During the first round of the playoffs Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob ran the sidelines in a yellow T-shirt with the words "LOUD. PROUD. WARRIORS" on the front.
On Tuesday he turned the volume up on the personal pride he takes in owning the team and fired Mark Jackson, the man who was able to do something for his franchise that hadn't been done in more than 20 years. Something that made the then-asinine $450 million he spent to purchase the Warriors in 2010 make sense. Jackson took the Warriors to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons.
That's why, unlike the typical "seen-it-coming" firings that happen to coaches once the team's season ends, the exit of Jackson comes with questions and concerns that may never be answered or understood.
Little insight came from the words Jackson tweeted hours after his firing: "Thanks to the Warriors organization for the opportunity u gave me. Thanks to DubNation for all your Support!! Thanks to my Players! I Love U! We accomplished A lot together! I wish u all Nothing but the Best!! God Bless."
Read deeper into the words he chose and you can find the hand of God wrapped around it.
"From a personal standpoint -- having been in the venture-capital industry for 30 years and 70 companies that built and grew -- it is very rare to ever see one CEO be the CEO from the startup all the way to the equivalent of winning a championship," are the words Lacob chose to use in an interview explaining the firing.
"I do think there is this concept, which I happen to subscribe to, that there is the right CEO, the right leader for an organization at different phases or stages of its growth cycle. You could conclude that maybe Mark was the perfect coach at the time, three years ago, because he actually was a good choice. Mark Jackson came in here and changed the culture of the basketball team. Mark Jackson came in here and had a tough first year and turned it around on the court. He did that. He gets kudos for that. He gets credit for that. You cannot take that away from him. Even in this playoff series, I would say that he was not outcoached. ...
"You have to understand that going forward, there may be a different task or a different goal than there was in the last three years. I know that's a hard concept for people to understand in sports, but there is an element of that weighs on my thinking: There's a right coach for the right time and the right situation. I think it's our feeling, at this point and time, that he's probably not the right coach for us, going forward -- given all of the circumstances."
Read deeper into those words he chose and you can find the hands of Gordon Gekko all over it.
Jackson didn't get the VIP coaches package when he signed on three years ago. Lacob & Co. probably didn't even have one at the time.
It started out so pretty, when it seemed everyone was on the same page. During last season's playoffs, it was beautiful when the mikes caught Jackson telling his players during a timeout, "I love you."
But once the contract extension didn't happen for Jackson, his faith in the owners walked out of the room and left the door open for any and all "evil" to come in and have way.
The relationship no longer warm and fuzzy. Everything said and done was taken, analyzed and interpreted (or misinterpreted) to the next level.
When Jason Collins came out and Jackson felt one way about homosexuality and the execs felt another, it was reportedly held against Jackson. Losses at home began to get dissected differently. The fact Jackson was a pastor suddenly became somewhat inconvenient to the Warriors' basketball culture. Unnamed sources came out in reports on an almost weekly basis finding fault with everything from Jackson citing Bible verses in the locker room to him being insubordinate and not, as he himself said, "managing up."
"I wake up absolutely relieved," Jackson said on San Francisco radio 95.7 The Game, the day after his firing became official. "Because there are no more unnamed sources that can affect me. I don't have to answer the question that others won't answer. I can speak clearly about who I am and how I can conduct myself. It is unfortunate because everything the unnamed source said -- that I was done if I did not get out of the first round, that there was friction, that there was this and there was that -- and there claimed to be no unnamed sources. Well, it's come out true."
Although many sources of the various rumors were left unnamed, in February, Lacob indicated there were problems. Lacob told the San Jose Mercury News that some of the play of the team this season was "a little disturbing" and solidifies that the new breed of ownership in the NBA is more "new boys club" than old. So when Jackson decided to remain living in Southern California and not move to the Bay Area, it was reported (again by an unnamed source) that decision, too, did not sit kindly with the brass. Jackson showed signs of feeling persecuted.
An "us against the world" chip apparently stayed on Jackson's shoulder. The "us" was his players and the few members of his coaching staff he felt he could trust; the "them" was everyone else. And this happens sometimes inside of teams that are serious about trying to win championships. But only the owners who truly believe that the coach in place is a VIP and has a legitimate shot at one championship or multiple championships are the ones able to ignore attempts to make insignificant things fireable offenses. Once the faith is gone, owners will use such things as evidence to build a case against a coach who they no longer like.
There have been plenty of contentious front office/coach relationships that continued because the coach brought in titles.
The Chicago Bulls won six rings with Jerry Krause (the then GM) and Phil Jackson feeling about one another the way Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali felt about each other after their final fight. But Phil was so "special" at what he did, ownership "tolerated" the riffs in the relationship. Jackson also stayed with the Lakers despite often tweaking the owner's son Jimmy and then dating daughter Jeannie, which had to be awkward.
(Do we even need to go to the Yankees' Steinbrenner/Martin relationship?)
More recently, it is open NBA knowledge that the current Bulls ownership/management and coach Tom Thibodeau love each other like NeNe Leakes and Kenya Moore. The people in the exec suites, however, know that Thibs is the guy who will eventually get them that ring. They believe in him, regardless of how they feel about him.
At some point the Warriors' owners stopped believing in Jackson. Not as a coach, but as a coach who could win them a championship. And once that happened, Jackson lost all faith in them as owners. And once belief and faith stop coexisting, change usually is soon to follow. Which makes this firing a simple case of two parties no longer liking, tolerating, respecting and trusting one another anymore. Too many things had happened over the three-year period that Jackson was there. Too many things that cut wrong both ways. There's only so many times a winning coach is going to turn the other cheek when he isn't offered a contract extension. There's only so many times an ownership group is going look the other way when that coach releases one of "their guys" from his coaching staff.
When one of the team executives is openly gay and the coach is open about not necessarily being in support of homosexuality there's going to be problems. When an assistant coach is allegedly caught for secretly recording coaches meetings and supposedly turned those recordings over to ownership there's going to be problems. And Mark Jackson clearly thought those problems might be affecting the team. In the middle of a huddle in the fourth quarter of a Game 7 he asked his players: "You think you all are playing for me?" No, he reminded them, you are playing for yourselves.
But if a coach feels he has to address his coaching fate at that moment, it's become a problem. One the ownership decided to address.
What this boils down to is a difference. A difference in who Mark Jackson is and who the Warriors' owners wish he'd be. A difference in who has the power to do what.
They say in the winning business of pro sports (and on some levels amateur sports) that performance should always be the gauge for job security. Personal feelings have no place when it comes to situations like this. We still tell ourselves those lies.
This happens to be one of those situations where a relationship had simply run its course. For reasons that could have been dealt with, excused or looked past, but weren't.
In a "for better or for worse" arrangement, worse won out.
Unfortunately that is the power of ownership in professional sports. Where insecurities, arrogance and ego often override winning. When outside factors are held against coaches. Maybe when they hold the news conference to introduce the Warriors' next coach, Lacob should wear a T-shirt that reads: LOUD. PROUD. WARRIORS. MINE.