SAN FRANCISCO — Since the day Chase Center opened its doors to the public, this publication has reported on almost all of the concerts held there—from Metallica to, most recently, Dead & Company. Of course, the building owes its existence to its main tenant—the recently relocated Golden State Warriors. Naturally, I was curious about what goes down on game day. It was our journalistic duty to find out!
Also, I wanted to see a Warriors game.
Not only did the team oblige, but invited us to see one of the most high-profile games of the year, a sell-out against the best team in the league, the Milwaukee Bucks, and reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo—the Greek Freak.
Photographer Alessio Neri and I were fish out of water in a sea of athletes, sports journalists and dozens of team staffers who make each game day run smoothy. Luckily, Warriors’ PR manager Anish Patel guided us from the morning shootaround to the post-game press conferences. We were there to observe, and didn’t want to take time away from the sports media doing their jobs (I also didn’t want to draw attention to my lack of knowledge). That meant we didn’t approach the Warriors players one-on-one. No one seemed to mind us talking to the Bucks, though! For most of the time, I was a fly on the wall—the rainbow-colored fly that still managed to stand out in a crowd of the team’s media corps who’ve gotten to know each other over many years.
11 a.m.: I’m 15 minutes late for the Warriors shootaround. Also, I’m just several hours removed from learning about the concept of routine morning shootarounds on game days. Oops. Shortly after I walk in, Anish walks me down a series of tunnels to a large black curtain through which lies the court. There’s a glow coming from the opening. A couple of the younger Warriors are surrounded by cell phone-wielding journalists in a scrum. Draymond Green, the Warriors’ lone uninjured star from the championship years, runs past. By the end of the day, I’ll walk away impressed with how engaged he seems from morning to the end of the night. Green is everywhere, from the floor, to speaking on behalf of the team to press, to overall presence in the building. I’ll run into him at least once an hour for every hour I spend at Chase Center.
11:15 a.m.: I have some time to kill before the Bucks take the court, so I’m shown the large media dining area that doubles as staff catering on a concert night. A few people inside are discussing who they want in the All-Star game this year. “I think it’s a popularity vote,” one says, sarcastically. “I mean, Steph is running fourth.” Steph Curry has been injured most of the year. As I walk past the names on the reserved work stations in the media room, I can’t help but notice that seemingly half of them are former coworkers from my time at the East Bay Times and Oakland Tribune. Most of them jumped ship (or were pushed out) during the years of—still ongoing—turmoil: layoffs and pay freezes. But these guys have found new homes at online publications like The Athletic.
11:45 a.m.: It’s the Bucks’ turn on the court. Some of the players shoot from the top of the arc and crack jokes. Others are in flip-flops. Giannis Antetokounmpo walks around with his knees bandaged with ice. Some players use the time to make personal calls. Backup center Robin Lopez reclines on a seat near mid-court. He sees me looking at him, so I walk up and introduce myself as a “not sports journalist.” I do feel compelled to ask the Stanford alumnus a question, but I don’t want to come off as a basketball rube, so I stick with what I know best:
Q: What music do you listen to when you are getting suited up for the game?
“When I was younger, it was usually something more uptempo, hip-hop,” Lopez says. “Now I do more mellow stuff … like Mariah Carey, R&B or a Disney playlist.” Lopez is well-known in the league as a bit of a nerdy goofball, so I’m not surprised that he gets hyped by listening to “Nants Ingonyama Bagithi Baba.”
Afterward, I catch guard-forward Pat Connaughton after he finishes up a 3-point shooting contest with teammates. I’m getting into the hang of this, now.
Q: What was the last concert you went to?
“I’ve only been to one concert in my life, and that was The Weeknd when I was in Portland,” the former Trail Blazer says. But eager to show that he’s into music, he quickly adds, “But I played piano from kindergarten to eighth grade. My mom encouraged me to do it.”
12:30 p.m.: I finish up the early afternoon by having a catered pizza lunch in the media room with journalists from The Athletic and ESPN who know much more about the league than I do, but seem surprised that an upcoming flight from SFO to Sacramento might take longer than simply driving to Sacramento.
