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The Road from Philly to the Bay: A Golden State Warriors Arena History

Oakland Coliseum and Arena

If you want a concise history of the NBA arena, a review of Golden State Warriors homes since the team’s origins in Philadelphia shows how the game and where it’s been played over the years has evolved.

The original Philadelphia Warriors launched in 1946 as part of the Basketball Association of America (an NBA precursor), which featured 11 teams and strong ties to the minor-league American Hockey League. In fact, Warriors founder Pete Tyrrell owned the AHL Philadelphia Rockets and sought professional basketball as a way to fill the schedule at the old Philadelphia Arena, which he managed. Located at 4530 Market Street, Philadelphia Arena was better known for hosting a wide variety of acts, and pro basketball was just one more event on schedule, alongside boxing, wrestling, professional and collegiate hockey. The Warriors played at Philadelphia Arena from 1946 and 1952, while also playing part of their home schedule there between 1952 and 1962. It was a small venue, seating between 5,500 and 9,000 (capacity estimates are all over the map), and NBA basketball was a secondary attraction in a city where passion for the game ran strong. The 10,000-seat Palestra, often called the Cathedral of College Basketball, was where Philly basketball fans gathered in droves to watch Philadelphia Big 5 games. 

For Tyrrell, pro basketball was one of many attractions to fill the Philadelphia Arena calendar; he also booked pro rodeo, live music, roller derby, bicycle races, swimming exhibitions and ice skating, helping to form the Ice Capades. That abundance of activity wasn’t uncommon for the time, as venues across the country presented a similar mix to best utilize the calendar. Like many other NBA teams of the era, pro basketball had no special claims to dates, and teams often had to schedule neutral-site games when the arena was unavailable. Life on the road was part of the NBA experience. 

By the 1952-1953 season the Warriors would play in a variety of venues, including home games at Philadelphia Arena and the Philadelphia Civic Center, as well as neutral-site arenas across the country in cities like St. Louis, Bethlehem (PA), Camden (NJ), San Francisco, Los Angeles and College Park (MD). Most famously, the Warriors were playing a neutral-site game at Hershey Sports Arena in Hershey, PA on March 2, 1962 when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game seen by few. The Warriors trained at and played three games in the 1961-1962 NBA season at what’s now called HersheyPark Arena–yes, it still stands and is still in use–with games regularly scheduled in Hershey throughout the years, through 1974. These were rough conditions, to be sure: Chamberlain set his record on a floor designed for roller skating. 

For the 1962-1963 season the Warriors moved to California to join the Los Angeles Lakers on the West Coast, setting up shop as the San Francisco Warriors and playing most of their home games at the 15,000-capacity Cow Palace in Daly City, though also scheduling games in Oakland and San Diego. True to their roots, the Warriors were a nomadic lot in the 1960s, launching their California tenure at the Cow Palace for two seasons and then shifting their home base to the smaller San Francisco Civic Auditorium in 1964-1967 before returning to the Cow Palace again in 1967-1968. Again, the Warriors played plenty of games outside the Bay Area: in the 1966-1967 NBA season, for example, the Warriors played neutral-site games in Seattle, San Jose, Memphis, Oakland, Phoenix, Cleveland, Evansville (IN), Greensboro, Pittsburgh, Fresno and San Diego, as well as being part of two NBA doubleheaders at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.  

To this point the Warriors were never a featured attraction in their own arena. This was not unusual in the NBA. Take a look at the 1966-1967 NBA season. You had the Cincinnati Royals playing plenty of games in Cleveland, Dayton, Memphis and Kansas City. You had the Los Angeles Lakers playing games in Montreal, Memphis, Charleston (WV), San Diego and Pittsburgh. You even had the New York Knicks carrying on the Madison Square Garden tradition of NBA doubleheaders while playing games in Long Beach (CA), Evansville (IN), Memphis and Fresno. 

But the arena picture changed nationally in 1967-1969, when a slew of new facilities opened to accommodate NHL expansion, including The Spectrum (Philadelphia), Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena, a new Madison Square Garden and the Forum (Los Angeles). The NBA was a prime beneficiary of this expansion, with arenas in major markets supporting both pro basketball and pro hockey. The Warriors followed suit with a move to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena in 1968, sharing the arena with the NHL’s Oakland Seals and beginning a long tenure in Oakland that saw the team adopt the Golden State Warriors moniker in 1971. That season saw the team play the vast majority of its home games in Oakland, with six games in San Diego and none outside California. By the 1975-1976 season, the Golden State Warriors played all home games in Oakland and had no neutral-site matches on the schedule. And arena marketing had changed, focusing more on sports headliners and bigger events.

This season sees the Warriors hit a new level, opening a team-owned arena and associated development in the City. Some things never change, as the Chase Center will host a variety of acts and events that would make Pete Tyrrell proud. The difference now is that the Warriors are the featured attraction and not needing to scramble for open dates.

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