In recent weeks, the Warriors have come under fire from the media and fans alike, after one of their employees admitted to posing as a season ticket holder on internet message boards. The team has been ridiculed not only for their duplicity, but for their inability to execute successfully
execute such a simple plan.
Rather than lampoon the team as so many others have done, I decided to seek some retribution. One afternoon last week, armed with nothing but a smile and a fake identity, I sought to give the team a taste of their own medicine. This is the tale of how I infiltrated the Warriors organization.
9:00 AM: I arrive at Warriors headquarters. What’s my plan? More like a well-calculated gamble, really. I’m betting that no one on the premises knows who Larry Riley is, what he looks like, knows anything about him, really. So I walk into the team’s offices and tell the receptionist that I’m Larry Riley, the new Warriors General Manager.
She scrolls through the company phone list, and sure enough, my name is on it. I’m in. James Bond could only dream of being this smooth.
She leads me back to a large corner office, which should have sweeping views of San Francisco, only all of the windows are painted black. The nameplate outside the office says ‘Robert Rowell’. Rowell is at his desk, finishing his breakfast, a green salad full of hundred-dollar bills. The receptionist introduces me and right away, Rowell perks up.
“Hey there. So you’re our new GM, huh? Sorry, I have to eat at my desk most days. You should really try one of these. The money is fresh from our season ticketholder deposits. Anyway, Nellie probably already briefed you on this, but your job here really boils down to one key point: Make sure we stay under the luxury tax, at all costs. That’s it. That’s all you have to do.”
That’s all? Because I actually have some ideas for the direction of the team. We need a point guard, I say. With Nellie’s smallball system, we need a floor general to replace Baron Davis. Going small with no point guard is like Creedence with no Fogerty. Arby’s with no roast beef. ‘Speed 2’ with no Keanu. Rowell stops me and explains his philosophy further.
“Look, the sports market in this area is a disaster zone. Our neighbors are a deceased cryptkeeper who runs his football team from the grave, and a minor league baseball team that couldn’t produce or keep an all-star if their lives depended on it.”
“The hockey team down the road is an annual disappointment, and the baseball team across the water hasn’t been relevant since they lost their sideshow circus freak. We don’t have to worry about losing fans to the Kings anymore, since they’re worse than we are. We’re in a no-lose position here. All we need to do is field a team. Don’t worry about the quality of the team so much; just get 12 guys who fit under the cap.”
What about winning games, I ask? Rowell takes a long pause.
“You’ll learn. Come on, let me show you around the office.”
9:15 AM: Walking through the office hallways, I notice that there is a large dry-erase board on one of the walls, and it’s covered with stick figure drawings of the Warriors’ star players: Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, Andris Biedrins. Rowell explains that they used to display framed color posters of the players, but the team got rid of its stars so fast that it was too expensive to keep having them ordered. Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, Chris Webber, Latrell Sprewell, Baron Davis, Jason Richardson, Chris Mullin (again). The list seemed endless.
“Instead, we just have our office workers’ kids draw pictures of the team on the board here, and when the players get traded or go nuclear, we just erase ‘em and put up some new guys. It’s much easier this way. Cheaper, too.”
I also notice there are several photos of Stephen Jackson doing charity work around the Bay Area. That’s great, I say. He’s certainly done a lot to endear himself to the surrounding communities.
“Yeah, the fans indicated that he was the most popular player on the team. So we decided to extend his contract. Gotta keep the fans happy.”
Yeah…I don’t mean to be negative, but you actually didn’t need to do that. Jack was already under contract for 2 more seasons. There was really no reason to extend his deal.
“Well, our research told us that it was the most prudent thing to do.”
Really? What kind of research would tell you that?
“We asked Mullin, and he was against it, so we went ahead with it.”
Wait, so your ‘research’ consisted of just doing the opposite of your GM’s advice?
“Yep. Same reason we got rid of Baron. Mullin was against that, too. Some of this franchise’s best decisions are directly attributable to Mully.”
Hmm. Probably best not to get into an argument with my ‘boss’ on my first day. I try to change the subject. I point to a signed picture on the wall of 90’s TV star Mark Curry. It’s from the ‘Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper’ days, and he’s holding a Warriors jersey with ‘Cooper’ on the back. I remember that episode, I say. That’s when his character got a tryout with the Warriors. Definitely one of my favorite shows growing up.
