The state hoops championships return to the East Bay in a perfect case of right place, right time.
State of Play: Mark Tennis
My first taste of the passion of East Bay basketball fans and the skill of its players came when I was a senior in high school at now closed La Sierra-Carmichael. I was helping my uncle, Nelson Tennis, with his hobby of doing state rankings and decided to go to the 1977 Tournament of Champions at the Oakland Coliseum.
Two teams from the Sacramento-Stockton area were going to be playing “” CIF Sac-Joaquin Section champ Grant-Sacramento and runner-up St. Mary’s-Stockton, plus there were going to be top teams playing from the other CIF sections in the Bay Area.
In the first game that I saw, St. Mary’s (which was 28-4) took on Oakland Section champion Fremont, which I heard from Nelson was one of the best teams in the state. Fremont dunked off the opening tip and was never in trouble. I later watched the Tigers dominate for the rest of the weekend, including a 61-38 win over Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland in the final. They finished 25-1 and Nelson later named them Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year.
Since then, I’ve always believed that the East Bay is a great place for basketball “” and that it’s the best place the CIF has ever used for its state championships. Unfortunately, the region hasn’t been used since 1995.
That’s why this season’s selection of Cal’s Haas Pavilion as the one-year host for the CIF state finals in March makes a lot of sense, and I hope generates a lot of attendance. It should, especially if Bishop O’Dowd has the type of team many of us in the media think it will have and ends up playing for the CIF Open Division title.
The CIF had to find a different site for its 2015 basketball championships because the event’s usual home, Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena, is hosting NCAA tournament games that same weekend.
One can argue that if it wasn’t for the mobs of fans from the East Bay who swarmed the Oakland Coliseum for the 1975 Tournament of Champions, the CIF may not have ever reconstituted its state basketball championships, which began in 1916 before being discontinued from 1927 until 1980.
That year, an average of 10,000 fans per day went to the Coliseum to see Elk Grove’s Bill Cartwright (who later went on to play for 15 years in the NBA) lead the Thundering Herd to the title. Cartwright had 53 points in his first game of the TOC and went for 34 in the final against Berkeley.
The next year, with knowledge of the attention that the 1975 TOC generated, the CIF partnered with the TOC and renamed it the Northern California CIF Regional Championships. Then in 1980, the CIF state championships were brought back.
It still took an extra year to get the CIF Southern Section to get involved, but in 1982 another player brought out hordes of additional East Bay fans to the Coliseum. That was the year 12,000 came to Oakland to see the girl who scored 105 points in one game.
That, of course, was the legendary Cheryl Miller of Riverside Poly, the older sister of NBA great Reggie Miller. Sure, Riverside Poly coach Floyd Evans probably shouldn’t have let Cheryl score that many points in a 179-15 win over Norte Vista-Riverside, but it didn’t matter to the East Bay fans who just wanted to see her play. They were not disappointed. She scored 41 points in a dazzling display as Riverside Poly blew out Los Gatos 77-41.
So why does the CIF not hold state basketball events at the Coliseum anymore and is only now returning to an East Bay venue? It’s simple economics. For many years, the CIF has awarded bids in three-year cycles to host venues for its state championships. ARCO Arena in Sacramento (now known as Sleep Train Arena) has simply given the CIF a deal that’s consistently been too good to pass up.
Still, if the CIF wants more people to actually go to its state finals in basketball, the East Bay has demonstrated it is clearly stronger than anywhere else in the state. Attendance was poor in 1983 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, in 1997 at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim and in 2010 at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield.
The difference is that the East Bay frequently has the best teams in Northern California, and the best players (its all-time best include Bill Russell, Paul Silas, Jason Kidd, etc.). Furthermore, its fans tend to come out to see great players from outside of their region. In Southern California, the locals see the top players down there all the time and generally are not as interested to see someone from elsewhere. Sacramento fans did come out for Jason Kidd’s final game at St. Joseph Notre Dame-Alameda, but generally they don’t.
Having this year’s CIF finals at Cal marks the first time since the 1967 TOC final when a postseason prep basketball event will be at Cal. In that year, Fremont beat Berkeley 51-44 despite future NBA player Phil Chenier leading the Yellowjackets. Cal’s gym was also the site in 1947 for the very first TOC.
It will all come full circle in March. Will big crowds come and trigger more state finals down the road like they did in 1975? It depends on the matchups, but it could.
Mark Tennis is the co-founder of Cal-Hi Sports, and publisher of CalHiSports.com. Contact him at HYPERLINK “mailto:email@example.com” firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter, @CalHiSports.
SportStars Magazine: High School Sports Articles Online SportStars is your go-to source for the very best high school sports articles in California. Player and team profiles, game coverage, health and fitness tips and the largest Camps, Clinics & Combine resource for athletes. We're the story behind the stats.