4:30 p.m.: And I’m back! With foresight, I probably should have just stayed at the arena, but I had just enough time to go home, do nothing and then come right back. Alessio and I are back in the media room, eating once again. The catered meal this time includes Mexican food. The room is now bustling, and I’m told that it’s more packed than usual because the NBA’s best team is in town. Everyone is dressed nicer. Suits with no creases, high heels, fashionable socks. And two journalists from some music publication… in jeans. The photographer has fading pink curls and a denim jacket. Pretty punk rock.
5:15 p.m.: We’re off to the Bill King Interview Room for Coach Steve Kerr’s pregame comments. The space is like a small theater with a wide wall-to-wall LED screen showing the Warriors and Chase logos. A team staffer passes a mic from one journalist to another.
Kerr on finding a sense of urgency: “We’ve lost five in a row. We need to bring a sense of desperation.”
On the Bucks becoming the best team in the league: “They built a great culture and system around Giannis.”
On defending Antetokounmpo’s three-pointer: “If we let him get to the rim, it’s a 100-percent shot. We’ll live with a 33 percent from there.”
On Kerr’s fine for “verbally abusing a referee” in the previous game: “They just garnish the wages. I have been fined before. I just take the punishment and move on.”
5:30 p.m.: We skip Bucks’ coach Mike Budenholzer’s pregame press conference and instead head to the court for the pregame shootaround for a few minutes before being led down into the Warriors’ locker room. It’s customary in the NBA to have open locker room time before and after a game. It’s a time for journalists and others with the appropriate clearance to corner any willing player for a conversation. Many people (like us!) don’t talk to the players, but stand and observe. I’m worried things will get weird. I can’t go too long without talking. But Anish assures us the players are used to it.
The locker room’s circular chamber is mostly empty with players loosening up or getting treatment in a separate section with a gym to which the view is blocked. As one of the players runs down the corridor, security guards yell, “Warrior coming down!” and we are essentially stopped for a player crossing. The locker room is something else, though. It’s the one place over the course of the day where Alessio can’t take photos. Let me try to describe it: The ceiling is a sloped circular thing with slats emanating from the center. It’s an homage to the building previously known as the Oracle. Directly below and in the middle is a piece of hardwood with the Warriors’ logo. I’m told its from the 2014 championship team’s court. Several journalists mill around staring at their phones, waiting for players to show up and provide some pregame statements.
Next, we head over to the much-smaller visitors’ locker room. A narrow hallway is lined with gear bags, not unlike what you might find backstage at a concert, but minus guitar cases or drum kit bags. Someone has tacked up a large Bucks logo outside the door.
We peek inside, and the first thing we see is Antetokounmpo reclining on top of a garment bag on the floor and listening to music on his headphones. He then pulls out an electric massaging device that’s like a foam roller but looks like a large Bluetooth speaker or boom box.
He rolls his legs, one at a time, over the device. Several feet away, an ESPN video crew films the routine. Bucks point guard Eric Bledsoe peeks into the room and just as quickly jogs away. The next man in the door is a Bay Area-based Israeli media journalist. On one wall of the room is a clock counting down time before the game begins. Outside the locker room, a dance team practices a routine next to a parked ambulance. The color guard is also rehearsing the flag ceremony. Soon after, starting center Brook Lopez stretches with a medicine ball just outside the locker room. Must have been too cramped inside.
6 p.m.: We head out to the floor. The doors are open now and fans are streaming in. Our passes give us access to the floor, so we take advantage of that, walking two full laps around the perimeter. Standing on the hardwood so close to game time is a heart-pumping experience. The players go through shooting drills. The broadcasters for both teams record their pregame bits. The fans in the front row take their seats, and I try to take in some of the minute details that don’t come through so clearly on TV. There’s the Slipp-Not mat used to prevent shoe slippage.
The loaded rack of game balls. Draymond Green, out on the court again in a pair of white headphones, launching threes from 3 feet away from me. There’s Warriors’ great Chris Mullin. I have his basketball cards at home. There’s former Bucks lottery pick and all-star Vin Baker, now an assistant coach. I have his basketball cards back home…
6:45 p.m.: Alessio takes his place in the camera bay above the first section of seats at midcourt. I make a run for the concessions. The player intros, complete with pyrotechnics, can be heard throughout the concourses. I happen to be at Bakesale Betty’s. The popular Oakland chicken joint has had long lines at all the shows I’ve seen at Chase Center so far, so I take advantage of not having to worry about seeing the opening tip. I order the famous chicken sandwich, and they throw in an order of chicken strips on the house. I race back to my seat as the game begins.
