Some would tell you that the season for the Golden State Warriors was over before it ever began. The hopes and dreams of a metropolis left smoldering in a twisted pile of moped.
Why should fans believe that the season was over, besides the fact that the head coach said so? Fans don't even have reason to believe that Monta Ellis crashed a moped.
Though Ellis undoubtedly set the tone for a season that was shrouded in doubt and mystery, it would be unfair to lay the blame solely on a single player. Besides that, it is near impossible to play the "responsibility game" in a media vacuum oblique as Golden State's PR department.
Unfortunately for the fans, Chris Cohan, Robert Rowell, and Ray Ridder wouldn't have it any other way. If there is one thing that the front office learned this season, it is that they can't control what the media reports, and if they try, it looks worse than it already did. Though let's not jump the gun and really try to give this a realistic reflection.
At this point it would be ridiculous for the fans to expect transparency from the Warriors, but "We Believe!" is slowly evolving into "We Deserve!" in regards to honesty and accountability. Indeed, nobody doubts that, when healthy, the Warriors will be a competitive team with some serious upside. So where's the beef?
The problem isn't what was done by the front office. That is, unless you are still hung up on (Insert one or more gripes here):
1. The Maggette signing.
2. Trading away Harrington's expired contract.
3. The Jackson extension.
4. The courtside season ticket gifted to Marcus Williams.
5. Cutting defensive specialist, physical freak, and Bay Area native DeMarcus Nelson to prevent Williams from playing on another team.
6. The estrangement of Chris Mullin.
7. Extending Don Nelson's contract for two years and $12 million.
8. The "oil and water" trade for Jamal Crawford.
9. Nelson packing it in early with his comments about not being a playoff team.
10. The back and forth between Nelson and Crawford that ended with Crawford pulling his Harrington.
11. Let's not forget about the paid job search the Warriors gave D-League All-Star and second round pick, Richard Hendrix.
12. The punishment of Monta Ellis (let's not get into specifics there).
13. The extension given to team president Robert Rowell.
14. Not working out a deal with Baron Davis.
15. Making Al Harrington a team captain.
16. Crutching on the injury argument to play only seven players with a roster of 15. Well 14 after they were able to cut Marcus Williams without letting him sign with another team, and potentially make Golden State's front office look bad.
17. Firing Pete D'Allesandro.
18. Not playing Randolph earlier.
19. Hiring the pair of Larry's.
20. Did I miss anything?
So maybe there are some "problems," and maybe the way in which these issues were handled wasn't the best. It goes without saying that everything on that list is incredibly divisive amongst the fan base, yet the Warriors have done next to nothing to clarify or account for the decisions made.
For the sake of this analysis, I'll reserve my personal judgments on these individual issues. I simply wanted to make the point that there are a vast number of emotional and logical thorns pricking away at the fans.
Rather it is the perpetual state of doubt and mystery on which we'll focus. That is to say we'll focus on the overall periphery processes by which these decisions were packaged for the fans or presented to the media; taking statements concerning a few of these divisive instances into careful consideration.
The presence of "new media" in the coverage of sports has never been more prevalent. By "new media" I mean blogs, fan forums, and open source news websites that feature amateur sports coverage like BleacherReport.com or HoopsWorld.com.
One may ask why the new media has gained more acceptance now than ever before. Well it is a simple matter of cost, accessibility, and convenience. The recession has severely impacted newspaper subscriptions as people try to save money and more people have wireless web browsers that allow them to access the same information.
Another effect of the recession is the outsourcing of newspaper layouts, which demands more time (but costs less) prior to printing. Consequently, the late scores rarely make it into the morning paper, making it much more convenient to simply check the internet rather than consistently paying for yesterday's news. At least I know this to be the case for the The Press Democrat, a newspaper that covers a vast area north of the Bay.
So how has the changing mediascape affected the Warriors and their loyal fans? Perhaps the most noticeable difference is that the discourse and debate allows for another level of interpretation and criticism in respect to the observations of and the statements by the Golden State Warriors. Also, the online media should be more important to the team than ever.
To me at least, it seemed that immediately prior to announcing the punishment of Ellis (accompanied by the burning of Mullin), the Warriors dusted off the iron curtains and put them up in all of Oracle's windows. For all of the talk about Chris Mullin, he was a ghost's shadow this season.
Reporters weren't the only ones having difficulty communicating with the team. Several attempts by season ticket holders to discuss concerns with team representatives were simply unanswered.
In fact, one season ticket holder, Jeff, was nice enough to share an experience with me in which team president, Robert Rowell, took down Jeff's name and number, promised to get back to him in person, and then blew him off entirely.