“Character? That show was a documentary. Coop played 4 seasons for us.”
Wow. Apparently, things were even worse back in those days than I remembered. I’d completely blocked that era out of my memory. I feel like Wolverine walking through the abandoned Weapon X facility. What else don’t I remember?
9:45 AM: Rowell leads me to the practice courts so I can watch the team’s afternoon workout, then heads back to his office for a conference call. A few players and coaches are in the building today, but they won’t hit the court for another 15 minutes. Looking for ways to pass the time, I glance at the list of pre-workout meals prepared for the team:
– Don Nelson: Scotch (with a scotch back)
– Anthony Randolph: Figs & rice cakes
– Stephen Jackson: Dirk Nowitzki’s heart on a platter, with a sprinkling of Avery Johnson’s coaching career
– Corey Maggette/Kelenna Azubuike: 4 steaks and a “protein shake” each
I start to wonder why protein shakes are in quotes, when Don Nelson walks over to me. He’s the only one in the organization who knows what the real Larry Riley looks like, so I need to come up with a new alias quick. I introduce myself as a new member of the training staff. He seems a bit skeptical, so I try to think of some medical advice to give him.
“You know, you really should cut back to 12 beers before noon”, I tell him.
He chuckles, and just like that, I’m legit. Now he’s willing to talk to me. Nellie’s a few drinks into his day already, and he’s pretty forthcoming. He mentions how upset he is that his lips still move whenever Riley talks. I tell him it’s barely noticeable, but Nellie’s a perfectionist. All the great ventriloquists have this basic technique mastered, and Nellie’s determined to pull it off himself.
He also confides that he’s worried Stan Van Gundy is stealing his fashion style, that he was the first to wear the silk pastel man-boob-enhancing t-shirt on the sidelines. He vows to wear brighter, tighter t-shirts next season.
This is what greatness looks like, I think. He truly is never satisfied, his competitive thirst never quenched. How is this man not in the Hall of Fame?
12:00 PM: After the team workout, Rowell meets back up with me and gives me a tour of the locker room. One thing I notice right away: Andris Biedrins has 4 lockers. Why the Barry Bonds treatment?
“Well, his tanning booth takes up an entire locker by itself. Another stall is for all of his hair products. And the 3rd locker is full of -”
Plots to kill the Fantastic 4? I’m greeted with a blank stare. You know, because he’s from Latvia…Latveria…never mind. We share a long, awkward silence before Rowell moves me along. I glance over at Monta Ellis’ locker. In it, there’s a motorcycle helmet, a riding jacket, and an early-release DVD set of ‘Sons of Anarchy’. Big motorcycle guy, Monta?
But, I mean, he’s obviously into motorcycles…
“No. It was a moped.”
Curious. Is this because there’s language in his contract prohibiting motorcycles, but not mopeds? I quickly decide to drop it. No sense making waves right now.
12:30 PM: I sit in on a budget meeting with several of Rowell’s assistants. Rowell’s second-in-command goes through last month’s checkpoints:
“Despite the research we conducted last summer, Corey Maggette’s contract has turned out to be an unforeseen liability. We’re going to need to recoup some of the money we’re spending on him. There are no bad ideas here guys, we need to brainstorm. We don’t have any more throwback uniforms to fall back on, and we don’t have an exciting team, so we can’t rely on revenue related to any on-court activities.”
A young assistant speaks up from the back of the room.
“How about vampires? They’re all the rage with the kids right now. ‘Twilight’, ‘Trueblood’, Al Davis. They’re everywhere. How about a vampire night? You know, they suck, we suck, something like that.”
The kid’s vampire night idea is getting no support. He’s twisting in the wind, so I try to take the heat off him. My suggestion: How about ‘We Used to Believe’ nights? We could sell ticket packages based on the returns of Baron, J-Rich, Barnes, Harrington, Pietrus, Foyle, Josh Powell…
“Wait, did you say Foyle?” Rowell’s lead assistant is suddenly interested.
“We’ll do it. The fans love Foyle.”
Well, I think the fans liked him as a person, but I know of at least 3 people who went blind stabbing their eyes out while watching him play.
“Never proven. That was mostly due to Dampier, but you’ll never hear that side of the story from the media in this town. They’re always spinning their version of the truth.”
