I'll preface this by saying I do not speak for Warriorsworld. Never have, never will. This is all me. Agree or not, these are my thoughts and mine only.
I go into writing this operating under the assumption readers already know the story: immediately after yesterday's conference call for season ticket holders, Golden State Warriors Executive Director of Public Relations Raymond Ridder wrote a brief, positive post on Warriorsworld under the guise of Flunkster Dude, seemingly an average fan happy with the call. First suspected by veteran member Flex Kavana of being someone from a certain location in Oakland, imagine the surprise and hilarity that followed when a check of the IP address indeed verified it originated from none other than Warriors HQ.
To shamelessly borrow from Jim Barnett, "Oh my word!" Immediately, expectedly, the site went into an uproar over someone caught with his hand in the cookie jar, someone from the team coming in to push a pro-Warriors point of view, likely an intern too dumb to find one of the dozen Starbucks in Oakland with wifi access (trust me, I checked) to at least post without it tracing back to HQ. Oops. Big time oops.
Tim Kawakami was contacted with this information. Why? Well, to be honest, because he probably doesn't care if the Warriors have a problem with him or not and people knew he'd run with it. In an area where sports journalism hits about as hard as a Nerf bat (this ain't Los Angeles, Boston or New York), Kawakami can always be counted on to come through with his own opinions on the state of the Warriors, Raiders, and more. Sometimes this has the result of him being criticized as much as he is praised for a style that tends to make himself the focus, but it can't be said he doesn't provide some kind of voice for the frustrated fan.
Some people say "So what? PR guys post on websites all the time! What's the big deal?" First of all, I doubt most of those are by the guy at the top of the PR chain. For people to truly see why this is important and why it's the latest in a series of missteps by the Golden State front office, it helps to understand Warriorsworld itself. Its beginnings can be traced back over a decade ago to Harold's board. The time came when Harold couldn't keep it going so Jim Del Favero (Del) picked up from there and created a new domain: Warriorsworld. I was on Harold's board very briefly but have had an account on Warriorsworld since its creation in 2001. There are others who have been around longer than that.
Warriorsworld is NOT a place for everyone. As a whole, we are a mixture of longtime fans, some dating back to the Franklin Mieuli days and the only championship the team has won since moving from Philadelphia. Others, like me, first got into the team during the Run TMC days when I was a kid. Following the breaking of the playoff drought and the first round upset of the Dallas Mavericks a new group of posters begin to come to the site but the majority of us have been here for the better part of a decade, suffering together through multiple years of no playoffs, constantly hoping for things to change for the better.
We have people who are fed up with Cohan and Rowell (yes, it's true!), people who think the team is right there ready to contend again, people who are season ticket holders, people who used to be and canceled, and so on. We fight with each other. We call each other names. We have boards for off-topic discussion and even politics. People going through tough times come here for advice and get helpful suggestions because we know each other. Some people like to put pictures of half-naked women in their signature files. Don't go looking for them if you're at the office. Wait until you get home and no, I'm not telling you who they are. I just have a couple charts in mine, like a version of Ross Perot, which I get teased for from time to time. This shows nobody is exempt from being picked on, insulted, called out if they say something others feel is dumb, etc. You have to have a thick skin and that's going to drive some people away. For the rest of us, we're used to it. We love it. It's like a virtual sports bar where we shoot the you know what with each other. Sometimes it gets raunchy but it's real and it's the first place a lot of us go when we hop on the internet because we want to share something and see what other people are saying.
After a rotating carousel of coach after coach following the ugly departure of Don Nelson Part One, we saw some improvement under Eric Musselman. He was let go. Mike Montgomery came in from Stanford and accomplished very little. That's when Chris Mullin brought us Don Nelson Part Two. After the Baron Davis trade before that and the Stephen Jackson/Al Harrington trade in the middle of the 2006-07 season, all of a sudden the Warriors began to click as a team and went on a hot streak at the end of the year. They were beating teams left and right, winning nine of their last ten, including their last five by an average of 21 points. All of a sudden the Warriors were back in the playoffs where they made a little history by taking out the Mavs in six before running out of gas against the Utah Jazz.
