Fans of the Golden State Warriors paid tribute to Chris Mullin last night, giving the legend roaring ovations as the franchise (finally) retired his No. 17 jersey in a halftime ceremony. Well, the fans gave up roaring ovations ... until team owner Joe Lacob took the mic. Then the fans gave up roaring disapproval.
As Golden State Of Mind puts it, this became the night that Oracle Arena turned into the Colosseum.
Via SB Nation Bay Area, here's a long video of the incredibly awkward scene:
I can't decide if this makes me like Warriors fans more, or makes me like Warriors fans the most. Here's the context: Monta Ellis was an incredible fan favorite, and Bay Area fans have spent the last four years pretty much only being able to cheer for him as the team remains stuck in the muck. The Warriors traded him for Andrew Bogut last week. Bogut isn't expected to suit up for the rest of the season, and Stephen Curry will likely also stay out, creating an impressive, irrefutable tank job atmosphere.
Paying fans don't tend to like to watch tank jobs in action.
That's the context of Lacob's appearance: he's the jackal who just traded their best player for a guy who will remain in the infirmary for the balance of the season. So they booed. And they booed. And they booed. Lacob decided to give them the pleasure of throwing him off his script, and tried to squelch by reminding them that they'd already said these were the best fans in the world. You know what? They were proving it. Warriors fans are great because they don't entirely care about context or couth, about authority or fate. If they did, they would have abandoned the broken franchise two decades ago. But they've stayed in their seats, they've remained loud, they've made sure we all know that they are there.
Lacob played right into it by so obviously being bothered by the boos. That he needed Mullin and then Rick Barry (!) to rescue him only added fuel. (Note that Mullin, who was a former Warriors executive run out of town at least in part by the GM who pulled the trigger on the Monta trade, Larry Riley, defended the trade better than anyone in Oakland has in the past week.) You know when a hotheaded player on the opposing team shows some visible aggravation, and the fans prey on that and try to exacerbate the frustration? That's exactly what Warriors fans did to Lacob. They booed, they saw it bothered him and they went for blood. And they got it.
Of course, it marred Mullin's ceremony, which should have been the only thing fans remembered from the night. There was one way to avoid all of this: Joe Lacob could have opted not to speak. He knew the trade was unpopular. He knew the wounds were still fresh. He knew Warriors fans are loud. He's owned the team for 18 months. Who cares what he has to say about Mullin's legacy? He could have let the others do the talking, handed the plaque and led the countdown for the jersey unveiling. Only by inserting himself into the proceeding -- as is his right as the bankroll of this operation -- did he allow the situation to play out as it did.
Oh well. I'm sure Rick Barry is still personally beating up booing fans. You'll notice that he disappeared into the crowd after telling Warriors fans that "this is crazy."
Dear NBA team owners: your fans' default setting is angry. Adjust your gloryhound strategy accordingly.