December 22, 2009

Fans Vs. Cohan... Vs. The Warriors

A new strident voice has joined the Golden State blogosphere. is insisting that our much-maligned owner sell the team, and they're trying to foment a pair of economic rebellions to make this happen: they're calling for an immediate freeze in purchases of any Warriors merchandise, and an attendance freeze starting the day we are officially eliminated from playoff contention (a day that has, oddly, not yet come).

As oust-the-owner movements go, this one ain't bad. Tying an attendance freeze to our playoff elimination is a pretty canny gimmick, and they have some nice, grim-looking merch. I also find it amusing that they're calling for the heads of Chris Cohan, Robert Rowell, Don Nelson... and Bob Fitzgerald. Fitz is unquestionably the acting press secretary for this miserable administration, doing his best to paper over managerial incompetence on each Warriors broadcast, and I enjoy the optics of identifying him as a culprit. I have a number of quibbles with their list of Cohanian sins -- Mullin was not actually fired, our injured power forward's first name is Brandan, and Jason Richardson just wasn't the significant loss that some seem to think -- but overall, the execution here is pretty decent. As long as the site's proprietor (a "Steven") shows some transparency in backing up his claim that all donations will go towards the cause, hey, God bless.

But while I enjoy the site's style, and I'd be perfectly happy to see all four named co-conspirators bounced out of Oakland, I can't really muster up much enthusiasm for this venture. In all the excitement over these variously aggravating trees, the forest is being lost. We need some perspective here. And to find it, we'll turn to two of America's quintessential pastimes: party politics and professional wrestling.

You may have heard of the health care bill that's crawling through Congress. In the past week or two, anything that looks, quacks or provides competition for private insurers like a public option has been stripped from the bill, thanks primarily to the intransigence of my former Senator, Joe Lieberman. The substantive impact of a public option would be minimal, and yet as a result of its demise, many progressive groups and pundits are now pushing for the demise of the overall bill. Lieberman has enraged some liberals so much that they would now let health care reform fail than pass it with his help... they have forgotten why they wanted health care reform in the first place. None of the progressive goals of health care reform -- expanding coverage, increasing affordability, etc. -- will be achieved if this bill fails, and yet many on the left have let their anger obscure that. Many are now embracing spite over the principles they've spent years espousing. Emotion has overtaken reason. In the current mood they're in, many liberals would rather hurt Joe Lieberman than help millions of Americans.

Similarly, Vince McMahon allowed spite to cost him a hundred million dollars in 2001. When he finally won the wrestling wars, buying his former competitor for a pittance, Vince was in position to run the biggest money-drawing feud in wrestling history. WWF vs.WCW. The two signature American wrestling companies and all their respective stars, battling for supremacy under Vince's roof. No storyline this slam-dunk had ever crossed a booker's desk.

Vince and company botched it, only milking one strong buyrate out of a feud that should've yielded eight. Why? Vince hated WCW too much. A worked wrestling feud only sells if both sides have credibility, and as a company that had just faded into a historic and embarrassing oblivion, as of March 2001, WCW had none. The onus was on Vince and his booking team to rebuild WCW's brand name, to make it a meaningful threat to his WWF roster... WCW needed to win the first couple battles. Instead, Vince spent a summer stomping on WCW's ashes, trashing a brand he now owned. As a result, the feud never got off the ground, and tons of cash poured down the drain. A wrestling promoter's goal is to make money, but Vince lost sight of that. Emotion overtook reason. Vince chose hurting WCW over helping his own wallet.

And a similar thing is happening here. Hating Chris Cohan is understandable and cathartic and a fun way to spend time with your friends. But it is not the point of being a Warriors fan. The desire of a Warriors fan should not be to see bad things happen to Chris Cohan. The desire of a Warriors fan should be to see good things happen to the Golden State Warriors. And while it's tempting to believe that those two outcomes are synonymous, the truth is not nearly so simple.