The entire Warriors fanbase was ecstatic, especially here. Oracle Arena was the place to be and the fans received praise and attention nationwide. I did something I never thought I'd do, driving to Portland on the final day of the regular season just for the chance to see them clinch that playoff berth. I don't say this to prove the kind of fan I am, but I do say it to help show how important it was to me to see it in person. From that point forward over the next couple weeks, it felt like each game I went to during the playoffs passed up the last one as my personal best ever, culminating in the elimination game against Dallas when Stephen Jackson rained down three-pointer after three-pointer. We were all riding high because it looked like the Warriors were back.
Then it all began to fall apart. Depending on what the truth really is, it sounds like the Warriors had a legitimate shot at getting Kevin Garnett before he wound up in Boston. Instead they traded Jason Richardson for the draft rights to Brandan Wright. They still had an excellent, if inconsistent season, winning 48 games. Surprisingly, it wasn't enough to even make the playoffs that year. Trouble brewed as Baron Davis was unprepared for the second to last game of the season in Phoenix, getting yanked by Nelson. Then they lost to Seattle. Season over. Davis opted out and went to the Clippers. There are questions over how interested the Warriors were in keeping him. Monta Ellis tore up his ankle in the infamous "was it a moped or wasn't it?" incident and the organization debated over how much to punish him for it. Further injuries and poor play ruined the team and they were back to not even reaching 30 wins, back in the lottery again with people more excited about the chance to land the top pick instead of talking about being a team in the upper echelon of the NBA.
Meanwhile, the Warriors continued to draw fans to the arena, riding the positive vibes of two seasons of 40+ wins. All it'd take to get back to the playoffs was one more key player, better health, a little more of this, a bit more of that. Problem is, we'd heard it all before. If anyone was used to empty promises it was Warriors fans in the Cohan era. Warriorsworld itself had gone through a lot of this. People who had been there for a long time were getting tired of it. We don't want to just be entertained. We don't care about free pizza at the arena. We don't care about a t-shirt shot from an air cannon. We want a winning team, something we can be proud of. For us, "A Great Time Out" is not enough. It's just a silly slogan that has nothing to do with actually winning basketball games. We expect and demand more.
Does this make us bad fans? Of course not. Does it put us in the minority? Probably, if attendance figures have been any indication. For the front office, that seems to be their bottom line: how many butts are in the seats and how much money does it make them? They talk about winning but they only go so far to prove it's their main focus. They stop short of going all the way, which in this day and age probably means operating at a financial loss unless you're really good at what you do. Right or wrong (and almost 90% of people polled in the ANG newspapers say it was wrong), they ran Chris Mullin out of town. Mullin's accomplishments as a player in Golden State are well known. He is a future Hall of Famer. His time as GM is filled with both hits and misses, which Warriorsworld has debated endlessly. Whatever his track record in the front office, most agree he was not treated fairly before effectively being pushed out the door in favor of Nelson's buddy Larry Riley.
So why is someone from Warriors HQ posting anonymously a problem? Because aside from the surprise of it being Ridder himself, it effectively violates our trust and it insults our intelligence. This may sound funny considering most of us are known only by our usernames, but it's true. There are some people who genuinely believe the Warriors are on the right path to getting better again, even though the consensus is they had a good thing going and blew it up for no good reason. Skepticism ran high during the STH call with Rowell and Riley, presided over by Bob Fitzgerald, who many see as a shameless homer for the Warriors. It was viewed as just another PR stunt to get people to renew season tickets. Get the STH involved, make them feel like their voices and concerns are being heard, assure them all will be well. Just hit *0 on your phones and renew! If the Warriors had managed to move up in the draft lottery, imagine the focus that would've been placed on that.
Some people from Warriorsworld were on the call and scoffed at how few tough questions were asked. Some questions came off as plants. Others were lobbed up there like alley oops for Rowell, Riley and Fitzgerald to slam home. When it was over, Flunkster Dude made the now-famous (or infamous) post, it was checked, and the truth was learned. Again, little did we know at the time it was Ridder himself.
As I commented on Kawakami's blog post about this last night, I've dealt with Ridder a few times before because I was asked to represent Warriorsworld at their last two Media Day events. Ridder let me know what was okay and what wasn't and I followed the rules. I interviewed people when tables were empty and just listened in on the groups gathered around people like Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson. Ridder was gracious enough to allow me to shoot a few photos to put up on the site as well. No doubt about it, I was very appreciative of the opportunity to do something like this. I was involved in journalism in college and I do a lot of minor league baseball photography now, so I have an idea of how to act in a media role. I can separate that from whatever I say or think on an internet fan site.
It seemed Ridder and the PR staff had a good idea of the role sites like Warriorsworld and Golden State of Mind could play in how the fanbase interacts with the team, but as the latest season wore on and it became increasingly clear the Warriors were headed back down again, frustration reached a boiling-over point. The team was criticized and ripped. All of a sudden, Del and Sheed were getting leaned on to be more positive if Warriorsworld wanted to keep getting access to things. That was met with a response of "Sorry, but no. We'll say what we want and we won't tell others what they can or can't write here." We're not here to promote the team. We will if the team deserves to be but if they expect fans like us to pretend things are great when they're not, no. It doesn't work that way. We're here to talk about the team and interact with each other. No more, no less. If the team wants good pub, they have to earn it by their actions on and off the court instead of effectively bribing fans.
I've said it before. If speaking my mind means I miss out on getting to cover something, that's the way it goes. I'm not going to pretend things are great just to go to a press conference or a practice. That's something the Warriors need to figure out how to deal with and it looks like they've made up their minds about how they're going to handle criticism. They'll circle the wagons, try to shut out various members of the media, drop obvious digs at people like Kawakami for stirring the pot as they accuse "the media" of lying and distorting the facts without actually saying what the facts are (while at the same time expecting Fitzgerald to tow the company line whenever he speaks), and then even Ridder himself comes in to play the role of some fan happy with the conference call, letting people know he's part of the approximately 70% of STH that have renewed so far (sidenote: if the Warriors actually make Ridder himself pay for season tickets in Section 121, wow).
The funny thing is he's posted on Warriorsworld in the past under the Flunkster Dude handle and nobody thought to check on it. Had he timed things a little better, had he not posted from HQ, we probably wouldn't even be talking about all this because nobody would have suspected a thing. Now, every time someone posts a pro-Warriors comment, especially if it's a new account, people will have that thought in the back of their heads: "Is it someone from the front office again?"
This is what we get under Cohan and Rowell, a dysfunctional front office more concerned about their image on a fan site (which we already knew they followed) than improving the team. The solution, aside from Cohan and Rowell leaving for good, is simple: fix the team and the rest will follow. As disappointed as I was to learn Ridder made the post (I think everyone's entitled to a goof or two), none of this would have happened if it wasn't for the people above him. That is where the infection of the Golden State Warriors originates from and that is what must be cured before the franchise will ever have a chance of being respected again.
I will probably always be a fan of the Warriors but yesterday was a low point in the history of the franchise. Now it's time to fix it, and to anyone at HQ reading this, I don't mean getting rid of Raymond Ridder. He made the latest mistake and the most public one but your problems are much greater than what he did. At least he owned up to it and is holding himself accountable. That's more than I can say about Cohan (who hides and sues people for fun) and Rowell. Rowell said the team reaching the playoffs once in five years under Mullin was unacceptable but of Cohan, Rowell and Mullin we all know who's got the worst rate of success there. It ain't Mullin.