fuck-you back to the land of we-are-pretty-great-aren't-we. This is something that might cost them the fervor of those A's fans on a cold night. Six years ago, the Warriors were in the top-10 in attendance during a season when Kelenna Azubuike led the team in minutes played -- maybe that's not the case with a new sheen in a new, ludicrously expensive stadium.

If you want a sample of the oh-fuck-you in a sports context, watch a national broadcast of any Warriors game.

/aerial view of San Francisco

"Welcome to Oracle Arena!"

First cut to commercial:

/aerial shot of Golden Gate Bridge, lit up against the shimmering water, about 20 miles from Oakland

"Welcome back to Oracle Arena!"

Coming back from halftime:

/clip of Willie Brown eating a sourdough bread bowl and riding a cable car

"Welcome back to Oracle Arena, where Mike Dunleavy has been ejected and taken off his jersey for some reason."

Warriors games get San Francisco skylines, always and forever, which hints that Oakland isn't photogenic at best, a post-Robocop nightmare at worst. If TNT, ABC, or ESPN wanted to showcase the beauty of Oakland, my word, it's there. The networks make the minimum effort by sneaking in the occasional Bay Bridge shot, but if they start looking for photogenic, they'll find it.

Hey, look at this post-Robocop nightmare.

oakland

There's some easily digestible Oakland for you. Instead, we get nothing but San Francisco skylines. The networks are going to get those skylines non-sequitur free in a couple years, and it feels dirty.

38thNotes.com, a site dedicated to Oakland, has a relevant mission statement:

38thNotes exists because the Oakland Bay Area is a rich locale full of underdog grit, spirit and art, and we want to offer the world a glimpse into our beautiful struggle. We are a collection of saints, sinners, and shepherds who are serially underestimated, ignored and marginalized, but a bit cooler than the rest.

That's the heart of it. Oakland knows it's pretty cool, too. It has its problems, but so does every city. Not every city has as much going for it, though. Considering weather, culture, arts, and sports, Oakland is easily ahead of the curve in so many damned ways, and people here know it. The oh-fuck-you comes from everyone else pretending it doesn't exist.

I've been in the East Bay for almost two years, and I feel it. When I'm on the other side of the bridge, I'm usually using my internal monologue to seethe at what's around me, everything that didn't used to be there. Or maybe it was always there, but I didn't notice it. I feel about a tenth of the oh-fuck-you, and I've earned about a tenth of that tenth, but that doesn't mean it isn't a natural instinct now. Bros wearing casual-expensive, smelling like a database, walking around, so excited to be there, so excited to create ideas and products and wealth and technology and wealth.

In my hometown, they turned the place where I bought fart spray and stink bombs into a damned boutique. Do you know how many places there are to buy fart spray there now? None. NONE. And the area my dad bought into when he was a grocery clerk is now a place that looks like this on Zillow:

re

Getting pushed out is why I'm bitter every time I see a Tesla. It also makes me glad to be pushed out. Good, fine. Happier out here. Y'all a bunch of weenies, anyway.

And you know what that resentment is? That's the resentment of a spoiled twit. I haven't earned that bitterness, not even close. For all my resentment, I'm still a dude who puts words on the Internet for a company funded by venture capitalists. I'm not fifth-generation Oakland, and I didn't grow up having to listen about just how special the other side of the Bay is. And I still love the place, from my hometown to the walking stereotypes of downtown San Francisco. It is kind of great, isn't it?

I still feel the annoyance, though. And if I feel it ...

★★★

The Warriors aren't moving away, remember. They're moving back. The San Francisco Warriors played just south of the city for 10 seasons, and people gave exactly zero shits. The team had at least one of Wilt Chamberlain, Nate Thurmond, and Rick Barry in every season, often two of those players, but they still never drew well.

That has less to do with San Francisco in general, and more to do with the entire Bay Area in the '60s and '70s. Only the Oakland Raiders consistently drew above average crowds. The A's won three World Series in a row from 1972 through 1974, and they averaged fewer than a million fans every year. The Giants drew well in the '60s, but started their toilet-spiral by the end of the decade. The 49ers usually played in front of crowds that were twice as large on the road. The Warriors moved from Philadelphia into a region that was busy with anything other than sports.

It makes the nostalgia weird, if not completely fake, with the Warriors making a concerted effort to bring this logo back for select games in recent years ...

d

... and selling a ton of merchandise with it. That's a logo used for exactly one season, the last one they played in San Francisco. They drew so poorly, Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli chose to split their home dates between Oakland and San Diego. If you wanted to know why the Warriors are named after the whole danged state, there you go. Because they were going to play all over the whole danged state.

And yet people just fawned over this logo, both inside and outside of San Francisco. It's not ambiguous -- it's a logo that uses "THE CITY", a hilariously perfect and self-important nickname for San Francisco, and features a big ol' Golden Gate Bridge on it. The popularity of the logo was foreshadowing. If the Warriors were ever worth claiming, the other side would figure out a way to claim them, alright. This was destiny, apparently.

Somehow, this is all happening when everyone is right to get grabby about the Warriors. Steph Curry might be America's favorite player in the NBA, a relatable, lovable scamp who can make the wildest shots look elegant and hit more of them than any person alive. This move didn't happen when Antawn Jamison was the marquee player, or when it was a moral victory if the team finished over .500. It's happening now, when the Warriors are the It Team. Of course they're getting swallowed up by the place that fancies itself the It City.

That's how you get headlines like this, well before the Warriors have moved back (or won a damned thing):

So if the Warriors win it all, which city hosts a parade?

If you're Oakland born and bred, a long-time Warriors fan who's waited years for the Warriors to be this good, this relevant, why, your reaction to that question might just be, "Oh, fuck you."

