OAKLAND — One day after the Golden State Warriors handled the Cleveland Cavaliers, 113-91, in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, there was JaVale McGee, dominating the ping pong table at Westlake Middle School in Oakland.
Minutes before the backup big man picked up his paddle to compete with students, the Warriors and the league dedicated an NBA Cares Learning and Play Zone at the middle school near Lake Merritt on Friday afternoon.
“In my opinion, what we do in the community is as important as what you guys watch on the court with our players,” president of basketball operations and general manager Bob Myers said.
Myers was among a large contingent of Warriors execs, players, alums and family members headlining the event.
As the GM stood at the podium, McGee, Zaza Pachulia, Ian Clark, Patrick McCaw and Damian Jones flanked him on one side. On the other side of the stage sat Rick Welts — the president and COO — and Nicole Curran, the board president of the Warriors Community Foundation.
“You all know about our team and our players, I hope,” Myers said. “But what you may not know is the days like this when we’re not playing basketball, for us, some of our most enjoyable days — giving back to you guys.”
With the Warriors now playing in the Finals three years in a row, this marks the third consecutive June that the club has dedicated a Learning and Play Zone.
“We take great pride in giving back to the community,” Myers said. “I love the fact that we build basketball courts.”
“We built one in the Panhandle over near where I live. I went and played on it the other day. I was awful,” the exec joked. “I can’t play outdoors very good. I’m getting old. But you guys should play as much as you can. Use this stuff.”
Ex-Warriors Adonal Foyle and Kelenna Azubuike shared the stage with the current Dubs, while Wanda Durant, mother of Game 1 star Kevin Durant, was also on hand for the dedication and to take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
As part of the dedication — a joint production between the Warriors and the NBA — the league office was all well-represented with Commissioner Adam Silver and Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum up on the dais.
The Learn and Play Zone, which featured a resource room, library, dance room with new decor, books and wall graphics marks the 1,089th live, learn or play space that the league has commissioned.
“That’s what’s most important — use this center, take advantage of it, and as the mayor said, work together,” Silver said. “That’s what makes this team so great is they share the ball, they enjoy each other’s company and they love what they’re doing.”
While Silver and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf both addressed the crowd at the event, the speaker who drew the loudest applause was Pachulia.
“We thank you guys for supporting our team throughout the years — especially this year,” Pachulia said, talking directly to the school kids sitting at the front of the audience. “Without you guys, our success would be not as fun and enjoyable.”
When it came time to cut the ribbon and give the kids full reign over the newly refurbished facility — including the ping-pong table — Pachulia held the scissors, as the students crowded around him.
“I’m very privileged to be part of the NBA family because I’m experiencing this amazing thing,” Pachulia said. “And I’m really thankful and we’re all thankful, as Golden State Warriors, to be part of this NBA family because that’s the beauty of it, I mean look what we’re dealing with? Isn’t this amazing?”
The center, who’s closing out his 14th season in the league, ended his speech referencing his own childhood in Tbilisi, Georgia — far from a basketball hotbed.
“I grew up in Georgia, obviously, and unfortunately we didn’t have this type of great days,” Pachulia said. “But as of today, in the NBA, we’re trying to touch everybody’s life in a positive way. So, I’m thankful again for this opportunity.”