Basketball

Sights & sounds: Long-suffering Warriors fans revel in Finals

Jim and Cherie Wheeler warm up a grill while tailgating at Oracle Arena before Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Jim and Cherie Wheeler warm up a grill while tailgating at Oracle Arena before Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The Associated Press

The parking lots at Oracle Arena are accustomed to big pregame parties.

Tailgates for Raiders home games can be as fun as any around the NFL.

Fans who tailgated hours before Game 1 of the NBA Finals brought similar energy. But this was a party four decades in the making.

The Warriors have become the talk of the basketball world coming off their NBA-best 67-15 regular season and run to the Finals.

“This is what we were hoping for all along,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “We’re ready to go, and home-court advantage, playing in front of our crowd in Game 1, playing in June, it’s all good stuff.”

Oracle has always been one of the loudest buildings in the NBA. Add to that the best team the Warriors have had since the 1975 championship squad and the growing celebrity following, and Oracle was buzzing before tipoff.

Basketball royalty, such as Kings minority owner Shaquille O’Neal and two-time league MVP Steve Nash, was in the building.

Outside of the sporting world, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and celebrity chef Guy Fieri were in attendance.

The Warriors’ playoff run also has been a showcase for the Bay Area’s deep connection to hip hop. Legendary rapper and Vallejo native E-40 was slated to perform at halftime. He has been a fixture at games for years. M.C. Hammer, one of the top-selling rappers of all-time, Mistah FAB and Lil B are other Bay Area rappers who have attended games.

Stepping down – Joel Litvin, the president of the NBA’s franchise operations for the past several years and a significant figure during the Kings’ decades-long arena ordeal, lingered near the court several hours before tipoff, savoring his last NBA Finals.

Litvin announced his retirement last week. Hired by former Commissioner David Stern in 1988, the attorney and Westchester County, N.Y., resident also oversaw the league’s expansion to Orlando, Minnesota, Miami and Charlotte. Much too active to spend the rest of life watching hoops on his couch – he plays in a weekly adult league – Litvin plans to take a break and then form a non-profit organization, perhaps relating to animal rights.

“The thing I’m going to miss most is being in these arenas for the championship games,” he said.

Ex-King reflects – Jim Jackson, a valuable guard on the 2002-03 Kings team that lost Chris Webber to a knee injury during the conference semifinals against Dallas, said he understood management’s decision to pursue center Brad Miller the ensuing offseason but remains disappointed that he was not approached about re-signing.

“Playing for the Kings made me love the game again,” said Jackson, a college and NBA analyst for Fox Sports. “I wanted to come back. I knew we needed Brad because of (Webber’s) knee, but we never heard from them. It was too bad. We had a great thing going.”

Family ties – TV analyst Jon Barry was 5 years old when the NBA Finals last came to these parts. His father, Rick, led the Warriors to the 1975 title.

Jon Barry laughed it up with former coach and fellow broadcaster P.J. Carlesimo before Thursday’s game. As a few Warriors behind him jacked up some shootaround attempts, Barry felt the excitement building before tipoff.

“This is a great final,” Barry said. “People don’t really know what’s going to happen – that’s kind of what makes it fun. The Warriors have been a great team all year long, and Cleveland’s got the best player in the game, so anything can happen.”

Barry spent three of his 14 years in Sacramento, coming off the bench as an outside shooting specialist during the playoff years of the Webber era. Barry said the Kings have a chance for success in upcoming years mainly because of the addition of Vlade Divac to the front office.

“Hopefully they can get back on the map again,” Barry said. “Vlade is a great people person. He’s going to be all about bringing in good people. Good people sometimes can trump talent. I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns it around.”

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings. Andy Furillo and Ailene Voisin contributed to this report.

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