The Golden State Warriors are finally where they wanted to be back in 2019 when San Francisco’s Chase Center opened: in the NBA Finals. For the sixth time in eight seasons, the Warriors will be chasing the title, this time against the Boston Celtics, one of the most storied franchises in NBA history.
After two seasons to forget—largely because of injury on the court for Golden State, and the fallout caused by COVID-19—the building that was privately funded at $1.6 billion will be filled to capacity at 18,064 and rocking when Game 1 of the best-of-seven series tips off Thursday night.
Stephen Curry—the NBA’s all-time 3-point leader, who’s been with the Warriors for the entire run—is looking forward to it.
“You have to adapt to the flow of the day as you get ready for these games,” Curry said during a media conference at the arena this week. “My advice is that at the end of the day when the ball drops, you might have a little nerves in the first quarter but settle in really quick. And then it’s just basketball.”
The Warriors played in the Finals five consecutive times, winning three, from 2015-19. But all of those were played across the bay in what was then called Oracle Arena in Oakland.
Owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber simultaneously led the construction of the new arena, which opened as a rousing success in time for the 2019-20 season.
But that season was far from the Warriors’ best. Injuries riddled the roster, and on March 11, 2020, the pandemic shut down the NBA for four months. Golden State was not invited to the Orlando playoff bubble, concluding the season with a 15-50 record.
When the 2020-21, 72-game season began in December, local health protocols prohibited the team from having any fans in the arena. The Warriors won 39 games, and 15 of the last 20, but lost twice in the play-in round and missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Lacob said last year during a Sportico on-line panel discussion the Warriors had taken a financial bath through it all and lost in excess of $200 million.
“We kind of wrote off [last season],” said Lacob, who has a master’s degree in public health and epidemiology, and formed a task force to address all the issues during the pandemic. “It [was] a terrible, terrible economic situation. Everyone had a lot of problems.”
In contrast, this season has been a huge success for the Warriors, who bounced back as one of four NBA teams to play in front of fans at 100% capacity, drawing 740,624 for 41 home dates and winning 53 games overall. Injuries to Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all were resolved by the start of the playoffs, and the Warriors ripped through Denver, Memphis and Dallas to win another Western Conference championship. Curry said he “could see some of that competitive fire come back.”
“That carried over into this year,” he added, “and gave us the belief and vision we could be back here on this stage.”
In 2010, Lacob and Guber purchased the franchise from Chris Cohan for $450 million. According to Sportico’s own most recent valuations of NBA franchises, Golden State is now worth $6.03 billion, second in the league and slightly behind the New York Knicks at $6.12 billion.
The Warriors are worth almost twice the value of the Celtics, the sixth-most valuable team in the NBA at $3.44 billion. The Celtics are owned by Boston Basketball Partners, LLC, led by majority shareholder Wyc Grousbeck.
This is Boston’s 22nd appearance in the Finals, having lost only four times. Considering all that success, the Celtics haven’t been to a Finals since 2010, when they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, and they last won the NBA title in 2008, also against the Lakers. That was their only title since 1986, the middle of the Larry Bird era.
Lacob was in the Boston minority ownership group and seated courtside in 2008 at the time of that last Celtics championship. His four-plus season run ended when he and Guber purchased the Warriors.
"Boston was very important, and those guys were very helpful," Lacob, born and raised in Bedford, Mass., said this week during a media conference. "They're friends to this day—not too close friends, though. I'm very competitive about this, and I'm sure they are, too."
Lacob's Warriors have been the far more successful team in this era. Still, there’s that energy the Celtics bring to the Finals. Fans recall players such as Bill Russell, Bird and Kevin Garnett, and remember Red Auerbach lighting up his victory cigar. The series will shift next week to TD Garden, which replaced the historic Boston Garden in 1995.
“It’s a tough-nosed organization that has a lot of history,” Curry said. “They have a certain way of doing things that have carried throughout the years. I’m excited about this playoff series where there’s in-game adjustments. Even being in Boston in that arena with that very unique atmosphere. They’re an historic franchise. You look up at the rafters and see all the banners and players who’ve donned that jersey.
“For them to be back in the Finals, I’m sure is special in that city.”
Special in both cities.