Let me start by saying in no way did Joe Lacob deserve the treatment he received Monday night. That was the NBA version of a public stoning. It hasn’t been a full two years since Lacob and Peter Guber won the auction for the Warriors. He has officially been the owner for a mere 16 months. He hasn’t even had time to accrue that kind of venom – which was worthy of Chris Cohan or Donald Sterling or Clay Bennett should he find himself introduced for some reason in Seattle. Not even the trading of Monta Ellis – which was a good trade on multiple levels – justified that historic humiliation.
What’s more, Chris Mullin certainly didn’t deserve that. Though the love for Mullin was obvious and overt, the night where he was supposed to be the star of the show is now dominated by Lacob’s treatment. We should be talking about Mullin, what he meant to the franchise, how he’s back after a few years of being an outcast, where he ranks among the all-time greats. Instead, we’re talking about Joe Lacob and the nerve of Warriors fans.
MULLIN: “As the greatest fans in the NBA as everyone stated, sometimes change is inevitable and its going to work out just fine with your support and patience. Use that passion in teh right direction. This thing is going the right way.”
BARRY: “One second here. C’mon people. You fans are the greatest fans in the world, as everybody has said that. Show a little bit of class. This is a man I’ve spent some time talking to. He’s going to change this franchise. This is crazy. Seriously. C’mon. You’re doing youselves a disservice. … I know he’s going to do it, so give him the respect he deserves.”
With that said, by my estimation, it is far too simple to write off that debacle as the classlessness of Warriors fans. As an isolated incident, the behavior of Warriors fans was nothing short of unnerving. But it would be borderline clueless to view the reaction what sounded like a large portion of nearly 20,000 fans in a vacuum.
What happened Monday night was a culmination of events. It has been building for some 20 months and it came to a head during Mullin’s special night.
Here is why Joe Lacob got booed.
* He won the auction, winning the team and preventing the Warriors from having what many felt was the dream owner. Larry Ellison had been rumored to be interested for years and once he was officially in the hunt, fans were excited. Finally, their franchise would be thrust into relevance thanks to a billionaire rock star owner. But that was spoiled when Lacob and Guber came out the winners, leaving Golden State with an owner known only in the inner circles. That is where it all began.
Qualifier: You could argue Lacob won the bid because he wanted the team more – since Ellison, who has much more money, could have ended the whole thing at any point. Fans perhaps should appreciate they got an owner who REALLY wanted to own the Warriors.
* Lacob set the bar really high from the start. As refreshing as it was to have the owner be out front and open to the public, Lacob’s lofty talk set him up for failure. Here is Lacob in his very first interview after he won the auction in July 2010.
“We got it. We’re all about winning. We think it’s a very good opportunity as a business enterprise and the potential is there. But this is all about winning. We’re going to change the course of the franchise.”
Qualifier: Lacob actually has in certain ways changed the course of the franchise. But not yet in the way that matters most – wins. For a franchise starving for success, such talk only increases their hunger. After two trade seasons passed, Lacob’s Warriors had yet to make a move that changed the team’s fortunes in the win column.
* On top of striking out in the offseason and at the trade deadline, Lacob caused some controversy at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in March 2011 pushed him into the role of antagonist with fans. Lacob made some comments about who were real fans. He later said his comments were misrepresented, or at the very least taken out of context. Even if they were, that situation still put Lacob on the opposite side of the fence with fans.
*At the end of last season, the 16th time in the last 17 years they didn’t make the playoffs, Lacob went out on a limb. In a letter to Season Ticket Holders, the Warriors guaranteed they would make the playoffs. After striking out on two trade seasons, and excusing losing with injury woes, the Warriors were still pushing big talk onto fans. This time, they promised discounts if the Warriors did not make the playoffs in 2012 – an marketing ploy that didn’t seem to go over well with fans.
Qualifier: Perhaps ownership could be lauded for setting the bar high and putting their money where their mouth is, by giving a discount to the STHs. Still, Warriors fans would much rather a winning season than slightly cheaper tickets.
* When re-shuffling the basketball operations staff, Lacob kept basically the same front-office staff (led by the not-so-beloved general manager Larry Riley) and added an agent-crossover in Bob Myers. These were hardly the big splashes fans were hoping would be made. Lacob already was gaining the reputation of being an involved owner. But with his unheralded basketball credentials, many hoped he would land a proven basketball mind with vast connections to run the Warriors’ front office. That didn’t happen.
