NBA's Warriors unveil plans to move to San Francisco
SAN FRANCISCO - Sitting along the shore and staring at one of the world's most majestic metropolitan views, Joe Lacob leaned over to hear fellow Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber whisper in his ear.
"Man," Guber said, "we got to do this."
And with that, the franchise's new vision started to come into focus.
The Warriors, NBA Commissioner David Stern and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee officially announced Tuesday that the Bay Area's only NBA team will try to move back to scenic San Francisco. The earliest the team could leave Oakland would be 2017, when it can escape its lease at Oracle Arena.
"We can turn this dream into a goal by giving it urgency," said Guber, the movie mogul and Mandalay Entertainment's chief executive. "We will play here in 2017. Take that as a promise that we will fulfill. There will be a world-class entertainment venue. We're all-in."
The still-in-the-works project has a spot picked out that few can match.
The Warriors unveiled some of the plans for the estimated $500 million, privately funded arena on a sun-soaked day at Piers 30-32. The waterfront site near the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge - one of the most beautiful views in one of the world's most beautiful cities - is just blocks from the Giants' ballpark and the downtown financial district.
"This natural amphitheater is second to none anywhere in the world," California Lt. Gov. and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said.
A city fire department boat shot off water cannons and San Francisco-themed songs blared in the background at the end of an event that was all about smiles - and not shovels - with the project several years and road blocks away from reality.
Under the proposed deal, the city will provide the site and the Warriors will repair the crumbling piers at a cost of $75-100 million. There will be no new taxes and no money from the city's general fund.
"Absolutely, they have the money to do it," Stern said of Golden State's ownership group.
Little else about the financing plan has been announced - mostly because it's still in its infancy.
Renderings of the building on display show an arena with near floor-to-ceiling windows on the main concourse overlooking the towering Bay Bridge. The team and the city also hope the proposed arena will attract NCAA tournament games, concerts and other major events.
"We intend to build the most spectacular arena in the country for all Bay Area residents, not just San Francisco, to be proud of," Lacob said. "An architecturally significant building on truly an iconic site. It doesn't get any better than this."
The announcement came as no surprise to Bay Area fans.
Lacob and Guber have been working to return the team to the City by the Bay since buying the Warriors for a league-record $450 million in 2010. The Warriors played in San Francisco from 1962 to 1971 after moving from Philadelphia.
The proposed move is still sure to upset some in Oakland, the center of the area's basketball prowess. Many NBA players past and present - Bill Russell, Gary Payton and Jason Kidd, among scores of others - rose to basketball fame in Oakland.
One aspect that hasn't been a problem is fan support.
Despite only one playoff appearance since 1994, the basketball-booming Bay Area has supported the Warriors surprisingly well. The team ranked 10th in attendance this past season, averaging 18,857.
Lacob said the team has more season-ticket holders who live in San Francisco than Oakland and the fan base is split 50-50 between the East Bay and the San Francisco Peninsula. The franchise - once called the San Francisco Warriors - will remain under its current name, Lacob said, "until further notice."
"It's the Golden State Warriors and it's going to remain the Golden State Warriors for the foreseeable future and maybe forever," Lacob said. He later added, "It comes down to what the fans want."
The political push in San Francisco has only just begun.
Lee sent a letter to the owners this month saying the city would work with Warriors executives to bring the team to San Francisco in time for the 2017-18 season. The note, signed by all 11 city supervisors and numerous business and labor leaders, was sent a few days after Lee met with Guber in Los Angeles.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan responded last week by sending the team her own letter to express the city's commitment to keeping the Warriors - and the Raiders and A's, who both need a replacement to the outdated Oakland Coliseum.
She expressed disappointment following Tuesday's announcement and said Oakland's proposal "was always a larger project than just one sports team" and the city will continue to pursue all avenues for an arena.
That now seems like a lost cause.
"It's been 41 years since the Warriors played here in San Francisco," Lee said. "In my humble opinion, it's time to welcome them home."
Of course, building anything in San Francisco is never easy.
Overcoming the environmental concerns on the shoreline, the addition of a high-rise structure on the pier - not to mention the adjacent condominiums and businesses that could fight to keep their beautiful Bay Bridge views - and political wrangling in the politically charged city are among many obstacles for the project.
Lacob said it will likely take "two to two-and-a-half years" just to acquire all the permits. But he noted the NFL's San Francisco 49ers headed some 40 miles south to Santa Clara for the 2015 season "created a great incentive on the part of the mayor and the city" to help the Warriors build an arena in San Francisco.
The Warriors are counting on the 16-mile drive between the team's Oakland arena and the waterfront site in San Francisco to make all the difference.
Team executives believe more corporate sponsorship and national attention will follow in San Francisco and give the franchise the ability to land marquee free agents. Most teams that play at Golden State already stay and practice in San Francisco.
Warriors President and CEO Rick Welts called the move the "most important journey in the history of the Warriors."
"You have to be a dreamer," added Warriors executive board member Jerry West, the former Lakers star and symbol of the NBA's logo. "And we have two owners here who have vision. And they're putting their money where their mouth is."