It's over now. Warriors owner Joe Lacob has said what he said about new media enthusiasts and the working definition of real fans. The wireless world has responded in predictable mouth-frothing fashion. The news cycle has churned. Nothing to see here, folks.
Except this: Lacob, unwittingly, has cast a klieg light on one of sports' great anomalies -- the white-hot passion of Warriors fans for a team that has spent most of the past third-of-a-century with its shoelaces tied together.
We've been aware of this confounding dynamic for some time. This may qualify as Lacob's a-ha! moment. Oh, there's no doubt Chris Cohan, in trying to wring every last nickel from a franchise he transformed into an afterthought -- nationally, if not locally -- mentioned the fan loyalty thing at some point during negotiations.
"So Joe -- may I call you Joe? -- have I mentioned how the fans here support the team like gangbusters no matter how poorly it plays? You can't keep them away. I know, because I tried."
Like anyone about to drop millions in discretionary cash, Lacob surely did his due diligence. What the data couldn't fully express to him was the soul-sapping, mettle-testing nature of the team's unceasing mediocrity, the fans' perpetual dismay and the kind of drama you can't make up.
Just a guess: He's hip now.
A recap, for those of you who spent the weekend regrouting the shower: Lacob, speaking at a conference in Boston, was asked a
"They are not real fans, because they don't have season tickets."
Later, Lacob clarified his position in e-mails to media and fans: He was speaking about profane and disparaging e-mails from fans who, upon review, are not season-ticket holders.
There's enough gray area there to keep this issue smoldering online for weeks. For our money, the man deserves the benefit of the doubt, especially since he's gone to such lengths to be virtually available to Warriors fans. And because aversion to profane and disparaging e-mails is hardly a crime.
But there's a bigger point here, one that may have caught Lacob a little by surprise -- his new fans are borderline manic in their interest in his new toy. It may further enlighten him that this depth of caring can be traced back to the early months of the Jimmy Carter presidency.
It was the fall of 1977. The Warriors were more than two years removed from their shocking world championship run. And though they had made playoff appearances in nine of the previous 11 seasons, their prospects took a hit when Jamaal Wilkes bolted for the dreaded Lakers.
In fact, they missed the playoffs that season. But they finished slightly higher in the NBA in attendance than they did in the standings. It was the start of a head-scratching trend.
Over the past 33 seasons, interest in the Warriors, as measured by tickets purchased, has outpaced the team's on-court success 18 times. It happened in 1978-79, the year after Rick Barry left the team. It happened in 1984-85, the season Joe Barry Carroll spent in Italy and the Warriors won fewer games in January than did the 49ers. It happened three of the four times the team made midseason coaching changes.
Maybe you're thinking: Attendance still lagged behind performance 15 times. And 15 is a big number.
Let's explore those 15 seasons. In four of them, the Warriors sold every ticket they printed. The original Coliseum Arena was simply smaller than the new arenas of the day. So that brings us down to 11.
In four others, the Warriors set franchise attendance records. How can you expect more than that? That brings us down to seven.
There was the season Latrell Sprewell choked coach P.J. Carlesimo (the first after Chris Mullin's departure). And the following season, reduced to 50 games by a lockout. Hey, even Warriors fans have their limits.
Now we're down to five. Five seasons over the past 33 when it rightfully could be said the Warriors supported the fans better than the fans supported the Warriors. That's stunning when you consider we're talking about a team that has won 18 playoff games in the time it's taken the Lakers to make 31 postseason appearances.
That speaks only to ticket-buyers. As Lacob is learning, there is plenty of latent interest in the team. Good news on that front -- latent fans buy merchandise, too.
If with slightly more colorful language.
Contact Gary Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.