Ray Perez and members of Make Oakland Better (MOB), the grass-roots group he co-founded to keep the Raiders in their current zip code, grasps the urgency of the situation.
This is their Seattle. This is the Kings’ relocation clash in pads and cleats.
Within the next several weeks, the NFL owners will decide whether to relocate the resurgent Raiders to Las Vegas, per Mark Davis’ desires, or cooperate with Ronnie Lott on a last-minute stunner, per David Stern and the NBA, and keep the team where it is – or somewhere nearby.
Davis – who has morphed into a combination of Steve Ballmer and Chris Hansen, the Seattle-based tech titans who tried to bury the Kings and rename them the Sonics – already has informed the league that he will file for relocation before the Jan. 15, 2017, deadline. He also believes 24 of the league’s 32 owners, led by the Dallas Mavericks’ influential Jerry Jones, will vote to approve the move.
Yet while the mood around the Silver and Black is increasingly Doom and Gloom, Perez, 28, and his pals refuse to raise the white flag. The West Sacramento native, who graduated from Sacramento State and is pursuing a career in public relations, has patterned his organization’s efforts after Crown Downtown, the local group that was a City Hall fixture during the Kings’ exhaustive relocation saga.
We always wondered who those people were. Week after week. Meeting after meeting. Dozens of individuals in distinctive white T-shirts arrived early and occupied more than half the seats in the chambers. They waved placards and cheered and jeered and booed in unison. They were forever present. They were quite the sight.
“I was not a Kings fans, but I am a Sacramento fan,” Perez said Saturday. “I looked at what Crown Downtown did, and thought, ‘We need something like this for the Raiders.’ We needed a brand to make our movement significant, to let people know we are about Oakland, that it’s about more than sports. And we are not a cult.”
No, but to Perez, the Raiders are family. He recalls attending his first Raiders game at age 7, the year his grandparents twice took him to Disneyland, and caring more about Tim Brown than Mickey Mouse. The Black Hole became an immediate and lifelong attraction. Besides being in the midst of the uniquely rowdy crowds, he embraced his identity as a square peg in a round hole in his Catholic school.
“All my friends were 49ers fans,” Perez continued. “I wanted to be different. And what is a Raiders fan? We pride ourselves on being different.”
After years of buying game-day tickets, Perez became a season-ticket holder and joined the loyal tailgaters who park near the Coliseum grounds on Friday and stay until late Sunday afternoon. Despite the mostly lousy on-field product since 2002, all seemed good until the relocation threats intensified, right about the time Sacramento’s shocking story was evolving. Mayor Kevin Johnson pressured NBA owners for a reprieve and fought off the move to Anaheim. Stern stubbornly pressed to keep the Kings in Northern California and assembled a potential ownership group. Silicon Valley high tech founder Vivek Ranadive headed a group that presented an offer exceeding the Ballmer/Hansen figures.
Perez took note, co-founded an organization with the catchy MOB moniker, and followed the Crown Downtown lead. His group gathered signatures, campaigned in the parking lot, lobbied Oakland city and Alameda county officials and religiously attended council meetings. What they lacked in numbers – and Perez acknowledged that MOB was far outnumbered by the Crown Downtown crowd – they compensated for with heated rhetoric and more colorful attire. Let’s face it. In terms of face paint, costume, and assorted merchandise, no one dresses for the occasion with more flair than Raiders fans.
Yet Perez is concerned about much more than appearance. A featured presence on the cover of a recent Sports Illustrated edition, he recites with ease the numbers associated with the competing deals. They include the estimated $750 million generated by proposed tourism taxes in Las Vegas; Lott’s proposal that involves a public contribution of $200 million in infrastructure improvements, details of which will be outlined in a Dec. 13 City Council meeting; and the number of “no” votes, nine , by the owners that would kill a move to southern Nevada.
“Mark Davis should spearhead this effort,” he continued. “The Maloofs kept waiting on Sacramento. But then you have a mayor who brings in a rich owner. Now you are getting things done. But Mark Davis never comes to City Council meetings. When he went to that one town hall meeting, I asked him directly: ‘Why is it the Niners, Giants, Warriors can take the initiative and build their stadiums, but when it comes to the Raiders, the rest of us have to get together?’ ”
Another gnawing element in all this? The Raiders are a revelation at 9-2 with a five-game win streak and, as significantly, players you want to invite home for dinner. The men who dive into the Black Hole these days wear the white hats. Derek Carr, the daring quarterback. Khalil Mack, the unfailingly polite, formidable defensive end. Amari Cooper, the wideout with the terrific hands and spectacular route-running. Seth Roberts, the former practice player who is just happy to be here. Coach Jack Del Rio, the Bay Area product who came back and cleaned up the mess.
“On top of that, you are going to leave the 1-10 49ers alone in a market where they can’t even sell out their own stadium?” Perez said, his voice rising. “This is not Mark’s team. This is not his league. He can’t just do what he wants.”
And with the Raiders flourishing and the Christmas spirit at its back, the MOB movement carries on.