As the meeting progresses, I learn the real reason for the team’s defense of Foyle: the former center is something of a golden calf at Warriors HQ. He’s a near-deity here, as he was the first Warrior ever to have his contract prematurely bought out. I wonder if he will eventually come to represent original sin for this team. The team has since tried to expand upon this process by voiding Monta’s deal mere months after signing it, but they couldn’t get it past the players’ association.
Rowell’s assistant explains to me in detail: “Buying out Foyle’s contract was the greatest thing Chris Mullin ever did for this franchise. I mean, who knew you could do that? It’s like a dream come true for us. We can still make a big to-do when these guys first sign their deals, and then we can just buy them out or cancel the contracts a year or two later and save all the money.”
But doesn’t that only work with bad players? Don’t we need to hang on to players like Monta?
“Who needs Monta? For crying out loud, we’ve sold tickets with B.J. freaking Armstrong as our point guard. Remember ‘Field of Dreams’? ‘If you build it, they will come’? That’s our fanbase. It doesn’t matter who’s playing, just that they’re playing. We’re actually pretty far along in the application process to begin printing our own money by year’s end. The Federal Reserve stopped being able to keep up with us years ago.”
1:30 PM: Team charity foundation meeting. I’m hoping this one’s a feel-good meeting, or at least a softball. The last few hours have been a little demoralizing. The first topic up for discussion has to do with team-sponsored unveilings of inner-city youth basketball courts.
For as long as anyone can remember, the team has sent a player or two to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, followed by the players shooting around with the kids, and a quick photo op. However, the team’s charity events organizer informs us that these events have been cancelled indefinitely. I’m incredulous. This team needs to build all the goodwill it can right now. Why would we cancel these? The charity organizer shakes his head and lets out a sigh.
“About halfway through last season, the kids started beating our players in the shootarounds. We sent Anthony Randolph and Brandan Wright to one late in the year, and they got muscled out of the paint by a pair of fourth-graders.”
That gives me an idea. Why not have a food drive for our power forwards? Last anyone checked, Wright and Randolph combined weigh less than LeBron James. Let’s have fans bring non-perishable food to a game, so that the team’s key big men can finally clear bantamweight! My idea is met with a few quiet nods, and is put on the short list for potential promotions. I’m quite pleased with myself.
But the idea that generates the most support is the “Jamal Crawford Seat Exchange”, in which one lucky fan sitting in the upper deck at a home game gets to switch seats with Crawford at halftime. Since Crawford’s not getting off the bench for Nellie anyway, the idea receives unanimous support. We’re making some progress here, I can feel it.
2:30 PM: Video & scouting department meeting. Finally, some actual basketball work. This should be fun. I’m sitting in with several scouts and the team’s video coordinator, who’s leading the session.
“OK, let’s check out last week’s action.”
For the first time today, I’m excited. Which game are we watching, Lakers-Nuggets or Magic-Cavs? I hear some snickers throughout the darkened room.
“Hahaha, don’t feel bad, we’re not laughing at you. You’re new here. We’re actually going to be watching ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’.”
Huh? What about the playoff games? Shouldn’t we be doing some advance scouting for next season?
“Yeah, we don’t watch game film anymore. Mullin used to do that all the time. So frustrating. The guy would literally fill up the entire TiVo with just NBA games. We barely had room for our shows.”
So do the games get recorded somewhere else, then?
“No, as soon as Mullin’s contract expired we cancelled his NBA League Pass account. We’re saving a ton of money each month. We do check in at halftime of the TNT games, though. That Barkley’s a character!”
I sit there motionless. Stunned. Speechless. One of the scouts chimes in.
“Make sure to fast-forward through all the commercials. We might be able to squeeze in the finale of ‘Two and a Half Men’ before the next meeting.”
A single tear rolls down my cheek. I want to go home.
3:18 PM: Charlie Sheen and his zany family run long, so I’m late for the Marketing Department’s meeting. By the time I walk in, Tyler Hansbrough Warriors jerseys are up on the wall, as well as a Photoshopped picture of the North Carolina forward in a Golden State uniform. The team’s VP of Marketing is in the middle of a speech.
“As you know, according to the franchise charter, we are obligated to draft a slow white player in the 1st round once every few years. Fuller and Murphy didn’t quite pan out the way we hoped, but Hansbrough will at least bring some national cache with him. Also, Rob Kurz will finally have someone to hang out with on road trips. We’ve already briefed Bob Fitzgerald, he’s on board with selling this pick to the fans at all costs.”
