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Save Me! I'm an Oakland Fan!
Steve Berman | Photo: Jacob Thomas | June 10, 2014
Who's to blame for decades of dissappointment? Start with the owners.
Editor's Note: This is one of many dispatches from Oakland that San Francisco magazine is publishing over the next month, all part of our June "Oakland Issue." To see the rest of the issue's contents, and to read stories as they become available online, click here.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers is known for asking, “Who’s got it better than us?” His players respond in unison with “Nobody!” Long-suffering Oakland fans would probably shout out, “Everybody!”
OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. Two of Oakland’s three professional sports teams are going strong right now. The A’s had the fourth-best record in baseball at press time, and the Warriors gave the three-seed Clippers everything they could handle before exiting the playoffs. But if Oakland fans don’t have it quite as bad as their counterparts in victory-averse towns like Cleveland, Houston, and Washington, D.C., it’s in spite of an ownership triumvirate that holds the triple crown: It’s cheap (the A’s), it’s feckless (the Raiders), and it’s arrogant (the Warriors).
Let’s start with the green-and-gold. The A’s have a good team and a passionate fan base, but they’re stuck with a dreadful stadium and a constant depletion of stars. That’s because miserly owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher almost never pay market value for the team’s star free agents, and they’ve been unable to strike a deal for a new stadium that would drive more fan interest. You can’t blame A’s fans for not flocking to a sewage treatment plant with tarped-off sections in the upper deck. And even though brilliant general manager Billy Beane has consistently put together winning teams, Wolff and Fisher won’t pay to keep them together. Most fans assume that the team’s biggest draw, Yoenis Céspedes, will be elsewhere within a couple of years. If Athletics ownership has decided that their product isn’t worth paying for, why shouldn’t fans follow suit?
At least the A’s know how to build a team, which is more than you can say for the Raiders, owners of the NFL’s worst record over the past 13 seasons. Al Davis ran the organization as if it would cease to exist after he passed on, and things haven’t gotten better under the stewardship of his son, Mark, whose blond bowl cut symbolizes the Raiders’ current lack of mystique after decades as one of the coolest franchises in sports.
Where to begin? Let’s take a look at some of the team’s first-round selections. JaMarcus Russell was chosen first overall in 2007, but he flamed out after a short career as a portly quarterback with a penchant for “purple drank.” Rolando McClain, who retired in 2013 at age 23, is known more for his maniacal facial expression when he was photographed in handcuffs getting stuffed into a squad car than for anything he did on the field. Darrius Heyward-Bey was an Al Davis pick if there ever was one: a mediocre speed demon whom the Raiders took in the top 10, even though most analysts (correctly) assessed him as a late first-rounder.
Ever since Al Davis traded head coach Jon Gruden to the Bucs, Oakland’s sideline has been home to one of the most dysfunctional coaching situations in sports. Art Shell came back and looked asleep half the time. After Davis fired Lane Kiffin, he infamously spent a half hour reading something aloud from an overhead projector about how lame Kiffin was. Tom Cable allegedly punched Randy Hanson, breaking the assistant coach’s jaw. Current head coach Dennis Allen is the living embodiment of a turkey and mayo sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off.
Then there are the Golden State Warriors, an organization with one of the loudest, most loyal fan bases anywhere. The Dubs won 51 games this season and in Steph Curry have their best player since Rick Barry. But the team’s ownership has essentially told Oakland to drop dead.
Owner Joe Lacob fired popular coach Mark Jackson despite the fact that Jackson took the Warriors to the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since Bush the Elder was in office. And Lacob wants to move the Warriors to San Francisco yesterday (which hasn’t prevented him from raising season ticket prices).
Would another coach really have taken the Dubs further? With one superstar and an intriguing but flawed supporting cast, the Warriors seem stuck in the “good but not great” category. After the disastrous Chris Cohan years, Warriors fans will probably take that. And if the team improves next year, Lacob’s hubris in canning Jackson will be forgiven. But if the new coach tanks, we’ll hear a familiar cry in Oakland: “Same old Warriors.”
Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco.