A Less Than Golden State
Are the Warriors straining the legendary loyalty of their fans?
by Irv Soonachan / @SidelineOB
There are only four things you need to know about the Golden State Warriors:
1. They have one of the 10 worst records in the NBA this season.
2. They have been mostly terrible for 35 years, and the good patches haven’t been that good: One Playoff berth in the last 14 years and 0 trips to the conference finals since 1976.
3. Thanks to No. 2, this season they are dead last (by a large margin) in the NBA in road attendance.
4. Despite all this, they are in the top 10 in the NBA in home attendance—as usual.
Not even Leo Buscaglia could explain the unconditional love of the Warriors’ faithful, but owner Joe Lacob should consider himself warned: Warriors fans may have a long-running romance with the team, but there’s a dangerous malaise at Oracle Arena these days. Warriors fans might be thinking about whose couch they’ll crash on if they need to move out.
A week ago, Lacob was loudly booed at Chris Mullin’s jersey retirement ceremony. In their next home game, Saturday against Sacramento, the fans were restless and not their usual enthusiastic selves, even though the Warriors weren’t the worst team on the court in an ugly win. Some say it’s due to the Monta Ellis trade, but the frustration is deeper.
In most cities this would be expected after decades of failure, but in Oakland it feels like something in between a wake-up call and Great Birnam Wood approaching Lacob’s courtside seats.
From his first day as owner Lacob’s mouth was in sixth gear, promising a turnaround and later blasting anyone unwilling or unable to buy season tickets as not being a “real” fan. His handpicked coach, Mark Jackson, guaranteed a Playoff berth.
But Lacob has acted as though he doesn’t need to make an honest attempt to win a Championship in order to satiate the team’s fan base, and for a long time, given their incredible loyalty, that’s been true. There are more than enough fans willing to come to Oracle Arena for Mitch Richmond bobbleheads (Note: Richmond only played three years for the Warriors. Three years!), and who reminisce over teams that only made it to the conference semis. For ages, all it took to keep the homecourt magic was a Playoff berth every decade or so.
The Warriors have made a short-term gamble that the genuinely talented Andrew Bogut—who is already on the team’s billboards—can somehow stay healthy for one of the two seasons left on his contract. With a healthy Bogut in the middle next to David Lee and a flotilla of spot-up shooters like Klay Thompson, Dorell Wright and Steph Curry, the Warriors would only need to find a point guard to make the second round of the Playoffs. The base would undoubtedly be elated.
But will that be enough to keep fans happy in the long-term, even after the Warriors enters another trough shortly thereafter? After being led on by Lacob’s heated rhetoric and less tolerant of watching a mess of an NBA team, maybe not. And what if the gamble—which right now is 50/50, and almost certainly doesn’t include a Championship—fails?
If the fan base turns on Lacob he’ll be in a bind. Can he own up to his mistakes and admit the team needs time to rebuild? Will he have a choice? What if Warriors fans find they need some time apart from the blue and gold?
Reports are that Bay Area resident Larry Ellison, whose net worth is estimated at $34.5 billion, (and whose company, Oracle, owns the naming rights to the Warriors’ arena,) is in serious talks to buy the Grizzlies, and it’s widely assumed he’d like to move them closer to home. Some observers are focused on the length of the Grizzlies’ lease in Memphis (for an arena that ranks 21st in the NBA in home attendance) and on Lacob’s public statements that he will not let any team move to San Jose, but don’t worry about that.
If Ellison’s bean counters have decided San Jose will be profitable, the Grizzlies will land in San Jose (where there’s already an arena, thanks to the NHL’s San Jose Sharks) in short order. The Memphis arena lease can be terminated with enough cash. NBA owners can be compensated to ignore Lacob’s bleating. Besides, what owner wouldn’t want a struggling small market team to instantly become one that contributes big bucks into the League’s revenue sharing scheme?
If that happens, the Bay Area will have a real NBA destination. Imagine Ellison romancing free agents on one of the world’s largest yachts? Or anywhere else for that matter? And imagine Ellison romancing new fans with a roster that’s already loaded with talent…
Warriors fans should be rooting for the Grizzlies to march into town and force Lacob rebuild the franchise in earnest. But if Lacob fails, jilted fans might find there’s someone with a couch to crash on who’s got a place just down the 880, and he’s known to be good to his friends.
— About 15 feet up on the wall outside the visitors’ locker room in Oracle Arena is a hole that looks like damage from a mortar shell, but was in fact the work of Dirk Nowitzki—who flung a chair hard enough to dent the concrete after the Warriors incredible first-round Playoff defeat of the Mavs in 2007. A building inspector noticed the hole last summer and asked that it be repaired, so arena authorities simply put a piece of plexiglass over the hole and hung a “Believe” t-shirt just above it. On his recent visit to Oracle, Nowitzki good-naturedly got up on a ladder and autographed the plexiglass at the request of the arena staff.
— Two years after Hamed Haddadi was featured in this column, S-O-B caught up with him and he was happy to talk, this time in English without a translator present, about his improving game and plans to put on basketball clinics this summer in four cities, including Los Angeles. When his Grizzlies got to L.A. a few days later for a date with the Clippers, Haddadi, the first Iranian to play in the NBA, got a taste of just how much work there is to do there. The Clippers announcers, who’d previously gotten into trouble for racially insensitive comments about him, refused to say Haddadi’s name when he checked into the game. Amazingly, this came on the same day a member of another Middle Eastern minority group—and mother of five school-aged children—in Southern California had her life ended like this. Stay classy, paper clips.