The Oakland Sports Scene
Oakland, California is a noun. It is a person. It is En Vogue. It is Sheila E. It is Tom Hanks. It is Hammer. It is Too Short. It is the Black Panthers. It is Tupac. It is Richie Rich. It is Bill Russell, Vada Pinson, Joe Morgan, Frank Robinson, Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Brian Shaw and Andre Ward.
It is a place. The last line of defense before entering San Francisco. It is where many Southerners settled during World War II in search of a better life for their family. It is one of the most diverse cities in the world. It is the Port of Oakland. It is the Mormon Temple. It is the Oakland Hills. It is Montclair...literally. It is Grand Lake Theater. It is Paramount Theater. It is Downtown Oakland.It is the Tribune Tower. It is Jack London Square.It is Lois The Pie Queen. It is the city that can be anything you want it to be, at any time you want it.
It is a thing. It becomes a thing when you look at the murder rate year after year. It's a thing when you relive the Oscar Grant murder and the subsequent unrest that followed the verdict. It's a thing when Oakland is occupied. It has also, unfortunately, become a thing (of the past) when discussing Oakland and professional sports. We now live in an age where everything is magnified one million times over; to the point of exhaustion. Everyone is aware of who the defending champion is, and what city reigns supreme in this country as the "Sports capital of the world." A recent ESPN the Magazine dedicated itself to that topic and Boston, Massachusetts was hailed as the sports capital, and while many may argue that point, especially in New York, what cannot be argued is the manner of dominance in which they have accomplished this feat. Since 2000, the city of Boston has won more titles in their respective major sports than any other city. If the New England Patriots are able to pull of a victory in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday, February 5, 2012, they will put a bow on an unprecented five year stretch in which ALL of their teams in the four major sports will have hoisted the championship trophy (Red Sox in 2007, Celtics in 2008, Bruins in 2011). That is an amazing run, but not necessarily the first of its kind...at least not since the aforementioned Age of Overexposure.
Oakland, CA was THE thing in the 1970's. During this era, all three of their sports teams won a championship (or more) and were in contention for a title in other years. It began with the Oakland Athletics winning three consecutive World Series titles (1972-74), the Golden State Warriors winning their lone NBA title in 1975, and the Raiders winning a Super Bowl in 1976. To make it even sweeter for Oakland, the Raiders won another Super Bowl title in 1980 (before moving to Los Angeles). The sporting life was at an all-time high in the city called "Tha Town" and fans were ready for that to be the norm, but something happend on the way to another title run...it seems the teams forgot how to get it done. With the exception of another run of three consecutive World Series appearances from 1988-90 for the Oakland Athletics that resulted in a World Series in an earthquake marred 1989 series with the crosstown San Francisco Giants and a no-show by Barrett Robbins and the rest of his Raiders teammates down in San Diego in 2002, there has been no domination from Oakland sports since the 1970's.
There is not one word or action that can describe what has caused this to take place; but rather a myriad of things from free agency, bad ownership, horrible contracts, bad working conditions (i.e. stadium issues), or in the case of the Golden State Warriors, butt ugly drafts year after year. Of late, two of the owners of these teams (Warriors and Raiders) would have you believe that things are turning the corner and that the light we see ahead is not (another) oncoming truck, but the end of the tunnel; whereas the A's have let it be known that as long as they are playing within the confines of O.co (is that the name this week?), they are going to be as competitive as a 10-year-old majors team in a local little league would be if they faced off against a high school team. One thing all three teams have in common is they are going into a new season with a new manager, sort of. The Athletics are starting their first full season under manager Bob Melvin. He took over for Bob Geren on June 9, 2011. Bob Melvin was no big hire by any stretch of the imagination, but at that point Woody Woodpecker, regardless of his demeanor, would've been a nice change of pace from Mr. No Communicado. But the Warriors and Raiders have no excuses, and they have (seemingly) dropped the ball.
Let's take a look at the Warriors.
After years of futility, the Warriors made their way to the playoffs and actually made some noise by defeating the No. 1 seeded Dallas Mavericks. That was a magical year; one nobody in the Bay Area will soon forget. Everyone had Warriors fever and everyone had a "We Believe" t-shirt. It was absolutely crazy. Eventually the buzz died after the Warriors failed to make the playoffs the following year, through no fault of their own, and slowly (but surely) faded by into "The Warrior Way." Two years removed from that 2006 season, the team was back to crashing, burning, and players leaving faster than kids at a high school when bell rings at 3:15 P.M. on the Friday before Christmas Break. Chris Cohan, the Warriors longtime owner, finally gave Warriors fans hope that there was a God and sold the team to a group of men, one of which was a part owner of the Boston Celtics, and they immediately put their stamp on the organization by firing Don Nelson and hiring Keith Smart. Seeing as how the players wanted him to coach the team, it was the right choice. Things were starting to look up. But after a "Playoffs or bust" campaign failed, Coach Smart was fired. The search was on for a new coach. New blood. And with "The Logo" Jerry West in the mix, Warriors fans brimmed with excitement and waited for that new coach to come in here and turn the NBA on its ear. Who did they get? Phil Jackson? No. Pat Riley? No. Doc Rivers? Not hardly.
Yes. Mark Jackson is a great man, a wonderful basketball player, and an outstanding broadcaster, but he has no coaching experience. The Golden State Warriors once again are "Playoffs or bust" and they have neither the coach nor the players to take them to that level. Unless the organization was fully aware of a long lockout being imminent and hired a coach simply to fill a gap until a full season comes again (which I don't believe they did), I do not see how Coach Jackson, with the roster he has been given, is going to succeed. Moreover, I don't see how he would be able to get another job as a coach based on what is going on with the Warriors. It is hard to fathom them being major players in ANY free agent bonanza that may occur just based on the teams track record. Promising playoff appearances and a certain amount of home wins are gimmicks that won't fly in the face of a fanbase that has "been there, done that."
And then there's the Raiders. For years Raiders fans have talked about things changing once Al Davis passed away. Well, one early October morning, that plan was put into effect as Mr. Davis exited stage left. Truth be told, those fans were right. Things have changed. But they haven't changed for the better. Immediately upon completion of the season, Al's son Mark Davis hired Reggie McKenzie to be the General Manager and he subsequently axed head coach Hue Jackson. This is the same Hue Jackson that was hired by Al Davis before the season started. This is the same Hue Jackson, who after his team pulled out a victory on the road in Houston the day after Al passed, broke down on the sideline as if it were his own father. This is the same Hue Jackson who was, for all intent and purpose, given full autonomy over all things Raiders (personnel, players, etc.). This is the same Hue Jackson who promised to make sweeping changes after the final game of the season. With the organization promising to rise up from the ashes and get back to playing Raiders football, they hire Dennis Allen.
Dennis Allen. The former defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos. He comes with a boatload of endorsements and the proof of a high ranking Broncos defense, but that isn't the "splash" Raiders fans were looking for. An organization such as the Silver and Black wants prestige. They want to be noticed. They want a winner. A proven winner. Dennis Allen has never been a head coach on any level; much like his coaching counterpart in the building next door to the Coliseum.
This isn't to say that neither Jackson nor Allen will do some damage with their respective teams because they may. Their drive, love of defense, and willingness to improve a team that was in disarray when they were handed the keys is unmatched, but those names certainly don't have people running up to the fence or a gym door to catch a glimpse of them running a practice. At this point, it doesn't even give the fans a false sense of hope. Instead, it gives them the feeling that the more things change, the more they stay the same.