Displacement Through the Lens of a Die-Hard Oakland Sports Fan

$8.75…8.85…8.95….9 dollars! Woo-hoo! After weeks of collecting bottles and cans and doing odd jobs around the neighborhood, this ten-year-old finally succeeded in scraping together enough nickels, dimes, and quarters to purchase my very first ticket to a pro wrestling match at the Oakland-Alameda County Arena. Say your prayers and eat your vitamins Hulkamaniacs!

Sports occupy a significant place in the psyche of a city. What goes largely ignored is the intersection between economics and sports. What is interesting is the parallel between the recent Warriors success, and the recent prominence of Oakland as a place to live.

During my youth in the 1980s, I was able to score free tickets from my local Boys and Girls Club to the Golden state Warriors basketball games. To my dismay, those days are long gone. The “Dubs” now command the highest priced tickets in the NBA. The people who remained loyal fans during the lean seasons now find themselves unable to afford tickets that are now being eagerly gobbled up by the johnny-come-lately, more affluent fans and residents.

The Bay Area has grown, in a relatively short time period, accustomed to the success of the Warriors. When the Warriors finally lost after opening the season with 24 consecutive victories, there was sadness and a feeling of lost opportunity among the fans. The irony lies in the fact that just as recent as two seasons ago, this franchise was known as the laughingstock of the NBA. Basketball players would rather retire than accept being traded to the Warriors.

Equally, Oakland was not viewed as a desirable place to live. As manufacturing-based jobs abandoned the city during the 1960’s, coupled with the advent of crack cocaine and a rising homicide rate in the 1980s, the economic and racial landscape of Oakland changed dramatically.  Now that perception is changing as more affluent folks continue to pour into Oakland.

Oakland is the only city in California (the entire West Coast) that currently is home to a NBA, NFL, and MLB team. All three teams may no longer call Oakland home.  Although the cause and conditions are different, the same holds true for tens of thousands of people in Oakland.

Since 2011, the rent in Oakland has nearly doubled. By contrast, the median income has increased by only 11.3% during the same time period. This does not take into account the people who earn far less than the median income. Families who have resided in Oakland for generations and decades, are now being rapidly displaced. Evictions, displacement, and foreclosures average one thousand per month.

As a lifetime sports fan, I now find myself unable to afford to take my thirteen-year old son to a game, where he can enjoy an experience that will leave an indelible impression for a lifetime. An impression such as the one that was left upon me from November 1979, one glorious Sunday afternoon I shall never forget. My dad took me to my first Raiders game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

I cannot tell you who the Raiders played; nor is the score germane to my nostalgia. What stands out for me, the son of a mother who was a Nation of Islam member, and a father who was a former Black Panther, is the fact that for the first (and only) Sunday in my life, I was a part of an event that was truly diverse and unified.

While advocating for the minimum wage increase in Oakland last year, I mentioned my desire to take my son to a sports event.  Someone retorted that a sports game is a frivolous use of finances, and therefore unimportant. I do not ascribe to any theory that creates a “deserving” and an “undeserving” class of folks. My son is no less equal to another son from a more privilege background. This comment penalizes poor people and inflicts shame upon the “victims” of this capitalistic system.

I can no longer recognize my hometown. Familiar landmarks are being removed. When families find themselves both being unable to call Oakland home and enjoy what this beautiful city has to offer, then what has become of it?