Let's take stock of this situation, as best we can. From all accounts, Chris Cohan is already very willing to sell the franchise. What's more, Chris Cohan already knows that Warriors fans despise him. It was nine years ago now that he was booed off the court of the arena he'd just (skillfully) refurbished, and calls for his removal haven't exactly gotten quieter since then. We hate him, he knows, we know he knows, he knows we know he knows. It just doesn't matter... the guy's not going to sell until somebody makes him an offer he likes. You're not going to get a businessman to eat a thirty-million-dollar loss just by swearing at him. Hatred, in and of itself, is not a very useful lever.

Economic pressure is a different story. Warriors fans can change the bottom line for Cohan by neglecting to go to games; in this recessionary year, for the first time in awhile, that's been happening. And if a movement like Fans Vs. Cohan can muster up enough energy and PR savvy, it could possibly create an attendance dip that goes above and beyond the lull caused by the bad economy. It really could! A full-scale fan revolt could make this an unprofitable year for Chris Cohan.

But it's not as simple as Chris Cohan shedding a single tear, muttering "you win" to the fanbase at large and handing the arena keys to Larry Ellison tomorrow. It's not easy to sell a basketball team, and the nosedive in franchise value a rebellion would cause would make it even harder. We're not dealing with Ted Turner or Rupert Murdoch here, a magnate who can buy and sells sports teams on a whim. Being the Warriors' owner is Chris Cohan's only real job or source of income; he's not well-equipped to eat a huge loss, either in a given season or on a sale of the team.

Which means that any drastic reduction in team income will be accompanied by a drastic reduction in team payroll. At the first sign of real financial trouble, Cohan's first move would not be to sell the team immediately, at any price; like all relatively strapped NBA owners, he would first get rid of all of his expensive players. Any attempts to smoke Chris Cohan out will smoke Monta Ellis out first, and might smoke out Andris Biedrins, to boot. Wide-scale efforts to hurt Chris Cohan will hurt the Warriors. Sinking your team's revenues means sinking their talent level. There's simply no way around that.

That's not to say that we should like Chris Cohan. He's a terrible, terrible owner... we should cast aspersions on his name, and pray that he's able to sell the team soon. But there are only two ways that it'll happen: he may sell an ugly, stripped-down Warriors franchise for a low price, or an attractive, competitive Warriors franchise for a high one. The upshot of a successful campaign by Fans vs. Cohan and its ilk would be the former scenario. To me, the latter scenario is the infinitely more attractive one, even if it means the guy gets to sell for a big profit. My desire to see the Warriors succeed is stronger than my desire to see Chris Cohan suffer.

Calling for Chris Cohan's head is satisfying on an emotional level, but it isn't the ideal strategic response to our predicament. The best thing we can lobby for is the kind of incremental, technocratic improvement of the team that was on display from the summer of 2006 to the spring of 2008... intelligent basketball management, in other words. A new coach would help that process along. Jettisoning Corey Maggette's contract could help, if done painlessly enough. Some token PR gestures couldn't hurt, either. It's not about raising the stink level so much that Cohan has to sell, it's about mitigating the stink level enough so that he's able to. Sustained sanity, in other words. It sounds like a tall order for this franchise, but it was on display as recently as seventeen months ago; it has happened under Chris Cohan's stewardship before.

So while our voices should be loud, they should be measured. We should not waste our time screaming about Chris Webber or P.J. Carlesimo or Jason Richardson or even Baron Davis; we should be advocating for more coherent strategies, more sensible lineups, and a greater focus on the development of our young talent. As best we can, we need to provide the voice of reason that the franchise so often seems to lack internally; we need to keep the long term goal of Warrior success in mind, and not let spite or anger distract us from it.

And if we want Chris Cohan to go away, we should continue to support the team he owns. Fun? No. Frustrating? Yes. But it's the right thing to do, for the sake of the our future. We are Warriors fans... our experiences with heartbreak are legion. We have it in us to show more emotional maturity than the American progressive movement, or even the World Wrestling Federation.

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