Oakland And The Warriors: NBA Team's Success Mirrors Rise Of Home City
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Tonight, the Golden State Warriors go for win number 73, an NBA regular-season record. This has been a magical two-year run for the defending champions. The four decades before that, though, had very little magic and very few wins. It was also a rough time for Oakland, the city the Warriors call home. High crime and budget woes were annual problems. Now, the once boarded-up buildings that blighted its downtown are filling up with young people, techies and Golden State Warriors. Youth Radio's Garrison Pennington reports.
GARRISON PENNINGTON, BYLINE: Just a few blocks from Youth Radio's headquarters, past some nondescript office buildings, is a huge Marriott Hotel with a secret. Hidden on the fifth floor is the practice gym for the Golden State Warriors. Past a set of grey double doors, you walk into what looks like a nice high school gym - not the kind of practice space you'd expect for the NBA's best team and their reigning MVP.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Seven, nine, eight, 10.
PENNINGTON: I'm watching Stephen Curry shoot three-pointers right now. He's insanely fast. Four in a row - just seems like he can't miss.
The moment Curry takes a break, he's swarmed by reporters.
STEPHEN CURRY: So our focus is on the big picture and what it's going to take to go to the playoffs and what it's going to mean - or take to win your last game of the season. That's the only goal we really have.
PENNINGTON: While the Warriors' management has announced the team is moving to San Francisco in three years, many players have made a home in downtown Oakland. Oaklanders often report seeing players at the grocery store, coffee shops, pumping their own gas and appearing at events with local youth groups. Before the current wave of gentrification hit downtown, the Warriors set up the team's rookies in apartments in what was an otherwise gritty part of town just blocks away from their practice space. Forward Harrison Barnes, who grew up in Iowa, was one of those rookies. Drafted by the Warriors at age 19, he found he loved the city.
HARRISON BARNES: When it came to the off-season, it was pretty much a no-brainer that I would stay around here. You know, there was just so much to explore, so much to do that I wanted to stay around here. And for four years now, I've been - been living here all year round.
PENNINGTON: Barnes recently did a promotional photo shoot for a mom-and-pop restaurant on the corner of his downtown neighborhood. Passersby quickly took to social media to capture the moment. It's clear the Warriors' support for small local businesses wins them a lot of love. Twenty-three-year-old forward James McAdoo says, coming from Virginia, he'd heard the negative stereotypes about Oakland, but now loves it and sees a parallel between the success of the city and the Warriors.
JAMES MCADOO: Just to speak on, you know, the correlation between this team - you know, how things have, you know, been great this season. But, you know, when we've hit rough patches, we've continued to persevere. I think that also helps, you know, with the Warriors being able to be a bright spot that the city of Oakland can rely on.
PENNINGTON: The Warriors' success has done a lot for Oakland's pride. Kyndall McCoy works as a security guard in the City Hall plaza.
KYNDALL MCCOY: It's really put a real positive note on the city. All downtown, you see banners of Warriors, go Warriors. So that's a good, positive thing for Oakland.
SAM AMICK: It's a city that is known for its grit, you know? And it's known as a tough place. It's a tough place to come up, but it's also a great place in a lot of ways.
PENNINGTON: That's Sam Amick. He covers the NBA for USA Today Sports. Amick grew up in nearby Pleasanton and knows Oakland well.
AMICK: the mood with team doing what they're doing - it's contagious. And people - their smiles are a little bit bigger, and folks are talking about last night's game. And the connection is, you know, these guys are their guys.
PENNINGTON: Warriors' power forward Draymond Green is one of their guys. Here he is speaking at a press conference about the way the players also thrive off the energy of Oakland.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DRAYMOND GREEN: The support that we receive around here is amazing. And so, you know, you can tell that it's doing a lot for the city. It's bringing life to the city. And, I mean, that's the position that you're in. You want to try to take advantage of that, and I think, you know, we're doing that. And, you know, I'm happy to be in a position to help.
PENNINGTON: As the Warriors and their fans continue to chase history, Oakland is enjoying the moment. For NPR News, I'm Garrison Pennington.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHOICES - YUP - WARRIORS REMIX")
E-40: (Singing) Everybody say Warriors. Warriors.
SHAPIRO: That piece was produced by Youth Radio. And a disclosure - Youth Radio is a Hoops For Kids recipient, a program of the Warriors Foundation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.