So in an attempt to further understand how the Warriors have operated within the new mediascape, I contacted some Bay Area beat writers to see how their perceptions have changed.
I asked one reporter if the proliferation of blogs and amateur reporting has changed the way in which the Warriors deal with the media. Answering anonymously, he responded,
"It has. The Warriors despise blogs and their lack of the usual standards and rules. Plus, I think they have less control over bloggers (no editors to call and complain to). I know they have severely limited the access of bloggers who aren't linked to traditional media, such as hoopsworld and 48minutes.net."
First of all, it was not Geoff Lepper (of 48minutes.net) that made that statement, secondly, I have to say that this is a downright shame. I make a point of taking the time to read Geoff Lepper's game analysis regularly. Lepper's combination of statistical analysis and insightful observations always makes for a very provocative perspective.
In denying access to Geoff Lepper, a pillar of professionalism in the blogging community, the Public Relations Director, Ray Ridder, is exercising the worst kind of message control possible: Denial. Denial of interviews, denial of access, denial of fault.
However, that didn't sate my curiosity.
My next correspondence was with respected sports journalist, Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News. It is important to note that in kindly taking the time to answer my questions, it was Mr. Kawakami's wish that all statements made be on the record, and only on the record. Nothing was off the record. Regardless, his answers to my questions were too juicy to dice up, so I've served them whole.
Q: Has the Warriors' receptiveness to make statements increased or decreased? Has the context in which they make statements changed?
Kawakami: "Warriors management has always been a murky, secret operation, most especially as Cohan's reign turned from weird to desperate to full-out 24-hour panic, hide-under-the-desk mode. Cohan clearly can't speak for himself and he has Robert Rowell there to shut off communication even further.
But no question things have clamped down even more since August or September, when things really started to get unstable with Mullin, Rowell, and Nelson. Nobody has spoken officially for the team in months, as far as I can tell. Is it clamping down when nobody is even sure WHO should be speaking for the team?
The context for Warriors management now is boiled solely down to: Make sure Cohan and Rowell are protected as much as possible. That's hard to do when they can't speak for themselves, unless it's to very friendly media members (and that wouldn't be me)."
Q: Will the Warriors ever embrace blogs and fan sites?
Kawakami: "I don't know the specifics, but I think the Warriors try to engage the sites, obviously within limits, because the Warriors' media people know that so much of the fan base is wired up and wants the engagement. It's smart. I can tell you that the Warriors for sure are way ahead of most NFL teams in the outreach.
But the recent controversies have shut a lot of that down, I think, because the blogs are where the Warriors have some credentialing leeway. The blog-credentialing thing is just being figured out, and it so happens that it is being figured out while the Warriors are extremely sensitive to criticism, and guess what, a good Warriors blogger ought to be criticizing them.
Just wait 'til the Fans of Fitz start their own blog: INSTANT WARRIORS SEASON CREDENTIALS!"
Q: Will you and Don Nelson ever get along? I'd like to get a feel for your relationship after all of the mud slinging this season.
Kawakami: "Nelson's been at this a long time. I've been at this a long time—less time than him, but still a long time. We're professionals. Even when we used to get along, and we absolutely did, until this season, we knew this was a professional relationship, with the understanding that I could criticize him and he could rip back at me.
Which is what happened this year. It's not my job to make sure I'm on good terms with a 29-53 coach, especially if people around the league are telling me that things are about to blow up again. And it's not Nelson's job to make sure I'm pleased with his work.
I am entertained by him and occasionally frustrated with his cranky answers. He is alternately pissed with me and reasonably entertained by my very specific questions—I think he's a great tactical coach, probably the best I've covered. My problem with him is that he can't help but use the same tangly strategies in dealings with the front office, his players, the media, his contract negotiations... At some point, you just have to stop manipulating people, but Don never realized that.
If he doesn't like that dozens of high-ranking people of the league believe he blatantly undermined Chris Mullin after Mullin revived Nelson's career...and if he doesn't like that I have tons of NBA sources (and Don knows that I do)...then that's the deal. I can live with it."
There's a lot to digest there, but I wanted to share it all. Eat now, digest later because there's plenty more.
A day that may be remembered forever by Golden State fans in the online community is April 8th, 2009. A season ticket holder and blogger with the pen name of BritWarriorGSW was one of a few season ticket holders invited to participate in a small meeting with Robert Rowell himself. The only thing is that Robert Rowell apparently didn't know he was being put on the record.
For the entire account click here.
According to BritWarrior, Rowell started off by making it "very clear that he does not read newspapers or blogs as more often than not, people create complete fiction just to try and grab some headlines. I don’t think anyone in the room had any doubt who he was aiming this at, possibly a certain person writing for the Mercury News."