“OK, last item of business: the end-of-the-year plan. The 2009-10 season won’t conclude until March, but as you all know, it’s never too early to plan our season-ending fan apology. Now, we’ll use the standard boilerplate like we did last year, but we’ll need to add a few season-specific details again to keep it fresh.”
“We’ll be looking to populate these details sometime around January, so keep that on your action item calendar. We’ll be releasing this right before we make our season-ticket renewal push, so we’ll need to coordinate our efforts with the folks in the ticket office. This is a pretty easy way to keep the fans coming back, so let’s stay on top of this. OK, that’s all for today.”
4:00 PM: I meet back up with Rowell, and we head to the final meeting of the day: Public Relations. PR chief Raymond Ridder kicks off the meeting, explaining that the team’s internet PR plan has just been executed to perfection.
Really? It seemed like that one blew up in our faces, no? Ridder grimaces and explains it to me as he would a child.
“That’s the media spin. You’ll learn pretty quickly around here that they don’t understand what’s going on with this team.”
Well, what is going on, then? I receive no answer, but I notice that most of the executive at the table are sharing smirks and knowing glances. I think I’m asking too many questions. Better keep quiet on this one. I’m definitely not getting the whole story – something to look into later. Ridder moves right along.
“OK, we need to start thinking about who to market this season.”
How about Turiaf, I suggest. Great guy, lots of energy, Mr. Personality, great backstory with the heart transplant and all.
“We try not to focus on the players. We’ll either go with Nellie, or refresh the ‘Great Time Out’ slogan.”
It’s not really all that great, though. The team isn’t very good. The in-game entertainment is awful at worst, distracting at best. Why not focus on some young guys, maybe Randolph or Monta?
“You’re not getting it. It’s all about the game experience. You think some mom and dad in San Ramon are bringing their kids here to see Monta Ellis? Not a chance. They want to be entertained, with a basketball game between amusement breaks.”
I think you’ve got that reversed.
“No, we don’t. You’re new here, so I’ll break it down for you. What do you think most people remember about the ‘We Believe’ team? They remember all those yellow t-shirts. We’ve had 2 winning seasons in the last 15 years. How do you think we’ve been selling tickets this whole time?”
Actually, I have no idea. I was wondering that myself.
“Look, only a few franchises in this league actually run ‘basketball teams’. The teams with superstars, franchise players – they run actual basketball clubs and make an effort to win a championship. Financially, they’re the only ones who can afford to do that. The rest of us are entertainment companies. We’re all things to all people. Want to see a concert? We have live music during the game. Want to see something unique? We have hula-hooping midgets on unicycles eating flaming swords at halftime. Want to keep your kids interested? Well, you’re in luck: we’ll run some local elementary school kids on the court to play during TV timeouts.”
“This is how we keep the people coming back. The fans only need to like one of our in-game acts, and they’ll leave remembering that they had a good time. We’re a basketball team in name only- the league requires us to put it on our stationary. We make our money from the casual fans, the people who just want to go to a game. The entertainment and distractions are our version of Colonel Sanders’ secret recipe.”
No. It can’t be that way…
“Can’t? It is that way. Think about it: do you go to karaoke to hear good music, or do you go to have fun with your friends? Do you think ‘Star Trek’ was the #1 movie in the country because the freak show Trekkies all went to see it 50 times? No. They make their money through people like you and me, casual consumers who are just looking for a new way to spend their entertainment dollar. Same with us.”
“Sure, there are some basketball junkies in this area, and they’re not happy with us. But they haven’t been happy with us since 1994, and we’re doing better than ever. They’ll come out no matter what we do. All we need to do is keep the casual fans coming back.”
I walk out of the meeting in a daze. I feel like Chazz Palminteri in ‘The Usual Suspects’. Cohan is Keyser Soze. Rowell is Kobayashi. Warriors diehards thought we knew it all, we were convinced that the people running the team were a bunch of idiots. We thought they were trying to win but just didn’t know how. Turns out, they weren’t trying to win at all.
Ever since Cohan bought the team, the only people who have been consistently promoted have been the finance guys. The one person who turned the team into an actual winner got run out of town, despite being the most beloved player in franchise history. It all started to make sense.
We thought we knew more than they did. But they have our money. Who was fooling whom?