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Underserved, long-suffering Warriors fans vote on owner with lungs

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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Rick Barry tells Warriors fans, 'You're doing yourselves a disservice' by booing the team owner. (US Presswire)  
Rick Barry tells Warriors fans, 'You're doing yourselves a disservice' by booing the team owner. (US Presswire)  

Chris Mullin and Michael Jordan are friends of long standing, so we have to assume one will reach out to the other in the next day or so to have a friendly argument.

The topic? Whose ceremony was more disrupted by angry/fed-up/enraged Golden State Warriors fans.

Jordan was receiving an award at the 2000 NBA All-Star Game in Oakland, which was to be presented to him by Chris Cohan, then the owner of the Warriors, a long-time schedule-filler. Cohan was booed so deafeningly by his own fans that even having his kid and Jordan beside him didn't cut the rage.

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Twelve years later, during the jersey retirement ceremony for Mullin, Joe Lacob was booed like he was Bernie Madoff's accountant.

They were really the same boo, though, just carried over from one operation to the next. Warrior fans have been faithful 100 percent, to quote the Seussian elephant, and yet just as miserable as Horton was sitting on the egg that spawned the book and cartoon of the same name.

So Jordan and Mullin can compare notes over what it is about Oakland that makes its basketball fans so, well, cranky.

And they'll come up with the same answer -- Oakland is one of the NBA's most underserved markets and its customers have had enough for far longer than the attendance figures would have you believe.

A lot of these sins are Cohan's, but not all of them. A few are Lacob's. A few represent the owners before Cohan, Him Fitzgerald and Dan Finnane. They all form part of the Warriors' rich tapestry of failure, whether you are young (one playoff appearance in 18 years) or old (six in 35).

Cohan's place in the community turned him into a hologram, rarely seen and almost never interacted with, starting with the way he handled the Don Nelson-Chris Webber war -- trading one in December, firing the other in February. After that, he worked very hard not to be seen, so by the time the All-Star Game rolled out, he was an invisible point of emphasis, and the rain of boos on that night was the final reminder that you can hide and you can run, but people will always gather outside your door waiting for you.

Lacob, on the other hand, seems defiantly public, though it is still early in his tenure. He took the booing, even talking to the media afterward, but he didn't see it coming and didn't like that his fan base has already voted with its lungs on him too.

True, they haven't voted with their feet yet -- they keep coming out -- but between the Monta Ellis trade (which is actually defensible), the vague hints about moving eventually to San Francisco (which to the Oakland fan base is not), and the general laugh track (which is now as much a part of the tradition as the cable-car jerseys), they have voted on Lacob as well.

The difference, of course, being that Lacob does not yet seem beaten by the experience. Chastened, yes. Beaten, no. At least he understands some of that booing was not for him, but for the office he holds.

If the Ellis trade, which got them Andrew Bogut, works out next year, he can escape Cohan's fate. If the Warriors can somehow preserve their own draft choice (a top-seven pick if they fall into the last seven in the standings) and make something of San Antonio's (they traded for Richard Jefferson), he can say they at least have changed the gridlock of the roster with which they began the year.

But there is something stunning about finding out how deeply 19,596 people can hate that would make cowards of lesser men. They even booed Rick Barry when he tried to chastise them over the P.A. system, and only calmed themselves when Mullin, a franchise icon for plenty of reasons, interposed his body like a Secret Service man. He helped Lacob, who replaced Cohan, the guy who fired Mullin as general manager, escape a tight and potentially ownership-defining spot. That alone should have gotten his jersey retired.

Oh, well. It's something he can tell his kids years from now -- "Remember when Daddy saved that man from being throat-lashed to death?"

And it's something he can share with Jordan as well -- "Hell, I played there for a decade, and they booed the guy like he'd stolen their cars! You just showed up for a weekend! Top that!"

As for the Warriors, their next big halftime fete may be a DIY affair -- "Salute Mitch Richmond in your own home with the Warrior Celebration Kit, available Wednesday night to the first 10,000 people in the door for the game against Philadelphia."

After all, this is the downside of having passionate fans. Passionate fans talk back, and any owner would hate that.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast Sports Bay Area (CSNBayArea.com).

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