Warriors Rise; Clemens and Bonds
Mullin made some mistakes when he took over for Garry St. Jean, signing Derek Fisher, Adonal Foyle, Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy to big contracts that hamstrung the team. But all but Foyle are gone now.
Meanwhile, Mullin has made some bold moves, starting with his midseason trade for Baron Davis two seasons ago. He took a risk which didnít work when he hired Mike Montgomery as coach, but he erased that mistake by hiring Nelson.
And, thatís the key for Mullin: He hasnít been afraid to admit heís made a mistake, unlike those who had sat in his chair from the time Nelson left as a combination coach/general manager.
Heís also picked up some nice pieces in the draft, Andris Biedrins in the first round in his first draft, Monta Ellis in the second round in his second. Biedrins, who has a great work ethic, came on strong this season and should be a solid player for some time. Ellis is still learning point guard play Ė heís too small to play the scoring guard Ė but heís very quick and athletic, excellent defensively and capable of hot shooting streaks.
Mullins most recent draft, last June, was more problematical. The first choice, center Patrick OíBryant, was regarded as a project but did little to advance as he shuttled back and forth between the Warriors and the developmental league. The second pick, Kosta Perovic, went back to Europe for another season. The Warriors still have a high regard for the 7-2 Perovic but heís not the inside banger they need. His main asset is his outside shooting and, Iím sorry, thatís not what you want to see in a 7-footer.
So, the Warriors could still use a strong forward with size; Al Harrington, who has even played center in Nelsonís small lineups, isnít quite big enough for strong forward. But overall, itís a young team which should have its best years ahead of it.
It helps, too, that Mullin and Nelson are so close, from the years Mullin played for Nelson. In his first stint with the Warriors, Nelson did it all, from coaching to trades and the draft. When he came back last summer, I asked him how it would work with Mullin making the personnel decisions. He said he thought it would work well, and it has.
The other encouraging aspect of this season is the increased interest in the Warriors by those on the periphery.
There are two ways of measuring interest in a team. The most obvious is by looking at the attendance. But for baseball and football teams, this can be only the tip of the iceberg.
I was first made aware of this when I talked to Matt Levine when he was doing fan surveys for the Giants in the Ď70s. The Giants didnít play very well in that decade and they didnít draw well, either. In the middle of the decade, Horace Stoneham sold the club to a Toronto beer company which would have moved the team. Just before the Toronto group got approval from major league baseball, Bob Lurie and Bud Herseth bought the Giants and kept them in San Francisco.
The feel-good story didnít last long; in the first two years Lurie owned the team, the combined attendance was just over a million. Yet, when Levine did his survey, he found an enormous number of people who still considered themselves Giants fans but now only followed them through newspaper accounts and game broadcasts on radio and TV.
Levineís conclusion was that, if the Giants had a contending team, many of these fans would return. He was right. In 1978, the Giants were in first place for a good time of the year and attendance jumped one million from the previous season.
Now, the football teams are in much the same position. The 49ers have been the biggest sports story in the Bay Area since I first started writing a column in 1971. The Raiders have a more regional audience but fan interest is high. But because the teams have not been good, attendance has fallen.
For at least the last three seasons, the 49ers have bought up tickets so they could proclaim sellouts and keep home games on local TV. (An excellent idea, I think.) The Raiders couldnít do it until last season because they didnít control their tickets. Last season, they did. Officially, they had six home sellouts but only the opener and the Denver game sellouts were accomplished without the Raiders buying tickets.
But if the teams start winning again, theyíll have legitimate sellouts. That could happen for the Niners this season. It will take longer for the Raiders.
The Sharks are at the other end of the spectrum. They have probably the most passionate fans of any of the teams, but itís a relatively small group, large enough to sell out their arena but not extending much beyond that. The sport doesnít resonate with fans who donít have a background with it.
The Warriors are probably closer to the Sharks than to the football teams. Their core group of fans has been incredibly loyal, considering the teamís lack of success in recent years, but there hasnít been a lot of interest beyond those who go to the games.
Until now. Suddenly, with the team in the playoffs, the Warriors have become the hot topic of conversation among sports fans, who usually understand it much better than hockey.
So, the Warriors have a good thing going now and a bright future. And, after the frustrations of recent years, I never thought Iíd be writing that again.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Asked about this yearís Warriors, Derek Fisher said, ďPeople can measure and say, ĎOK, weíre heads above the team the last two years, but we won 35 games one year, they won 42 games this year. It wasnít like a 25-game difference.Ē
Hello, Derek. This yearís team is in the playoffs. Neither of your teams was even close. Yes, this yearís team is heads above yours.
PERSONAL MEMORY: The year after the Warriors won their only NBA title, they won 59 regular season games. While they were in the semi-finals of the playoffs, my wife, son and I left on our first European trip. When we were in Rome, the telephone in our hotel room rang about 2:30 in the morning. It was Dick Vertlieb, telling me heíd resigned from the Warriors and thanking me for my support. I was too groggy to respond, but after I hung up, I thought, ďThe Warriors lost.Ē
When we returned, Wayne Walker showed me the tape of the last game with Rick Barry standing with his hands on his hips because his teammates wouldnít throw him the ball. Rick had been the catalyst in the championship season but by the next season, his teammates had had it with him. Rick doesnít wear well.
ROCKET AND BARRY: Itís amazing how, nearing 45, Roger Clemens is as good as ever. Is it clean living orÖ. Nah, we all know only Barry Bonds takes performance-enhancing drugs.
Meanwhile, that noted philosopher, Curt Schilling, blasted Bonds in a radio interview saying, ďHe admitted he used steroids. . . He admitted cheating on his wife, cheating on taxes and cheating on the game.Ē
Well, as a matter of fact, Bonds hasnít admitted any of that; others have made those claims.
But, can we believe that Schilling thinks none of his teammates have taken drugs, cheated on their wives or lied on their income tax returns? In previous interviews, heís shown himself to be terminally stupid. This was just the latest example.
SPORTS, CONCERT TICKETS: Tickets for the Warriors playoff games, and The Police concert on May 13 at the Oakland Coliseum are available on the TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! link at the bottom of my Home Page. Tickets are also available for the All-Star game at AT&T Park, the Jersey Boys, playing in San Francisco through August, and for hot summer concert tours featuring Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Kenny Chesney, among others. Click on the Bay Area or national links below and the whole list will come up.
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