When Prince sat courtside at Thunder-Warriors game
Draymond Green: ‘When he walked in, no one’s attention was on the game anymore’
OAKLAND, California — Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Rihanna. Floyd Mayweather Jr. Rapper E-40. Neymar. Dave Chappelle. Russell Wilson and Ciara. Snoop Dogg.
These are a few of the celebrities who have sat courtside to watch the Golden State Warriors. But of all the stars who have graced the seats at Oracle Arena, none distracted the Warriors players more than Prince, who on March 3, 2016, walked to his seat at tipoff with the aid of a fancy cane.
“Having Prince at your game is a big deal,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “Everybody ain’t Prince. He kind of stole the show. That’s OK. It was huge. When he walked in, no one’s attention was on the game anymore.
“You have Jay-Z and Beyoncé, and that’s like dope. Super dope. But, it’s like, Prince garners a whole other type of attention.”
Said Warriors guard Shaun Livingston: “You see a lot of people with influence. Some star power. Prince? My mom and daddy grew up on Prince. Seeing him was like a step under seeing Michael Jackson.”
On the eve of the two-year anniversary of Prince’s death, the Warriors recalled the stunning guest appearance of the eight-time Grammy Award winner as if it happened yesterday. Perhaps Prince was just as excited to see Stephen Curry and the Warriors play against their Western Conference rival Oklahoma City Thunder.
Prince was a high school basketball star in Minnesota who was a good ball handler and shooter despite standing just 5 feet, 2 inches tall. He attended numerous Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx games and even treated the Lynx players and staff to a private concert at Paisley Park after they won the 2015 WNBA title. Chappelle’s Show had a famous skit in which comedian Charlie Murphy told a hilarious story about playing Prince in basketball and eating pancakes afterward.
“All I remember is looking across the way, seeing him and being blown away,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He just had that presence. The It factor. There aren’t many people like that on Earth. We were all in awe. I’m a fan. I have him on my Spotify. He’s phenomenal.”
Prince had come to the Bay Area because his protégé Denise Matthews, better known as Vanity, died in nearby Fremont on Feb. 15, 2016. Prince attended Matthews’ funeral in Union City on Feb. 27, and his presence changed it from public to private. Prince performed two sold-out concerts the next day at Oakland’s Paramount Theater.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, before one of the songs, Prince asked his fans, “What can you truly count on besides Steph Curry? And you can count on Steph Curry.” Green attended one of the shows at the Paramount, sitting four rows from the stage.
“It was special to see him, like I’d never seen him before in my life,” Green said. “To have that opportunity to see Prince at my age was special. What I took away from it was you see so many of these huge stars now with the way they perform on the floor, and then you say, ‘That is where they got some of their beats from.’
“He does little subtle things, but the crowd goes nuts. It was very satisfying. I was honored.”
Warriors owner Joe Lacob offered Prince two courtside seats for the game against Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. Prince not only agreed to take the tickets but also ended up agreeing to perform at Oracle Arena the next night.
The hallway that extends from the north tunnel entering Oracle’s VIP parking lot to the visiting locker room was dimmed with purple lights. There was also a purple curtain that went from the visiting locker room to the court. Curry took a picture of the hallway after the game and posted it on social media.
— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) March 4, 2016
Durant, now with the Warriors, also recalled the purple lights when he arrived with the Thunder that night.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Durant said. “Then you go out to the court and see a legend out there. Someone you’ve heard so much about. To get to see him watching us play knowing how much he enjoyed basketball, it was kind of surreal. It was like out of a dream. He was someone who meant so much to culture, music and entertainment. It was an honor.
“You really didn’t expect to see all those lights. But to then see Prince there and then say, ‘Oh, that was what that was all for.’ ”
Prince arrived sporting mammoth sunglasses and a blue satin pantsuit with black trim while walking with the aid of a cane and security watching closely. The crowd gave him rousing applause and a standing ovation.
Green described the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer’s entrance as “so Prince.”
“He picked a perfect time to make an entrance,” Green said. “Dead ball. He made his entrance walking only the way he could walk. Big Afro. He kind of drew all of the attention.”
Supermodel Damaris Lewis arrived with Prince and sat next to him during the game. Lacob said the legendary singer didn’t say much that night.
With 1:22 remaining in the first quarter, the Warriors showed a smiling Prince on the JumboTron during a timeout. The Warriors showed how much they adored him as the dance team performed to his song “Let’s Go Crazy.” His song “Kiss” also played during the timeout staple Kiss Cam. Prince had a gift, and every fan received a copy of his “HITNRUN Phase Two.”
The Warriors tied the Chicago Bulls’ record that night by winning their 44th straight regular-season game en route to a 121-106 win over the Thunder, Golden State’s 55th victory of the season. Curry also entertained Prince and the fans by scoring 33 points. But Prince departed at halftime and didn’t see the second half.
While Prince was watching the NBA game, he probably did not know that the players were watching him intently as well.
“I remember him sitting right across from our bench,” Curry said. “He showed up in the first quarter with purple on, cane. It looked like he was having a good time. He really didn’t have many facial reactions. But he seemed to enjoy the vibe, and I remember that we made it real warm and welcoming for him in the hallways and stuff.
“I saw him on the sideline. I kind of gave him a head nod. He smiled.”
Said Livingston: “He was iconic. We were like, ‘Yo, that’s Prince.’ Everybody was. You usually don’t see icons come to the game.”
Said Durant: “It was incredible. It was like seeing an angel on the sidelines.”
The Warriors players were all offered suite tickets to attend Prince’s concert at Oracle Arena the next day. Green and forward Andre Iguodala attended. At that show, Prince also told the crowd, “Take your place in history. I know Stephen Curry has.” Green actually watched Prince perform twice that week and shook his hand at the Oracle concert near the Warriors’ locker room.
Curry gave up the ticket he had to see Prince because of a prior engagement. The two-time NBA MVP said he saw two of Prince’s shows in Oakland in 2011. Curry’s father-in-law, John Alexander, is a musician who was inspired by Prince.
“I went to two shows in a row because they were that good,” Curry said. “He knew how to entertain. My father-in-law and basically my wife’s family are all die-hard Prince fans.”
Prince died on April 21, 2016, from an accidental overdose of fentanyl. He was 57. The Warriors heard the news of his death during a shootaround for a playoff game against the Houston Rockets.
Warriors assistant coach Nick U’Ren accepted a request from Curry and Iguodala and played Prince’s “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry” on a portable speaker. Next up was “Raspberry Beret,” a request from forward Klay Thompson. The Warriors put out a statement in which Lacob said that he was “shocked and saddened” by the news and that a “true icon in the entertainment business” was lost.
“I’m a fan of his music. I got his songs on my iPhone library,” Thompson said.
Said Green: “I was like, ‘Damn, life is so short.’ I just saw this man. What are the odds that I get the opportunity to see him? The chances to see him at 26 and then he passes away? I cherish that.”
Durant said he saw Prince perform in concert once.
“You never want to hear that your heroes or legends pass away. But we all are human,” Durant said. “I never thought something would happen to guys like him, Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross. Growing up, my mom, aunts and uncles would play their music. I just felt like these people were like gods to us.
“You felt like everything they did was perfect. But they are human. You can appreciate them for what they do and how hard it was for them to get where they were.”