Qualifier: He did clean house, getting rid of team president Robert Rowell and cleaning out a lot of mess, especially on the business side.
* After firing Don Nelson, his next two coaching hires similarly failed to satiate Warriors fans. Keith Smart was a last-minute promotion. He lasted one year and the Warriors followed by hiring Mark Jackson, a rookie coach with zero coaching experience. Many Golden State fans had grown weary of Nellie, but still he was the all-time winningest coach. The Warriors followed a man of heavy credentials with unknowns with limited-at-best track records. Plus Jackson, in many ways, echoed the lofty talk of Lacob. He promised the Warriors would play defense and make the playoffs, prompting many a Warrior fan to roll their eyes.
Qualifier: Not very many options were available. Many of the coaches were retreads who hadn’t done much anywhere else. Plus, Golden State had a very young squad, so there was some value in getting a young coach that could grow with the squad.
* The Warriors used the amnesty on Charlie Bell and not Andris Biedrins (or saving it for later). Warriors GM Larry Riley said he couldn’t ask Lacob to spend $27 million for Biedrins to go away. That will go down as one of the biggest misses in the Riley regime, which of course makes it one of Lacob’s biggest misses.
* In early December, news broke that the Warriors were meeting with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee about building a stadium in San Francisco. This supported the long-standing belief that Lacob wants to move the team to San Francisco – a belief fostered by Lacob’s affinity for San Francisco. (Every major press conference the Warriors have had has been in San Francisco).
* In an effort to sign DeAndre Jordan, the Warriors waived local boy Jeremy Lin, disappointing an extremely vocal and loyal segment of the fan base. He becomes a star in New York, infuriating fans (especially considering they got nothing for him). Lin is the latest in a list of Warriors who leave or are sent from the franchise only to become good on another team.
Qualifier: Lin likely would not have been as good with the Warriors. Plus Lacob was the one person against the move. Still, as an involved owner who makes himself the face of the franchise, he gets the blame.
MARK JACKSON: “I understand the passion of the fans. I totally understand it. But there is a game plan. And if you sit back and look at it, you know that it’s a heckuva game plan. And you appreciate it.”
*The coup de grâce came Tuesday, March 13. Golden State traded away the franchise’s best player, Monta Ellis. The electrifying guard was a fan favorite and had been the most productive Warrior for years. Along with him, the Warriors gave up second-year big man Ekpe Udoh, who had won over fans with his positive impact.
What’s more, in return, they acquired a center who is out for the season with a fractured ankle. So the Warriors won’t reap the benefits before next season.
DAVID LEE: “We made a trade that’s not going to help us this year. It’s going to help us next year when Andrew Bogut gets back and to a lot of people that’s frustrating.”
I still think it must be said that Lacob, or whoever planned the event, contributed to the scenario by having Lacob speak last. It’s an unwritten rule that the guest of honor speaks last. There should have been no speakers after Mullin. His daughter should have come up and helped Mullin unveil the jersey in the rafters and that was it. To get out there and follow the man of the hour, to even be willing to do that, was simply a poor job of reading the room.
Plus, his body language and his somewhat condescending “I’ll wait for you to be silent” stares didn’t help matters. With all the history involved in this, with all the patience the Warriors are asking from fans, that wasn’t the time to be ornery. Maybe have fun with it, show some humility, that probably would’ve worked more than the irritated stares and disbelief.
Again, Lacob doesn’t deserve what happened. But it’s too easy to vilify Warriors fans. They have endured so much since the Chris Mullin-led era that acting out should be understood if not expected. Either way, I find it hard to make Warriors fans the antagonists of any story involving the Warriors.
LACOB: “I’m not going to let a few boos get me down, and I don’t expect a few boos to get our team down. I think everybody has to stay tough, these are tough times, we’re going to go out there and we’re going to compete and we’re going to win. And that’s my job as an owner, too, we’re going to do everything we have to do. Not going to let a few boos stop us. I obviously think whoever was booing is incorrect in their assumptions, but we’ll just let time heal all wounds. Winning will solve all things.”