They had come to honor Chris Mullin, to salute one of the franchise’s greatest players and hang his No. 17 jersey from the rafters. And yet none of that mattered. As soon as Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob took the microphone to recognize Mullin Monday night, the boos rained down. Louder and louder still, until Mullin and former Warriors great Rick Barry asked the sold-out crowd to have mercy on Lacob.
Turns out, Warriors fans had come not only to support Mullin, but also Monta Ellis. Five days after the Warriors traded Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks for injured center Andrew Bogut, the franchise’s fans aimed their ire at Lacob during Mullin’s halftime retirement ceremony – a surreal scene that left the owner shaken.
Lacob stopped his speech for Mullin after the monsoon of boos drowned him out.
“Look, fans are upset that we traded one of their favorites,” Lacob said after the Warriors’ 97-93 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. “That’s all I can attribute that to. What I feel bad about is they ruined a night that was very special. The organization really tried to do the right thing for with Chris.
“I feel good that we did that. I felt bad for Chris more than anything else.”
Mullin, a five-time All-Star with the Warriors and a Hall of Famer, didn’t think his night was spoiled. “Not one bit,” he said. “It seemed more directed toward other things.”
Lacob initially tried to talk over the boos at the beginning of his speech from the floor of Oracle Arena. “Now that we got that over with,” he said, only it wasn’t over. The fans started chanting, “We want Monta,” and the boos became louder. Lacob tried to use his notes to continue speaking, but each hesitation brought only more jeers. Finally overwhelmed 45 seconds into his speech, Lacob went silent.
“I was hoping they would stop so I could get the nice words out that we prepared for Chris,” Lacob said. “They didn’t want to stop. So I just waited.”
Mullin eventually walked over to Lacob, put his arm around him and whispered into his ear. “Sometimes change is inevitable,” Mullin told the fans, “and it’s going to be just fine with your support and patience.”
Lacob remained speechless. Mullin eventually sat down before Barry took the microphone. “C’mon, people,” Barry said, scolding the crowd. “You fans are the greatest fans in the world. Everybody said that. Show a little bit of class. This is a man I’ve spent a little bit of time with. He’s going to change this franchise. This is crazy.”
“I wanted to be there for [Lacob],” Mullin said afterward. “No one wants to see anyone go through that no matter what situation. As players we’ve all been booed. Even if you’re a visiting player you don’t want to see a guy go through that.”
Several of Mullin’s old teammates and former coach Don Nelson were seated on the floor. Warriors ambassador Al Attles urged them to get up and clap for Lacob during the booing.
Former Warrior Tom Tolbert described the scene as “awkward, uncomfortable.”
“It wasn’t about Lacob, it wasn’t about Monta or direction, it was about honoring the past,” said Tolbert, now a popular local sports-radio host. “And instead, it turned into a condemnation of the Warriors and trading Monta. You know, it’s too bad. I still remember the good parts, but too bad it turned into that.
“It was crazy. It was like Hollywood Hulk Hogan walked into the building. It was like, ‘What just happened here? Oh, no. Jump.’ ”
Lacob eventually finished his words and awarded Mullin and his family a trip to Hawaii. Mullin’s retired No. 17 jersey was revealed in the rafters to cheers. Once the ceremony finally ended, Lacob slowly walked off the floor where he received hugs from his fiancée, Nicole Curran, whom Lacob has said is upset with him for trading Ellis, and Warriors guard Stephen Curry.
When asked if he was surprised by the fans’ reaction, Lacob said: “Wouldn’t you be?”
Warriors and T’wolves players, some of whom were giggling, watched as the ceremony drew to a close. The T’wolves players who had remained in the locker room during the ceremony said they could hear the booing through the walls.
“Everything was cool until we started to hear the boos,” T’wolves forward Kevin Love said. “Then we started laughing. It was funny to watch, but it wasn’t necessary. I thought it should have all been about Chris and everybody else should’ve felt that way.”
Chris Cohan, the Warriors’ previous owner, was famously booed after he was introduced during the 2000 NBA All-Star weekend in Oakland. He was rarely shown at games afterward. Since his ownership group bought the Warriors in 2010, Lacob hasn’t been shy about saying the struggling franchise will win a championship within 10 years. After Monday’s ceremony ended, he eventually returned to his courtside seat to watch the second half.
“I’m not going to let a few boos get me down and I don’t expect a few boos to get our team down,” Lacob said. “I think everybody has to stay tough. These are tough times. We are going to go out there, we are going to compete and we are going to win. And that’s my job as an owner, do everything we have to do. I’m not going to let a few boos stop us.
“I obviously think whoever was booing was incorrect in terms of their assumptions. But we’ll just let time heal all wounds. Winning heals a lot of things.”