Chase Center might be the prettiest basketball arena in the land.
Every last detail is top shelf, from the sweeping concourse to the beautiful grounds to the Zeppelin-sized scoreboard and fancy-pants food. You half expect Champagne to flow from the bathroom sinks.
But despite those amazing attributes, the Warriors home court hasn’t felt too homey these first couple of years. People say the place has lacked the passion we grew accustomed to in Oakland.
To be fair, since the arena opened in 2019, there hasn’t been too much to cheer about. Between the injuries and the pandemic and the lousy record the first two seasons, fans can be excused for not making Chase the place.
Perhaps Draymond Green said it best when asked about last season’s tepid atmosphere: “We sucked.”
Well, the Warriors suck no longer, and Chase Center is showing signs of life.
Saturday’s matchup with the Lakers was as good a game as any to take the pulse of the fan base. It’s always rowdy against LA. And prior to that, there have only been a handful of noteworthy moments in the arena’s history, including Klay Thompson’s return against the Cavs and Steph Curry’s recent buzzer-beater versus the Rockets.
The fans I talked to were a bit dubious about the Chase Center vibe.
“This is a souped-up version of what was in Oakland, and it’s not as good,” said Brad Smith, a season ticket holder from Walnut Creek. “The energy is not the same. And the people don’t support the team the way they did at Oracle (Arena).”
Kendall Porter and Lisa Lopez also have season tickets and they remain doubtful, with a splash of optimism.
“I feel that Oracle was more family oriented,” said Lopez, of Martinez. “The vibe was a good vibe. Loud, always loud. You know, togetherness. Here at Chase, it’s more spread out.”
Indeed, acoustics came up with a number of people I spoke to. Bottom line? Chase is a bigger building. It may be hard to match the decibel level at Oracle, but that remains to be seen.
“I think it’s gonna get really loud again,” said Porter, of Oakland. “I feel like Oracle was louder and had a more comfortable atmosphere. But as they start winning, I think this place is going to be like Oracle. People are going to start getting loud. It’s going to be very comfortable. And we’re going to have a big home-court advantage.”
Curtis Jones, a courtside security guard at Warriors games for 28 years, is best known for throwing Curry the ball for his traditional pregame long shot. He also knows a thing or two about game atmosphere.
“When I first came over, I thought the crowd was sort of relaxed,” said Jones. “They weren’t too enthusiastic, maybe because the Warriors were losing. They were a little sporadic. … So then, all of a sudden, they’re starting to win. People are starting to understand this is a basketball game.”
Jones has seen a difference since Thompson returned. When Green gets back from the injured list, reuniting the Big Three for the first time in nearly three years, Curtis expects the crowd to revert to “the standards the Warriors are used to.”
If Saturday night was any indication, we’re moving in that direction. Los Angeles came to town with a chip on their shoulders to go with their lousy record and a lot of their own fans. That’s always been common for Lakers games in the Bay Area, even in the Oracle Arena days.
And it turned into a great game. The crowd was pretty passive early on, but picked up volume as the score tightened up in the late-going. Back and forth it went, with the Lakers holding onto a slim lead.
Fittingly, it was Thompson who fired up the crowd. First he leveled the Lakers’ Talen Horton-Tucker with a cross body pick that would’ve been called for targeting in an NFL game. Then he connected for a key three-point play on a drive to the basket. In both cases, the crowd got loud. It wasn’t quite Roaracle level, though. I’d describe it as: “We need some more-acle.”
When Thompson tied the game with a three-pointer, we heard the first real bedlam of the evening. Perhaps of the season. Thompson proceeded to go on an absolute rampage in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 points and willing the Warriors back into the lead. It was like someone had turned on the switch at Chase. Everyone on their feet, the ushers dancing in the aisles. It was starting to feel like home. The crowd had found its motivation. He was wearing a headband and a No. 11 jersey.
In the end, the Warriors prevailed, 117-115, helped along by LeBron James blowing a potential game-tying set of free throws. A lusty roar went up from the crowd. For a few minutes there, Chase was, indeed, the place.
The result didn’t really matter one way or another. The Warriors will be legitimate title contenders this spring. The Lakers will be trying to peddle Russell Westbrook and his $47 million contract.
What mattered was that the Warriors home court felt cozy and warm.
Warriors legend Chris Mullin played and watched as much basketball in Oakland as anyone. I asked him what he thought of Chase in comparison to the Warriors’ former home.
“It feels like it’s getting close to being Oracle,” said the Hall of Famer. “It’s really the first year the team’s playing so well, and the energy is starting to pick up. Very similar acoustics and dynamic, you know? So I think it’s gonna be a huge home-court advantage.”
Kerr feels the same way. When asked whether the Laker-game atmosphere reminded him of the Oracle days, he was a little defensive at first.
“Chase has been pretty loud this year,” the head coach said, referencing in particular Thompson’s return game Jan. 9. “It’s up to us to put on a good performance, to bring the most out of the crowd. I think the building keeps noise in really well. It’s much more intimate than a lot of the new arenas around the NBA. It feels great.”
I’ll buy that. Winning cures everything.
Editor’s note: Welcome to The Arena, a column from The Examiner’s Al Saracevic in which he explores San Francisco’s playing field, from politics and technology to sports and culture. Send your tips, quips and quotes to email@example.com