When the Phoenix Suns traded starting center Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards on Friday, our thoughts immediately turned to the on-court impact of the trade — whether replacing an injured Emeka Okafor/an unimpressive Kevin Seraphin with Gortat is enough of an upgrade to buoy the Wizards' pursuit of a playoff berth, whether a top-12-protected first-round pick was too precious an asset to flip for Gortat's services, just how quickly Suns general manager Ryan McDonough can turn his mounting stockpile of first-rounders into the next generation of competitive Phoenix teams, and so on.
We didn't, however, give much thought to how the trade might affect the Suns' planned promotional calendar ... which makes sense, because that's not really something we tend to consider when the outgoing player isn't really face-of-the-franchise level. Well, that was our bad, apparently. We should have thought about the Suns' opening-night promotion, because it is — no kidding — Polish Heritage Night, which you'd have to imagine is a way more festive occasion when the fans can celebrate a 6-foot-11 strongman from Lodz whose nickname is "The Polish Hammer."
Alas, it's apparently not to be, which kind of bummed Gortat out ... especially given how much effort he put into setting things up for it, as he told Michael Lee of the Washington Post:
The timing of the trade caught Gortat off guard, too, because he assumed that he would at least make it through the first week of the regular season. The Suns planned to have Polish heritage night for their home opener on Wednesday and Gortat had flown in 25 people from his native country — including soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, the Polish minister of sport, the Polish ambassador and children from his basketball camp — for what was expected to be a fun week in Phoenix. But while they were arriving in Arizona, Gortat was catching a flight to start his new life in Washington.
“They all was sitting there at a dinner and chatting about everything. I was sitting by myself in a hotel” in Washington, Gortat said, shaking his head. “So the last 24 hours have been hell. It was hard for me, at the beginning, but this is life. This is a business. The NBA is a big, big business.”
Gate receipts, of course, are a big part of that big, big business. The Suns had set up a deal with the Arizona division of the Polish American Congress that would enable fans to purchase no-fee, discounted tickets in "designated Polish sections," with a portion of the proceeds from the tickets being returned to the Congress. The final deadline to order the tickets was Oct. 21; four days later, Gortat was headed east to the nation's capital.
This, as you might expect, didn't make the Arizona division of the Polish American Congress particularly happy. ("This is very disappointing," a representative for the organization wrote on its Facebook page.) But as Dan Steinberg of the venerable D.C. Sports Bog informs us, the Suns are going about the business of making good with the organization:
I spoke to a representative of the Phoenix Suns and he encouraged all Polish fans to still come to the game and show the strength of the Polish community in Arizona as it cheers for their local team.
To make up for this unpleasant situation the Suns have offered all the fans who bought tickets thru the special web site a free ticket to a game on January 24, 2014 at 7PM in which Marcin Gortat will play with the Wizzards [sic] against the Suns.
I will let everyone know how these tickets will be issued (they may be issued at Wednesday's game).
That doesn't do much for the 25 people who made the trip from Poland to Phoenix — not exactly a quick, easy and inexpensive bus ride — or for Gortat, who, again, footed the bill for them all to do so. It's a nice touch, though, for the local fans who've already shelled out cash with the express purpose of watching someone of shared heritage play for what was already likely to be an astoundingly bad Suns team, and who would now otherwise have no reason to do so.
Maybe a Congress member showing up solely to watch Gortat play the pivot will wind up falling in love with Eric Bledsoe in the open court, or Goran Dragic off the dribble, or one of the other (fairly thin) reasons to watch the Suns pursue the top overall pick in the 2014 draft. By using the promise of a free look at Gortat down the line to get these same fans in the door tonight, the Suns give themselves the chance to hook them for the long haul. Sure, the chance might be slim, but stranger things have happened ... like, for example, a team scheduling Polish Heritage Night for the first game of the season, then trading away the only Polish player in the NBA five nights before it came around.
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