SAN FRANCISCO — On Wednesday, with all the hullabaloo swirling over a Warriors’ part-owner shoving Toronto’s Kyle Lowry on the sidelines at Oracle Arena, Golden State executive Rick Welts was across the Bay Bridge, conducting his final tour of the franchise’s pride and joy — Chase Arena.
It is a $1.4 billion sparkling, shining beacon by San Francisco’s Mission Bay that could still sway free agent Kevin Durant to stick around a little longer.
Welts estimated he’s led more than 100 of these tours – with players like Stephen Curry and Durant, to media, corporate sponsors, community Leaders and staffers.
In his hard hat and protective goggles, Welts spent an hour regaling a small group of national media in town for the NBA Finals. Welts expounded on its virtues and warned that their stories better include the phrase “privately financed.’’
As Welts brought the media folk into a half-finished but spacious circular locker room, he noted Curry’s first reaction. Curry darted straight to the locker cubicle he liked for its location and called it his own.
When the group left the future Warriors’ dressing room, Brooklyn-based Bleacher Report writer Howard Beck cracked, “I’m surprised no one’s made a joke about which locker will be Durant’s?’’
“I hope so,’’ Welts responded.
With a Finals series turned upside down with injuries to Durant, Klay Thompson and valuable role-playing big man Kevon Looney, the Warriors faced the prospect of Friday night’s Game 4 being the last at Oakland’s Oracle Arena, the NBA’s oldest building.
The suburban barn was loud but lacking luxury, built amid a dreary sprawl 15 minutes outside of downtown Oakland.
Durant already has a place in downtown San Francisco and his intrigue regarding the new digs in the Mission Neighborhood has been cited.
The Warriors practice in downtown Oakland in a recreation center they own and will turn it into a kids basketball clinic facility next season.
In 2019-20, the Warriors are all-inclusive with a pristine practice court and a “Players Campus’’ inside the arena. It’s replete with almost everything – including a barber shop for the players.
Welts called this his final tour before it opens to the public with a Metallica concert on Sept. 6.
But if Durant wants another tour of the arena, he’ll get one. Welts, general manager Bob Myers and owner Joe Lacob can even show Durant where his statue will stand – perhaps in the new park being built across the street on the Bay.
The Knicks’ selling point has always been about the grandeur of the Garden and the chance of reviving a historic franchise from the dead. But this Mission vs. the Mecca could be a contest.
While so much construction work remains, 1,400 workers a day arrive at the site to get it ready for the opening rock act before the Warriors’ dynasty rolls in.
Welts believes the arena and surrounding area will be a showstopper, citing the 28 restaurants/shops that will be going up around the Plaza leading into the arena. A gigantic video screen is being erected to show the games. The Warriors fought city hall to have it approved since San Francisco laws prohibit outdoor screens.
“We’ll have our own Jurassic Park,” Welts noted, referring to the trendy Raptors’ fan viewing area in downtown Toronto.
Inside, the concourses are as wide as a mall. Welts notes 17 escalators, believed to be a record for a US arena.
On the top concourse, views of the Bay and two historic bridges are resplendent. On non-game days, the Warriors will rent the space out for weddings, bar-mitzvahs and such.
The plan is for every game to be as much a party as basketball event. Welts said the “arrival experience” will go from the NBA’s worst to the best. Welts noted at remote Oracle, everyone arrives at the same time and leaves at the same time.
Welts’ hope is fans will use four other modes of transport besides a car – ferry, scooter/bike, train, walking. (There are at least 300 bike spaces).
Of the nation’s 20 largest cities, San Francisco was the only one without an arena that seats more than 12,000. The new arena loses 1,500 seats, down to 18,064, but because it was not built with hockey in mind, viewing angles are sharper.
Midtown Manhattan and the historic Garden are world class, but the Knicks also practice in Tarrytown, making players have to choose where is best to live. The commute from Westchester on gamedays to Manhattan has always been a source of irritation.
When Durant gets to free agency, he’s going to hear lots about a San Francisco arena that could one day be called “The House that Curry and Durant Built.’’ Will it be enough?