★★★

Now we get to the twist: The oh-fuck-you has been endangered for a while. Oakland is trendy. Right when the Warriors are going for the big money of over there, the whole mess is sprawling over here. Here's a headline from the New York Times from last year:

Oakland: Brooklyn by the Bay

And a few months before that:

Another City by the Bay Comes Into Its Own

The growing consensus is that this place is hip, actually hip, and it's where the real artists will come to create now that they've been pushed out of San Francisco. Over there, wealth. Over here, cool people. Seems easy enough to remember, just like the fog and sun.

Except that's not how it's going to work. San Francisco is far too small to contain all that San Francisco. Silicon Valley is far too rich and growing far too quickly to contain all that Silicon Valley. The East Bay is changing, sure, but in a cold, predictable way. Rents are increasing faster than in San Francisco, and asking prices are soaring in Oakland. The money is coming over here, and it's going to dilute the oh-fuck-you.

There's going to be pushback, of course.

But the zombie apocalypse of wealth is coming. The A's have always been rumored to be ready to leave, but the odds are much better of them staying, getting a beautiful new ballpark, and making the same transition as the Giants, who moved out of a concrete punchline and into a brick mint. If the Warriors stay, they won't have trouble finding corporate money, and it would just get easier and easier over time.

There will still be the differences. San Francisco will still look at Oakland as having an inferiority complex, and Oakland will still look at San Francisco as having a superiority complex, but the lines will blur as the place becomes more of a megalopolis than a tossed salad. I don't know what that will mean for those maniacal A's fans who root for their team because of a regional pride and an enjoyment of being the underdog that's fiercer than you'll find almost anywhere else, but I can guess.

The Giants were always trying to leave the area, first to Toronto, then to Tampa, and fewer and fewer fans were willing to sit in a frigid toilet to watch baseball. The fans who did go to Candlestick took pride in it all, the miserable cold, the horrible stadium. It was ugly, but it was their ugly. Those people are still at the new ballpark, mostly. They're just surrounded by lots of other people, who have changed everything, for better and for worse. It's easy to dismiss the better and focus on the worse, but it's not telling the entire story.

It'll change the A's, I'd guess, far more than it could ever change the Warriors. That's because the NBA isn't built for grit. It doesn't want anything to do with oh-fuck-you. More than any other sport, the NBA's live product is built for the super-rich to begin with. Half the games as baseball. A third of the seating capacity as football. When it's working right, basketball balances the supply and demand in a way that keeps regulars and poors away from the arena and steers them toward the TV. The Warriors weren't going to be affordable, regardless of where they played.

Here's the Warriors' owner, Joe Lacob, interacting with regular people.

warriors

Yeah, that's the NBA, more or less. So the Warriors will be giving away some of the oh-fuck-you that Oakland and the East Bay has to offer, but they were going to anyway, and the sport didn't really know what to do with it in the first place. In its place, the Warriors will make do with all of the other reasons people root for a team. A more general regional pride. Love of the sport. Enjoyment of the product presented on the court.

We're dealing in stereotypes, of course. The Oakland Hills have always had wealth and natural beauty worth envying. There are suburbs in the East Bay that wouldn't be able to find grit in uncleaned shellfish. And on the other side, there's more than Google Glass and stock options. My daughter's first elementary school is nestled right in the middle of multi-million-dollar homes. Yet in the middle of that vast wealth, more than half the kids in the school qualified for the free- or reduced-lunch program. Every day, those families walk through the valley of millionaires, drop their kids off at a poorly rated school, and walk back through the valley of millionaires. If the millionaires had kids, they mostly went somewhere else. Now that's some oh-fuck-you, mixed with the maybe-one-day that people use to keep going. The Bay Area is too diverse to paint an entire side with one brush, then use a completely different one for the other side. It's all about the microclimates.

If a proud regional sense of the underdog actually helped a team succeed, we'd probably all be talking about the Browns' title defense this year, wondering if they were on a Super Bowl collision course with the Lions. And maybe, just maybe, if a sense of the underdog was so damned important, the Warriors wouldn't have missed the playoffs for 17 out of 18 years in a league where more than half the teams make the playoffs. As always, the people in the suits making decisions are more of a factor than the passion and hardiness of the fans. The Warriors have some of the best fans for a lot of reasons -- the underdog spirit of the East Bay is just a portion of that.

The Warriors are giving up something with their move, with the Bay Area changing, though. It could be microscopic, it could be bigger than I'm giving it credit for. Heck, they might be better without it. But when the Warriors aren't the fetch team of the NBA, it's possible they'll misplace the nutty passion that could fill a place for Troy Murphy. There's a good thing going in Oakland right now, that's all I know, and it's being given up for something shinier and more lucrative. Those aren't synonyms for worse. Just different.

Still, this is a franchise at the end of a transition from spunky underdog to shiny favorite, and they're moving to the land of shiny favorites. It'll be a swell match, for a while. Eventually, though, the Warriors will be just another team, and the bad-to-average teams are the ones who need oh-fuck-you the most. Those are the teams that attract the lunatics. Like hell are those fans giving up on their team just because they aren't the sexiest draw in the league. The A's have it. The Raiders have it. The Giants used to have it, and those fans are still there, just mixed in with the throng.

The 49ers, well, they're something of a cautionary tale to this point, right? From hardy underdog to perennial favorite to ... whatever in the hell is going on there right now. It costs a lot of money to watch that whatever in the hell. It's somewhere unfamiliar. The new era of that franchise is already losing the gloss it was supposed to have. The Warriors will have all they'll need as long as they're everybody's darling. The real test will come when they're the Warriors again, even if that's a decade away.