Fans share memories of Oracle Arena as last Warriors game in Oakland looms

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OAKLAND - It’s not the building. It’s the relationships forged within.

The friendships, the family, and yes, a little hero worship.

As the Golden State Warriors’ final few hours at Oracle Arena drift off into San Leandro Bay, fans, workers, players and coaches of the Bay Area’s only professional basketball team are reminiscing about their home court for the past half-century.

Next season, the Warriors will play across San Francisco Bay at the shiny new metal-and-glass Chase Center in San Francisco’s Mission Bay district. A plaza of restaurants and other businesses called “Thrive City,” a gesture to Warriors’ partner in the project Kaiser Permanente, will open before the team’s first game at the center on Oct. 5.

“A lot of my favorite memories come from being a player here and marveling at the energy in this building, coming from a crowd that did not have a whole lot to cheer for, frankly,” coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday before the NBA Finals Game 3 loss to the Toronto Raptors.

“The Warriors went through a long dry spell, and yet you would come here and there was an atmosphere, an energy you could feel.”

He said one of the other places he felt the same energy in was in Toronto.

“They weren’t that great, but, man, the fans loved basketball,” he said. “So it’s something that jumps out to me about this Finals. You’re dealing with two areas, cities, general areas, that are just basketball crazy, and you can feel it inside and out of the building, around town. And so it’s been just an incredible experience to play and coach at Oracle, and hopefully we can go out in style and win our last games here.”

Down 2-1, the Warriors need to win Game 4 Friday to guarantee it’s not the last game in Oracle Arena history.

If they win, Game 6 on Thursday will be the last roar at Oracle.

For 30 years, a half-dozen Sonoma County attorneys have shared a four-seat block of Warriors season tickets at Oracle. They’ve gone to hundreds of games and witnessed basketball legends — Rick Barry, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and more.

The best part for all these years, said Walter Rubenstein, wasn’t necessarily the important games won or the even the postseason victories.

“I was able to go with my two daughters and her friends,” he said, “and it was a great way to bond. I don’t remember all the scores, but I remember who I was with.”

Other buddies in the group, including original ticketholder Jonathan Steele and Chris Andrian, tell epic tales of trips to the East Bay where everything went wrong, but still, they made great memories with friends.

Andrian, a native San Franciscan, began following the team when they were the San Francisco Warriors and played most of their games in the Cow Palace. They moved to the Oracle building in 1972.

“Even though I was pissed they were going there,” he said, “I’ve become an Oracle guy. And now it’s going to be hard to leave.”

The playoffs in the 2007 “We Believe” win over the Dallas Mavericks stand out in Andrian’s memory. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been in any place that was as electric as that,” he said.

Rubenstein and the others went so often they made friends with the usher in charge of Section 107, William Hay.

Hay has been an usher for 13 years after retiring from the Social Security Administration.

An ebullient man with a hearty laugh and broad smile, Hay tells people to call him “Will.”

“Because I ‘Will’ make it happen,” he said before Game 3. “Fans first. I let them know my name and that I’m here for them.”

Hay’s affability transcended the Oracle moments. The lawyers have since visited Hay’s Mississippi Catfish restaurant in Richmond, where he has jerseys and other game memorabilia displayed.

“I’ve had people come say ‘You made my day six years ago,’” Hay said. “The people I met during my years here have been wonderful.”

Hay likely won’t move to the Chase Center, nor will fellow usher Sherwandra Singleton of Hayward.

“That’s too much commute,” she said. “But the fans, those will be my memories. They show you some real love. I’ll miss them so, so much.”

Dan Christensen of Sonoma County has been attending games since 1984, when he saw Magic Johnson play, then he got into a season ticket group in 1993 and held on through the lean Warriors years.

That was well before Oracle became known for a decibel level so high it is known as “Roaracle” now.

“I remember the place being very quiet,” Christensen said. “A friend of mine we had tickets with, he would scream as loud as he could and you could hear him throughout the arena. It was that quiet.”

But it’s the “We Believe” year, and the 2017 home Finals win that will stick with Christensen as his team moves across the bay to fancier and more expensive digs.

“When we beat the Mavericks, it was the loudest I ever heard it. The whole crowd was standing. The moment and the loudness of the crowd, it just felt like you got lifted off the floor,” he said. “I had tears in my eyes.

“You shed sweat and tears over the years. You do these things with your friends and your family. To see them win on the home court, the championship, that’s something I’ll never forget.”

For Steve Knox, his memories of Oracle encompass family and friends, too. He has vivid memories of Disney on Ice, the Harlem Globetrotters and the Warriors there.

“It’s always been like this beacon, this Goliath, this mountain of concrete. All the things that happened there, the myth and the lore,” he said. “I remember parking in the BART parking lot and walking over the catwalk bridge there. All the fans sharing that common bond. The first time walking across that catwalk, looking at everyone decked out in their team colors, the sounds of the sax player in the early evening.

“The fact that they came from San Francisco. I guess it’s really a welcoming home for them.”

Depending on how the series progresses, Friday could be the last game in Oakland. Or it could be next week.

Winning their third straight NBA championship would be an epic way for the Warriors to shut the door on Oracle.

Either way, beloved point guard Stephen Curry has said he won’t abandon Oaktown. In a project with Under Armour, Curry has gifted 30 friends and others he wanted to thank for their work with him, Oakland youths or at Oracle a special-edition “Curry 6 Thank You Oakland colorway” shoe.

They went to people like Damon Poindexter, an Oracle Arena parking attendant; Norm Davis, an Oracle security guard; and Regina Jackson, president of the East Oakland Youth Development Center.

“Dear Oakland,” a letter to the recipients reads. “I’ll always be grateful for you. ... Our arena might be moving, but a huge part of my heart will always stay in Oakland.”

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.

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