When it comes to sports, Santa Cruz is better known for pro-surfing than pro-basketball. But last year the Golden State Warriors made Santa Cruz the home of its D-League team. As the season comes to an end, has this been a good fit for the team and the community?
Out on the playground at Gault Elementary School in Santa Cruz, about twenty second graders crowd in for a picture with Santa Cruz Warriors basketball players Hilton Armstrong and Darington Hobson. Playing basketball with these pros is a reward for the students who read the most words in a two-month program called Read to Achieve. Seven schools throughout the city are participating and Teacher Katy Scowcroft says her students were really motivated by this reward. “They’ve all worked really hard,” said Scowcroft.
The Santa Cruz Warriors are the development league team for the Oakland based Golden State Warriors. The D-league is the official minor league of the NBA. D-league players can be called up to play on their NBA team at any time during the season, so moving to Santa Cruz, from Bismarck, North Dakota, made sense. But it’s been more than a logistical success. Since relocating, the Santa Cruz Warriors are leading the development league in ticket sales, ahead of the fifteen other teams. “We always knew there was a basketball subculture here,” said Matt De Nesnera, Santa Cruz Warriors Public and Community Relations Manager. “The reaction from the fans has been fantastic. We couldn’t have asked for a warmer embrace from the community of Santa Cruz. We’re just excited about getting through the inaugural season, getting into year two - year three, and sort of working on building on the relationships, the foundations we’ve created already,” said De Nesnera.
At a recent home game in the Warriors downtown area the team is leading the Sioux Falls Skyforce. The bleachers are near capacity with fans who boo after a ref calls a foul on Santa Cruz. You wouldn’t know just by looking that this is a temporary facility. The 33,000 square foot building with its steel walls and fabric roof went up in just three months. “It has a very permanent feel. The whole point of this was to see sort of how this would go. It’s been a grand experiment in a way. This whole season has been an experiment, just experimenting with what works and what doesn’t,” said De Nesnera
There’s already talk of building a permanent arena. The team and the City of Santa Cruz made a seven year deal, with the city loaning the Warriors $4.1-million to relocate. In return, the city receives annual rent from the team, all of the revenue from the arena’s concession stands, and a 5-percent admissions tax. Plus, the city is banking on the idea that the basketball team is stimulating the local economy during Santa Cruz’s off-season. “One of the reasons we were really supportive of this from the beginning was the fact that Warriors are in Santa Cruz during the off-season so we do have a really active Memorial Day to Labor Day, but this really their active period for the Warriors games is during the Winter months, so this is perfect,” said Bonnie Lipscomb, Santa Cruz’s Director of Economic Development. Whether this is the perfect fit isn’t known yet, the numbers are still being calculated, but just based on attendance, Lipscomb is optimistic. “The amount of merchandise I’ve seen around town is amazing. It’s been really rewarding I think for us at the city to see how much the local community and Santa Cruz community have embraced the Warriors. It’s a great feeling,” said Lipscomb.
The Warriors season wraps up with an April 6th home game against the Bakersfield Jam. Right now the team is on track to make the playoffs.