In spite of denying that he reads blogs or newspapers, just days after the contents of the meeting were published, a team representative contacted BritWarrior to clarify a relatively minor detail about the Jason Richardson trade. Contradictory much? I think so.
In addition, Rowell "felt some comments that were made to the press this year should have stayed within house; for example the Randolph discussions and the Crawford statement."
Again Rowell whips out his golden double standard. Even before the season started, Rowell was ripping into Chris Mullin during what was supposed to be the announcement of Ellis' punishment. Later in the season, rumors would surface about public relations representatives lobbying individual reporters to write negative articles about Mullin.
In addressing questions about season tickets and pricing, Rowell stated, ”First thing I will say is, if you were in Club 200 this year YOU WERE SCREWED! This year you were completely screwed!”
That is very honest of Rowell, but who is doing the screwing?
I can't help but to share BritWarrior's entire follow-up question for Rowell because it is so complete and on-point in spotlighting the administrative problems within the front office.
"I then jumped in with follow up question as to how and why Club 200 season ticket holders were treated so poorly. I think I said something along the lines of 'As you have said, this is about running a business; you’re doing it, I’m doing it, so I understand that no one could have foreseen the crash in the economy or certain injuries. However, it’s the reaction thereafter that I cannot understand.'”
I continued, “To me it is not rocket science to know that your very bread and butter income comes from season ticket holders and as one of those Club 200 STH’s, we have received ZERO in the way of proper customer care, which means that if you have unhappy STH’s, they won’t renew and if so, you end up having to spend more money on marketing/advertising to replace those STH’s with new ones, when you could probably spend a great deal less to make those STH’s feel valued and especially when they see seats being sold for $8! Is it really that hard for someone to come up with the idea of maybe offering STH’s the chance to come to practices to meet the players, hold more events at the arena to meet the staff, have STH opportunities to meet the players after a game rather than just kids? Maybe offering free parking vouchers, free beer/food vouchers, huge discounts in the store...."
I said the list is truly endless at what could have been done and nothing was done, which in my personal opinion and experience in the field of sales and marketing was dire and beyond a joke. Add to that the fact that people have to wait sometimes a whole quarter to get a burger and "my what pricey burgers they are" too!
Could it possibly be useful to have soft drinks, popcorn, pretzels and peanuts, cold items on carts, thus saving the stands for beer and hot food? This would surely help reduce the lines?, In short, I feel there was a definite DROP in customer care this year as compared to last year, which, considering the price hikes, is why you have many people not wanting to renew tickets.'"
“I have no answer for you, all your points are valid and very much taken on board. What I can tell you is that I have to kick the backsides of those guys at the back of the room and there will be changes for next year. You have my apologies we simply did not do a good enough job this year for Club 200 season ticket holders but that will change."
First of all, it would be hilarious to watch a grown man in a business suit kick himself in the rear. Who does Rowell think he is to apologize and then differ responsibility as if he didn't know what was happening all season? He is the team president for the sake of sliced bread! If he really didn't know what was going on then he should be fired solely on that basis alone.
Secondly, the first renewals have come and gone without any statement from the team explaining exactly what will change.
As BritWarrior left the meeting Rowell approached him to say that he would be in contact. Based on my correspondence with BritWarrior no such follow-up has taken place. How surprising.
In addition, during BritWarrior's correspondence with a team representative, the representative informed him that he may have compromised the opportunity to speak with Rowell by going public with a private conversation.
Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Back up here. The Warriors invited members of the public to a meeting where no confidentiality contract was signed. Any recollections or recordings from that meeting are fair game in the public discourse. Furthermore, it is unrealistic for the front office to think that it can control which season ticket holders have access to information that the team president volunteers to members of the public. In fact it is absolutely absurd.
So how does all of this reflect on the state of the Warriors? Not so golden now. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. It wasn't necessarily the decisions that bothered me, but the manner in which they were made, and the way in which they were communicated to the public.
How bad is it?
As bad as a team president that can't speak without face-planting on the double standards he applies.
As bad as a team president that apologizes emphatically and then passes the buck in the same statement.
As bad as a team president culturing an irreconcilable relationship with the fans and the media.
As bad as a son-in-law that always says he'll call, but never does. Yet you know he your stole your daughter's innocence... Poor Warriors.
Who's the real loser here?
All of the above.
Mr. Rowell, the ball is in your court, and ball don't lie.
A special thanks to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, BritWarriorGSW of Golden State of Mind, the anonymous beat writer, and the best fans in the NBA.
For the pointed yet insightful opinions of blogger, Chris Cohan, click here (contains profanity, but also hilarity). He also has an epic sidebar of news clippings and sources all things Warriors.