Should SF Believe the Warriors?

The Golden State Warriors’ public relations game plan to win quick approval of their proposed basketball arena along the San Francisco waterfront has been masterful so far, but team management may have just made its first mistake: misleading sportswriters, fans and potential season ticket holders about the status of center, Andrew Bogut’s broken ankle.

What does the health of one 7-foot-tall basketball player have to do with a billion dollar project at the foot of the Bay Bridge? Potentially a lot, because if as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle last week, the Warriors have been less than truthful about Bogut’s status, then they’ve put their credibility at risk.

The Warriors, led by owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber are asking San Franciscans, city leaders, planning commissioners and environmentalists to believe that the team can build a 17,500-seat, 135 foot tall arena (that’s the equivalent of an 10 to 13 story building) on Piers 30-32 without blocking views from the waterfront, without creating traffic gridlock along the Embarcadero and without harming the environmentally sensitive San Francisco Bay. And the Warriors promise they can do all that using local union workers. Lots of jobs they say, and they wouldn’t use any public money.

Can they deliver on all those promises? Perhaps they can. Both Lacob, a venture capitalist and Guber, a film producer and CEO of Mandalay Enterntainment have money galore and long track records of success. But the Andrew Bogut situation raises questions about how forthright Warriors’ management has been.

Here’s the background: earlier this year, when the Warriors traded their fan favorite, Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks for Bogut, the Warriors knew many would question why they dealt a potential All-Star in exchange for a center with a broken ankle.

At the time, the Warriors told sportswriters and fans there was a chance Bogut would be recovered and ready to play by the end of last season. He wasn’t. Then team officials suggested he’d be ready for this season’s training camp. He wasn’t. Then the team said Bogut might play (at least part time) at the start of the season. He tried, but not without pain. More recently, after taking additional time off to rehabilitate his ankle, the Warriors said that Bogut would return to play in seven to ten days. That hasn’t happened either. Bogut still isn’t playing and may not for quite some time.

Perhaps the Warriors were just overly optimistic. Many sports teams are guilty of hoping and planning for unrealistically quick recoveries. Also, returns from injuries often take longer than anticipated, because recovery times are not uniform. All of that seems innocent enough. But what’s caused many sportswriters to doubt the Warriors’ sincerity was the team’s explanation for follow-up surgery Bogut had in April.

At the time, the team characterized it as minor arthroscopic surgery designed to clean up loose particles in his ankle. Bogut and his agent signed off on that story, but this week, Bogut revealed it wasn’t true. The procedure was actually a much more serious microfracture surgery, which requires a much longer recovery time.

Did the Warriors knowingly promise something they knew they could not deliver: a healthy Bogut to start this year’s season? Has the team been painting an overly rosy picture to justify the controversial Monta Ellis trade? Were they afraid that if they told everyone how serious Bogut’s subsequent surgery really was, that it might jeopardize season-ticket sales? The bottom line: their explanation doesn’t matter. Rightly or wrongly, their credibility has taken an untimely hit.

At a moment the Warriors are trying to convince San Francisco city leaders to trust them to do the right thing with prized waterfront property, some are questioning the Warriors trustworthiness.

Public Relations 101: to convince people to trust you, be transparent and tell the truth. Are the Warriors being fully forthright and transparent about any potential problems they might encounter in building their arena? So far, there is nothing to suggest they haven’t been. But if the Warriors continue to be evasive about the true status of their star players, San Francisco city leaders might wonder if they are getting the full truth about the team’s ability to build a waterfront arena, without blocking waterfront views and without using any public money.