I left Oracle Arena--the home of the Golden State Warriors on March 19, 2012 not knowing if I would ever return there for another NBA game. The evening was supposed to be one of celebration as the Warriors were retiring the jersey of my favorite basketball player who is also one of my personal heroes--Chris Mullin.
Family legend has it that in May 1979, my dad woke my brother up to tell him that his beloved 49ers drafted the Fightin' Irish quarterback Joe Montana. And in 1985, for some reason, I remember him telling me that the Big East Basketball Player of the Year was coming to the Bay Area. I can't say I was part of the welcoming committee but years later when I was 15, my dad and I went to a game that I will never forget.
In what is now uncharacteristic for either of us--we arrived early enough to see the team warm-up. I was wearing a bright red "St John's University" sweatshirt replete with their now politically incorrect "Redman" front and center. We must have had good seats because when Mully looked over his shoulder from his court side seat, he gave me the thumbs up. When I came to learn the Warriors were going to retire Mullin's jersey, I thought the ideal Christmas gift for my father was two tickets for what was sure to be a night of wonderful memories and tributes.
I told everyone I knew I was going. The buzz on KNBR about what legends and former teammates would be attending was electric. I thought it was both fitting and exciting that I walked into "Roaracle" only to see former NBA pro Brent Barry in the Comcast booth. I went to the same grade school and high school as Brent; not only was he a great player as well as an NBA champion, but I hold great memories of his antics in high school pep rallies and grade school assemblies. (I know he too considers Mully a hero and what that means--being yourself as I share this video in my class). The evening had the feel of a family celebration; serendipity was in the air.
My dad and I sat down and instantly cheered for #17 as he entered the court to sit beside his wife Liz and their four children. I looked to my right and one section over was Tim Hardaway--the "T" in "Run TMC: Tim, Mitch and Chris." Other NBA Hall of Fame greats like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan who played with Chris on the Dream Team or against him in the NBA praised his career via video recordings. Even Warrior coach and fellow teammate at St John's--Mark Jackson weighed in, telling Chris he is "the whitest black man in the NBA. I loved playing with you and I love you."
Meanwhile, the real game against the Minnesota Timberwolves was underway; the Warriors looked pretty raw. And, it was appropriate as one week prior, Golden State traded away its star player Monta Ellis. It was controversial and problematic because as reported on ESPN.com "the Warriors also traded Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown Ellis, and to the for injured center and swingman , who was then traded
Thursday to San Antonio for and a conditional
first-round draft pick." What a mess.
I think it's important that I say that not everyone was there to support Chris Mullin. If there's one thing to say about Warriors fans, it's that they show up in spite of the fact there have been years when it would be more than understandable if they chose NOT to. On this night, hundreds of fans were on-edge and the ones sitting behind kept yelling obscenities that I am still unable to repeat. My dad encouraged me to take the higher road and just ignore them; I had to as there was so little security around us to handle any crowd control. The wheels were slowly but surely falling off the bus of what was to be a memorable evening for the "right" reasons as opposed to what I now recall...and have only been able to write about a year-plus later.
The remarks of these fans were crass and especially demeaning to women; I was ashamed that my father heard what I did. I looked around me to gauge how other fans and female ones in particular might be reacting. Much to my surprise, I didn't see many. When I looked for a group of women in the arena, the only one I saw were the Warrior Girls.
I suddently felt completely alone and out of touch. Looking to the hardwood, the vast majority of people working the game--in leadership, coaching, media, radio were men. The closer I looked, the harder it was to find a woman like me. The women I did see were dressed in a way I wouldn't--high heeled white leather thigh boots, Daisy Duke shorts, and a one-shouldered fitted top. I know they are performers for half time but I wondered what their message really was. Thousands of American girls grow up playing basketball; they can and should have a much more active role in the game at its highest level.
During the halftime ceremony the events of what is now known as "Boo-gate" unfolded. To this day, I think it imprudent that the new ownership of the Warriors, namely Joe Lacob thought it was appropriate to so much as speak after Chris Mullin's speech. Instead, as reported on ESPN.com "Lacob talked about "embracing history and respect"
as he prepared to unveil Mullin's No. 17 hanging in the rafters at Oracle
Arena, but angry fans showed little respect for the owner on Mullin's special
night. A chorus of boos rained down on the new co-owner who, along with Peter
Guber, took over the franchise in 2010. The jeers didn't stop for a solid ten minutes."
I don't need to say much more about "Boo-gate" other than I hate the fact it took away from the tribute and the game itself. It was a very strange experience made more uncomfortable by those around me. I wasn't sure if we should just leave.
True to form, my dad made sure that we stayed for "the whole game and not less." When we returned to my car in the $30 lot (and yes, I had to park there because the arthritis in my 72-year old father's back prevents him from walking long distances i.e. the walk from BART to the arena), I discovered the the driver's side of my Jeep was keyed from front to back. I never told my father; our night was already a disappointment. I was angry, disappointed and sad. I vowed that I wouldn't return. And if I did, it had to be for a special event.
I do all that I can to live by my principles and the events of "Boo-gate" challenged a lot of them. I was already aware that many basketball fans despise the NBA and for good reason. I left thinking that I still have many other good basketball viewing options--I love the St. Ignatius boys and girls teams as much as Notre Dame's!
If you had asked me to imagine attending Game 6 of the playoffs one year later, I don't think I could have done that. I know I wouldn't be the one holding it. And yet, the 2012-2013 Warriors made me think again. How did we go from "Boo-gate" to "Just-Us." Part II will report on that....but many of you already know the story. It's the story of this past season...