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News, observations and reader questions about the Sacramento Kings and the NBA.

March 20, 2012
Cheers for Mullin, boos for Lacob

OAKLAND - The scene inside Oracle Arena earlier tonight during the Chris Mullin jersey retirement ceremonies was crazy/surprising/disturbing/interesting, but because of the deadline pinch, I was unable to elaborate in my column in this morning's Bee. So, without further ado, here are some of the details, starting and ending with the crowd jeering and booing a visibly stunned Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob.

* Until Lacob reached for the microphone during the 30-minute halftime festivities, the event was moving along in traditional fashion, with fans cheering Warriors greats Nate Thurmond, Rick Barry, Al Attles, Mullins' Run TMC mates Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond, among others, along with former GSW coach Don Nelson and one-time Kings/Warriors guard Sarunas Marciulionis (who came into the league with Vlade Divac, Sasha Volkov, Zarko Paspalj and the late Drazen Petrovic with the historic Euro Class of 1989).

But when Lacob started to speak, there were discernible rumblings from the sellout crowd. Shouts of "Monta" echoed in the building, in an obvious reference to the recent trade of Monta Ellis in the deal for injured Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut. Frowning, and noticeably flustered, Lacob tried again. "Now that we've gotten that out of the way ..." he began, which only further incited fans.

Finally, Mullin walked over, placed an arm around Lacob's shoulders, and urged the crowd to calm down and be "patient" with the new ownership group. Lacob and Peter Guber only purchased the franchise from maligned former owner Chris Cohan in July, 2010. After Mullin finished speaking, and with the crowd still restless, the famously strident Barry approached and scolded the fans, lecturing them to show some "class."

More boos. More cheers. Not the solution to a restive crowd.

The reaction to Lacob was probably caused by three things: (1) the fact that even fans who weren't crazy about Ellis are struggling to accept a trade for a player (Bogut) who is injury prone and sidelined until next season; (2) the Warriors playoff history for the past 25 years is dismal (one division title since 1976); and Lacob and his rookie coach, Jackson, publicly and repeatedly promised a return to the postseason. This season. Expectations were unreasonably high, and now, justified or not, this is the payback.

Unfortunately, Mullin, who was clearly disturbed by the developments, deserved better. (And by the way: Mullin's former Dream Team and Indiana Pacers teammate, told me he ranks Mullie among his generation's greatest shooters, right there with Reggie Miller, Petrovic and Bird himself, of course).

A few other thoughts, observations, etc.:

* Kings coach Keith Smart, the former Warriors assistant and head coach (one season, Nelson's successor) who was inherited and released by Lacob, decided not to attend the festivities. Probably a wise move. Plus, his new team visits his old team Saturday.

* Momentum seems to be gathering for Nelson in his latest nomination for the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. Before the game - a dreadul affair won by the slumping Minnesota Timberwolves - his prospects were a major topic of conversation among the gathering of players, announcers, assorted others at courtside. His credentials include five NBA titles as a player with the Boston Celtics, his World Championship (1994) gold medal as head coach of Team USA, his record as the all-time leader in NBA coaching victories, and, of course, his tendency to tick off many of his colleagues ....
He desperately wants to get into the Hall of Fame, though, and he seemed more interested in chatting about Mullin, Run TMC, and the fact he is receiving his B.A. from the University of Iowa. He said he finished his course work - including eight credits in Spanish - while originally coaching the Warriors, but messed up on the math. After recently learning he had completed the language recruitments, he requested and was granted a pass on the teaching course work for the degree in P.E. because of his 34 years in coaching. He plans to walk down the aisle during graduation ceremonies in Iowa City in May, at age 72. Never too old to learn, right?

* Marciulionis, who was instrumental in the Sacramento Kings' first postseason appearance, flashed a new wedding ring. "I got married last week," said the man known as "Rooney," while grinning and holding up his left hand. He remains involved with his basketball/academic academy in Vilnius, Lithuania, and splits time between his homeland and San Diego. Mullin, he noted, was particularly supportive during his early years in the league.
Also, as a member of the original Dream Team in Barcelona in 1992, Mullin was delighted when Lithuania - in its first Olympics since the breakup of the Soviet Union - captured the bronze medal in an emotionally wrenching, last seconds victory over Russia's new team. (Old friend Volkov was in the opposing lineup, in fact). Those of us who were in the arena that night, crowded in the narrow hallway outside the locker room, vividly recall the sounds of robust cheering and chanting, and moments later, the faces of the tear-streaked Lithuanians as they greeted members of the media. Hall of Fame center Arvydas Sabonis openly sobbled as he attempted to express his emotions in his limited English. To many of us, that was a defining moment of those Games.

* As for the tension between Nelson and Mullin ... Nellie stood and immediately moved to embrace his former player (and, later, the GM who lured him out of retirement) at the press gathering. The relationship between the two may still be strained, but there appears to be some thawing. In contrast to his speech during his enshrinement last summer at the Hall of Fame, Mullin repeatedly and emphatically praised Nelson during his formal and informal chats with media members.

* Thurmond, who had trouble sitting in one of the small, plastic chairs during the pre-game press gathering for Mullin, was among those notably disappointed by the reaction to Lacob. Even Jackson, a native New Yorker and boyhood friend of Mullin, aggressively took up for his owner, but seemed to have a hard time minimizing the jeering and booing.

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