On Monday the night, the Golden State Warriors retired the No. 17 jersey of franchise legend and Hall of Famer Chris Mullin. The franchise has promoted the night heavily throughout the season, organizing three Run-TMC bobblehead nights to honor Mullin's era and giving Mullin the attention he deserves. The jersey retirement also represented a change in the franchise's approach to its history, especially considering the previous ownership group pushed Mullin out when he was the team's lead personnel director.
The ceremony started off well enough, with Mullin thanking fans, teammates, and coaches while the sellout crowd showered him with love. Then, after his speech finished, owner Joe Lacob took the microphone, at which point everything turned into a massive spastic screwup.
Fans began to boo Lacob loudly, most directly in response to the recent trade of Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut. Mullin returned to try to quell the animosity by praising the fans' passion and preaching patience, which worked up until he gave the microphone back to Lacob and sat down. So Warriors legend Rick Barry decided to engage in a little paternalistic chastising of the crowd for not showing their owner the proper amount of respect. Lacob finally managed to get his speech out without interruption, giving the entire Mullin family a week-long vacation in Hawaii. After what transpired, it's likely he now wishes he'd just told them about it in private.
The shame of the entire situation is that the story is now about the fan outcry rather than what Mullin still means to Bay Area basketball fans. But there's also a lot more behind the fans' reaction than just the Monta Ellis trade. After the jump, you can read about that situation, check out Lacob's post-game quotes about the incident and get caught up on some of Monday's other top stories with the Yahoo! Sports Minute.
After the game, Yahoo!'s own Marc Spears tweeted a quote from Lacob:
"The fans are upset I guess that we traded one of our favorites. That's all I can attribute that to. What I feel bad about is they kind of ruined a night that was very special. The organization really tried to do the right thing with Chris."
The Ellis trade was certainly a factor in the uproar, but it exists in a context that explains the boos much better. For one thing, Lacob's reaction to the trade has been questionable at best, with him already referring to it as a "transcendent deal that is going to change everything" and comparing it to the Celtics' trade for Kevin Garnett in 2007. Every other reaction to the trade has been considerably more measured, with those in favor looking at it as one step in a long process and the detractors, like me, viewing it as exchanging one form of mediocrity for another. Either way, Lacob's rationale for the deal is ludicrous, a response that either proves he has little knowledge of the sport or suggests he thinks very little of his fan base.
Simply put, there's a growing feeling among the fan base that Lacob is more about talk than results. In little more than a year, he has promised the playoffs, only to steer the team towards tanking for draft position; suggested that real fans buy season tickets; hired a head coach with no experience at any level of the sport beyond an impressive playing career; talked up Klay Thompson as a Rookie of the Year candidate before he'd played a preseason game; and told anyone who'll listen that everything is going fine. On top of that, he supported the lockout (which, whether with merit or not, robbed fans of games and led to a bizarre season). So, when Lacob took the stage at a ceremony honoring a player he had no involvement with whatsoever, the whole moment seemed a little off. If he had a better sense of Warriors' fans outlook on the team, he might have stayed away entirely and cheered Mullin along with everyone else.
That's not to say that fans acted perfectly acceptably. However, they're a downtrodden group, and after the awful Chris Cohan era there was hope that the next owners would focus on the task at hand, stay humble, and treat the fans like adults. Even if Lacob's long-term plan works out, he hasn't been particularly attentive to the prevailing attitude of his fans at a time when he's supposed to be building a relationship with them. Instead, there's a sense that he expects to be treated like a savior simply because he cares more than the last guy.
The wounds of the past don't heal easily. As Ray Ratto writes at CSNBayArea.com, there's such bad mojo surrounding the Warriors that just talking about fixing the problem isn't enough. Fans need to see results with a minimum of window-dressing surrounding substantive changes. And while that might be unfair to Lacob, it's also the reality of owning a major sports franchise in the 21st century.
It's important to remember that, for most fans, this game was still a positive experience. The Warriors lost to the Timberwolves 97-93, but the opportunity to praise Mullin, his teammates, and other Warriors greats was special for a group of people who haven't had much to cheer about in the last 18 seasons. The Lacob incident didn't obscure that for those in attendance. The fans have a real desire for success and a love of basketball. But until that passion is treated with respect, it might manifest itself in negative ways. That's not an excuse for the intense booing during Monday's ceremony, but it's at least a partial explanation.
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- Chris Mullin
- Monta Ellis