Santa Cruz Warriors’ president has had plenty to be thankful for in 2020 — hoops or no hoops

Santa Cruz Warriors President Chris Murphy cooks Thanksgiving dinner with his son Connor, 6, and daughter Taylor, 4.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

A Q&A with Chris Murphy: On the resilience of the Santa Cruz community, the organizations that have stepped up to help people through the morass of 2020 and the prospects of basketball returning to Kaiser Permanente Arena anytime soon.

Chris Murphy yearns for normalcy as much as the next person. He’d like to see the Santa Cruz Warriors get back to, y’know, basketball sometime soon.

But, truthfully, Murphy is conflicted. When he squints past the challenges and struggles of 2020, the Sea Dubs’ president sees reasons for immense gratitude and enlightenment. He has felt a deeper connectivity to community and family firsthand.

With COVID-19 numbers continuing to surge, there is zero guarantee a G League season as Santa Cruz hoops junkies have come to know it will materialize. There are rumors that there may be no season at all. An actual decision should be handed down by the NBA within a week or two.

But even a continued moratorium on hoops wouldn’t prevent Murphy and the Warriors from playing an important role in the community. Even with no games being played at Kaiser Permanente Arena since the season was canceled in March, the Warriors have been on a fastbreak pace around town.

From donating 8,000 masks to local organizations, establishing relief funds for both COVID-19 and the wildfires, hosting an election site at the arena and helping out with various food insecurity initiatives, you could say the Warriors have upped their game considerably during this timeout.

On Thursday, Murphy gave thanks for the good things in 2020 by cooking Thanksgiving dinner with his 6-year-old son, Connor, and 4-year-old daughter, Taylor. “We actually meal-planned,” he said. “They got to pick the side dishes they say they’ll eat but probably won’t.”

Lookout Zoomed with Murphy before the stuffing started flying. Here’s our conversation, edited for conciseness and clarity:

So you’ve been down here in Santa Cruz for five years now. Talk about how cool this community is.

It’s been awesome. You find such close-knit ties. There are so many good nonprofit organizations and it’s easy to want to support things like Second Harvest when you hear the percentage of people in the community getting help from them every month. You really get a sense for this community cares about each other and rallies around each other.

The resilience people here have shown in 2020 has been pretty impressive hasn’t it?

To watch so many community members step up and offer every kind of support imaginable, Santa Cruz has its disagreements, people that think differently, the politics and inner workings. But to watch people kinda galvanize and come together and rally around each other, it gives you hope and faith as where we are as a community. Despite 2020 throwing some major haymakers at this community, to watch the response, for people to come together and stay together, has been pretty amazing.

What positives have you personally taken away from 2020?

Time with my kids. They’re so young and probably never again in my life will I have eight months of unimpeded time with them. And it definitely brings with it a lot of stress. You’ve got to keep them active, you’ve got to explain to them why we can’t go to the Boardwalk and things they’re so used to doing. But there’s things we’ve done together, new habits we’ve formed together.

As much as it will be great to get back to routines, back to work, back to the office, back to games, I won’t fully appreciate this time with the kids until it isn’t there any more. Until you’re back to dropping them off at school and then you pick them up and get to see them. But you’ve lost like seven hours of the day, you won’t get that same time. The time with them I’ll cherish.

Santa Cruz Warriors GM Chris Murphy cooks Thanksgiving dinner with his son Connor, 6, and daughter Taylor, 4.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

What are you most thankful for beyond those kids of yours?

The Warriors, Golden State level, have been so supportive. I mean here we are eight months into a pandemic in a business built on live events, we haven’t laid people off, haven’t had any furloughs. I’m thankful we have that mindset as an organization. And then just being in a place where we can go to the woods, we can go to the beach, we can still be outside 12 months a year. Hopefully everyone doesn’t take it for granted.

How bizarre was it to watch the NBA playoffs played in a bubble across the map?

It was weird for the Warriors not to be there, but given the season we had, that was fine. We had to get healthy. But it was great to have sports back. When they started mid-July it was like being a kid in a candy store. You could watch eight hours of NBA basketball all day long. It came at a time when sports just needed to get back on TV, people needed something to cheer for. As someone who’s been in professional basketball for 15 years to not have basketball it was pretty rough.

Before we moved back to purple, owner Joe Lacob was putting together an ambitious plan to get fans tested before they came into Chase Center and fill it to 50 percent capacity. What are your thoughts on that?

It can’t happen right now, but they’re still working with the county and state on when it might become an option. I think it’s exciting to think about an ownership group that wants to test that many people and make it the safest environment it can be. Every single person in the building will have been tested and tested negative. That’s such a community benefit too, testing thousands of people.

Santa Cruz Warriors President Chris Murphy looks forward to getting back to watching his team play basketball.
Santa Cruz Warriors GM Chris Murphy looks forward to getting back to watching his team play basketball.

If it does happen, any chance that program trickles down to the minor league club?

Testing is so expensive, I don’t think the economics make sense to spend that kind of money here. The other piece is they’re still socially distancing, so in our building to social distance at 25 percent capacity, you’re only talking 500-600 people. So that makes it a lot harder. We’re waiting to see what the G League is going to announce about our season and how we can keep players and our communities and our fans safe.

We upgraded the ventilation system, adding filters that are CDC-approved and it’s nice that our building is pretty cavernous so it generally gets pretty good airflow. If you’re at 25 percent, that’s 619 people. Whether or not we can do that many people safely remains to be seen.

I know there was a rumor last month that the G League could become a COVID casualty and just be shut down. You think that’s possible?

Not that I’ve heard. I think the value of the G League will always rest in basketball player development. That is going to be paramount to the NBA clubs. Every one of them would not want to sacrifice young player development. How that formulates — are there other alternatives for a season that might make sense?

You’re at a point where the league gets stronger and stronger. You have 29 teams. You’re seeing the impacts of it at the NBA level. Former G League players that are getting big contracts. At the NBA level, the latest coaching hire with the Indiana Pacers (Nate Bjorkgren) was our head coach here in Santa Cruz our first season.

So you see the ripple effects of a successful G League permeating throughout the NBA and I don’t think anyone’s willing to see it be a casualty for a year. It may have to restructure somewhat.

Now that you’ve been here five years, what are your favorite Santa Cruz things?

I love going to the beach to relax but I’m not a surfer. We get out into the woods — a lot of hikes or walks with the kids. I love to golf. Anything outside really. I’m one of the locals who loves going to the Boardwalk, taking the kids down there. We’ve been doing the drive-ins they’re putting on down there — those are great. It’s a great sense of community yet completely safe and socially distant.

The Murphys
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)