7 p.m.: The tiered media seating is located at one corner of the arena. There are comfortable chairs and desks with iPads showing up-to-the-second box scores for both teams. All the other reporters here, about 40 of them, have laptops. Just because I don’t doesn’t mean the desk is unimportant—I have a pile of food, after all. I begin with a bite of the chicken sandwich. It’s crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside, and has a bit of a kick to it. I’m not a coleslaw guy, but this is fantastic stuff. The strips also hit the spot, but the fries are a bit salty.
First, I was pretending to be a sports writer. Now I’m writing about sandwiches. Life is truly perplexing sometimes.
I’ve never covered sports, but I’m a huge sports fan, so I know the old adage: No cheering in the press box. This isn’t a box, but sure enough, everyone sits quietly while watching the game. Apparently none of these people want to win a free T-shirt.
7:30 p.m.: The Warriors keep pace with the Bucks in the first quarter and the game is tied at a low-scoring 19-all. In the second quarter, the Dubs try to make a move. Ky Bowman dunks, but gets T’d up for staring at an opponent for too long. Guard Alen Smailagic hits a three-pointer to bring Golden State to within one, at 31-32. The game moves quickly. It’s halftime seemingly 10 minutes after the game started.
Journalists file onto the concourse and take the press elevator to the media room for popcorn, M&M cookies and brownies. We walk by former Warriors coach (and now ESPN commentator) Mark Jackson. I have his basketball cards back home. Some of the best-known national basketball journalists are here. After just a couple of minutes, we make our way back, and somehow, I’ve already missed the first two minutes of the third quarter.
A Willie Cauley-Stein dunk makes it 51-54. The bench is ready to react to a Bowman floater, but it bounces off. The Bucks begin to pull away with the Warriors clinging on to keep the game within 10 points. A timeout is called. During the break, magician Dom Chambers from “America’s Got Talent” performs Warriors-specific magic tricks. He’s shorter than he looked on TV.
With 6:32 left, Glenn Robinson III swishes a three to make it 86-93. It’s followed by another Bowman fast-break dunk to bring the Warriors within five points. That’s as close as they get the rest of the game. Antetokounmpo then takes over with an alley-oop dunk, making it 99-88 Bucks, and from there on out, the two teams more or less trade baskets for the rest of the game.
9:45 p.m.: Back in the Bill King Interview Room, Draymond Green talks about playing against Antetokounmpo: “He’s a hoot.”
Kerr is next and is overall encouraged by the effort he saw from his team. He seems at ease, joking around with the assembled reporters.
10 p.m.: In the Warriors locker room, Green reclines in a chair in front of his locker, jovially sparring with a couple of reporters about his appreciation of Atlanta’s Trae Young. His uniform is off, but he’s still clad in various compression gear. Players make their way in and begin to change. In front of D’Angelo Russell’s locker sit roughly 12 pairs of colorful sneakers, even though he didn’t play tonight. The players don’t seem phased at all by strangers, changing in front of us.
10:20 p.m.: We wander toward the Bucks locker room, but the team is already showered and out. Some players mill in the loading dock, talking to friends, so we get the attention of shooting guard Wesley Matthews.
Q: What kind of music do you listen to after a win?
“I listen to the same stuff after a win and a loss, mostly rap and R&B,” he says. “Guys like Lil Wayne, Nipsey, Jay Z and Lil Baby. At a recent game, I listened to Phil Collins.”
I wonder if he caught Collins’ most recent tour, which came through this very building, but he says his last show was Travis Scott (while he played for the Dallas Mavericks). Back at the court, several of the Milwaukee players are chatting with a large group of friends in the stands. It doesn’t seem like the team is in any hurry to get back to the hotel or the airport. And in this way, it’s not unlike what goes on after a typical concert. Artists have friends with whom they relish the opportunity to hang out. So do basketball players. I presume there’s no afterparty, but at this point I’m too tired to find out. It’s been a long day.