Forty million dollars. This is what the Golden State Warriors owe the city of Oakland after leaving that city for a new $1.4 billion arena in San Francisco called the Chase Center. There is only one problem: Golden State’s ownership group is trying not to pay.
An independent arbitrator determined in October that the money was owed. And yet, as if living by their own set of laws, the billionaire bandits who own the team, Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, are laughing off the ruling. This is—or should be—a scandal. First the team crosses the Golden Gate bridge to play in more profitable environs and then they want to stick Oakland with the bill.
This is an unfathomable insult to the people of Oakland, who supported the team through ups and downs—a lot of downs—over the course of decades.
The arbitrator, Rebecca Westerfield, ruled that Lacob and Guber owe the $40 million bill because of a $150 million bond that was taken out in 1996 for renovations to the Oakland Arena. But the team doesn’t want to pay because it is no longer using the arena. It apparently wants to drag this process along and eventually settle for a lower amount.
This is an unfathomable insult to the people of Oakland, who supported the team through ups and downs—a lot of downs—over the course of decades. The symbolism of moving from more rough and tumble Oakland to the wealth of San Francisco, right when the team has achieved dynastic status, particularly smarts.
“We all love the Warriors and appreciate their success on the court,” said Larry Reid, Oakland City Council president and Coliseum Authority vice chair. “However, the taxpayers of our community should not be on the hook for debt incurred and renovations completed at the Warriors’ request.”
And this issue has a resonance beyond the symbolic. Oakland needs this money. The city has a critical shortage of affordable housing and a widening gap between rich and poor. Homelessness is at epidemic levels, with shelters turning away thousands of people, who have had to turn to the streets.
The question is, why? Why is a team that’s worth $3.5 billion trying to stick an ailing city with a $40 million bill— or roughly what star guard Steph Curry makes in a season? The answer is as banal as it is enraging.
Joe Lacob is a hedge-fund billionaire who believes in socialism for the rich—the idea that his private debt should be the public’s burden. Daniel Purcell, a partner in the law firm that represented the city and county, called it “yet another example of a very rich party trying to offload its debts on the public.”
It must be noted that Lacob and Guber are not the only current sports team owners looting the Bay. The NFL’s beloved Oakland Raiders are leaving town for a new publicly funded stadium in Las Vegas. On their way out the door, franchise owner Mark Davis has saddled the city with $83 million in stadium debt. The greed on display by these owners reflects the current balance of class forces in the Bay, where the divide between rich and poor is less gap than chasm.
The question is: What should the people do about it? The answer lies in the time-honored Bay Area tradition of protest. Already, there is a MoveOn page signed by Rebecca Kaplan, an Oakland city councilmember at-large, aimed at Lacob and Guber. And, my sources say, there is talk of protests in front of the Chase Center.
The people are going to have to create the kind of public pressure—and cause the kind of public embarrassment for the Warriors’ brass—that makes them pay what is owed. If successful, they can perhaps fire the first shot across the bow in what is going to be a generational battle against the Tech Lords of the Bay Area and the looting of Oakland.