Along I-80, Norcal NBA fans pick sides
This story aired in the April 19, 2023 episode of Crosscurrents.
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It’s around two in the afternoon and I’m at the Chase Center in San Francisco. This is actually the first time I’ve ever been here. It’s nice, but I’m looking back at Oakland across the Bay, remembering the good old days, when I could go to Oracle to watch the Warriors play. Then my thoughts are interrupted by a woman taking pictures.
Eta Seru asks me if I’ll take a picture of her. I agree, and then I ask her if she’s rooting for the Warriors. At first, she gives me this look like, “Well, obviously.” But then she tells me she used to live closer to Sacramento.
She says, “And I used to be a Kings fan then. But now since I came down to the Bay Area, I work in San Mateo, and I’ve switched to be a Warriors fan. We never watch the Sacramento Kings a lot on the TV over here, so every afternoon it’s just news on Warriors — and then I just kind of switched to be a Warriors fan.”
I’ve got places to go, so I head to my car. The radio starts up with the engine. It’s tuned to 95.7 FM The Game, the official radio station of the Golden State Warriors. Willard and Dibs are talking about the match up with the Kings.
As I’m driving to the bridge, I flip to AM radio to see if I can pick up Sactown Sports 1140. It’s pretty faint here in the city. But we’ll see when it comes in stronger as we track the towns between the Norcal rivals.
My first stop is Gentleman Jim’s, just off of the highway in Vallejo. Just after four o’clock, there’s already a decent number of people in the bar.
I approach a couple of guys at a table and tell them what I’m doing. They make it clear that this is a Warriors bar, and that Kings fans need not attend this week’s games. Then they tell me I should talk to the manager, David Nunes. It turns out he’s a season ticket holder and part of Dub Nation.
He says, “I’ve been a Warrior fan since I was a kid. I went to We Believe” — that’s the underdog team that won a playoff series back in oh-seven — “and I was there when they won it in ’15. I was there when they won it in ’17 and ’18. And I was there when they lost it in ’16 and ’19.”
It’s David’s birthday today, and his daughter Dana — another Dubs fan — is here with him. She keeps reminding him that they have to go, but she makes time to talk to me anyway. She tells me it’s kind of a weird day for her because her dad shares his birthday with her late brother Justin.
Dana tells me, “My little brother passed away at a Warriors game.”
It was Game 5 of the 2016 Finals, when Draymond was suspended and the Cavs started their comeback from down three-one in the series. Justin, who was with David at the time, collapsed suddenly on his way to the stands. He was just 35, but his heart had failed.
Dana says, “And since then, the Warriors have stood behind us, and supported our functions, and shown a lot of class as an organization.”
Next stop: Fairfield. On the radio, I can already hear static creeping into the signal from the Warriors’ station, while Sactown Sports just keeps getting stronger.
Just past five, I walk into Harry’s Sportsman’s Lounge in Fairfield. I tell the bartender I’m looking for a basketball fan, and she points me to a guy named Mando. He’s decked out in 49ers gear.
He says, “So, I’m 49ers, Giants, Kings.”
Mando’s family is from Richmond, but they moved to Suisun City where he grew up in the nineties and early aughts.
He says, “My high school years, that’s when Kings started becoming good, so that’s when I became a big Kings fan.”
Mando stuck with the Kings through the 17-year playoff droughtthat ended this year. He’s excited about the future, but he doesn’t want to see bandwagon Kings fans pop up in a couple years.
He says, “Jump on now before it’s too late.”
Mando’s a diehard Kings fan, but this isn’t a partisan bar. Another customer, John Johnson, says he’s a Warriors fan even though he’s originally from Philadelphia.
He says, “I moved from Philly to here in the same year Iguodala came to the Warriors.”
Andre Iguodala started his career with the 76ers in 2004. He joined the Warriors in 2013. John saw what he was doing.
He says, “OK, all right. My man followed me out here.”
That and Steph Curry’s ascension turned him into a Warriors fan. Four championships since then haven’t hurt.
Just down the road in Vacaville, at Miss Darla’s I find a similar scene, with Golden State and Sacramento fans coexisting. Phil Blackburn loves the sport, and he’s rooting for the Kings.
He says, “They’re actually fun to watch this year. They play different than any other team in the league, and they just have a different style, and they’re just fun.”
But for Amanda Vasquez, it doesn’t really matter how the teams are playing this year or any other year. She’s always been and always will be a Warriors fan.
She says, “I fell in love with them immediately. I’ve been going there since their tickets were 11 dollars.”
That was a while ago. Tickets for Game 3 in San Francisco are running at least 240 bucksapiece.
It’s almost six now, and I want to make one more stop before Sacramento. On the radio, The Game and a local Davis station are competing for 95.7 FM, and all that’s getting through is static. I change stations, and ironically enough Sactown Sports has switched to A’s Cast to cover tonight’s baseball game in Oakland.
I stop in Davis at the G Street Wunderbar. Outside, I talk to a couple of Denver Nuggets fans before I meet Kelsi. She withholds her last name because she’s worried about what her mother will think, but she chimes in to tell me she’s a Kings fan.
She says, “Because I grew up local and they’re the best team ever. Light the beam!”
When I go inside the Wunderbar, the regulars tell me this is where they watch Kings games. It seems like I’ve already made it to their territory, but I decide to press on to Sacramento.
It’s pretty obvious what they’ll say, but I ask a couple, Ted and Sharon Yoshimura, who they’re rooting for.
Ted says, “Kings. Kings, all the way. It’s been a long time.
And Sharon explains, “We’re lifelong Sacramento people.”
Darryl Lambert’s in the same boat. He’s been going to games since he moved to Sac when he was 10.
He says, “They used to give the opening pins to go to all the opening nights every year. I probably have 25 opening night pins.”
He’s got four sons, and he’s been taking them all to Kings games since they were young.
He says, “And so I bred them all. They’re all Kings fans.”
Cheering for your favorite team can help you stay true to your roots or help you put down new ones when you move. Regardless of which team you’re rooting for, it’s an exciting time to be a basketball fan in Northern California. Especially if your team wins.