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What To Do?

In response to yesterday's post Kelly e-mailed and asked a good question:  "What would you do if you were the Blazers right now?"  Well, I thought about it for a while and I'll tell you.

First of all I'd admit to myself that the current tack isn't working.  No matter what happens, the Blazers can't win this game.  No matter what happens, the media does.  That will always be the case because of the fundamental difference between the two institutions involved.  

Public conflict hurts the Blazers.  Those who believe what the media says will emerge with a lower opinion of the team.  Those on the fence will be driven away by the conflict itself.  They simply will wash their hands of the entire matter.  Has all of this back-and-forth made even one person say, "Hey!  That donut thing and the letter on the Blazer website were great!  Let us purchase large blocks of season tickets!"?  All that remains is the same core group of fans that supported you in the first place...and they're now talking about negative, peripheral issues instead of spreading enthusiasm for your product.  And with enough sustained conflict even those fans will start to drift away.  Every minute and every ounce of energy the team focuses on answering the media is a minute and ounce that is taken away from focus on the good things.  A team struggling just to get on its feet again and repair its community reputation cannot afford that.

The media, on the other hand, thrives on controversy.  That's what sells.  Every time there's a fracas, every time the Blazers call attention to the matter by responding, John Canzano's website hits go through the roof and papers are sold.  

In the end, it doesn't matter if the Blazers DO make a better argument or win an individual battle (the donuts were a hoax, Zach wasn't the driver, etc.) they still lose the war and the media laughs all the way to the bank.  The Blazers may have the right to defend themselves in these situations, but they're foolish for doing so.  As the classic movie "Wargames" taught us all, sometimes the only winning move is not to play.

So what would I do instead?  There's an offshoot of family systems theory that I've always found helpful when dealing with conflict.  It says basically that a family (or organization, or community) is not just a bunch of individuals connected by lines, it's a living organism.  What one part of the organism does inevitably affects the other parts.  Perpetual conflict usually results from an organism's patterns becoming so ingrained that nobody bothers to examine them, let alone stop them. Instead people just react.  In other words, your wife asks, "Are you going to take out the garbage?" which automatically triggers response 7B in you which automatically triggers response 8D in her and then it's on like Donkey Kong.

When this occurs the instinct is to correct the problem by pointing the finger at the other person's behavior:  

"Why do you keep nagging me about the garbage?"  
"Well why don't you ever just take it out without being asked?!?"  

This approach never works because you can't control other people's behavior, only your own.  As long as you keep waiting for the other person to modify their behavior--and as long as you keep responding with your same old patterns when they don't--nothing will ever change.  Your behaviors reinforce each other and the system remains in a rut.  However, when YOU change your patterns, regardless of whether the other person does immediately or not, you will find that  slowly but surely their patterns and the direction of the overall organism will change too.

So if I were the Blazers, I would dramatically, firmly, and publicly change my behavior.  The very first thing I'd do is find a microphone in a public place somewhere and say to the world, "We're sorry.  We realize that the conduct of some of our players has been questionable in the past, and we apologize.  We can't say it will never happen again because it's impossible to predict people's actions and we want to do everything we can to give the benefit of the doubt to people in our organization and community, just as we'd hope others would give it to us.  But we do not support or approve of questionable behavior and we never will, even though we have to deal with it sometimes.  Moreover, it's no secret that we've struggled to find our way as an organization in the last few years.  Sometimes when dealing with our frustrations we have not shown the best side of ourselves to the world.  Nobody is perfect, and we regret those things also.  We really do feel like the team is making strides forward and we want to focus on that and our core of young players who are more than worthy of your time and attention.  We believe in this team and in these people, and we hope over time you will come to believe in us also."

After that, I would hush up and do my job.  I would not respond to anything anybody said in the press even if I thought it was a smear.  I would never speak of their behavior, I would only demonstrate mine.  I would also make it as easy as possible for the press to do their job.  At some point I would call John, Jason, Dwight, Kerry, Ian, or whoever, sit them down in a room, and say, " know there are some things I can't answer, but what do you want to know?  I'm an open book."  If I had a piece of information that I knew they'd like to publish I would feed it to them personally.  I would make sure the press got the impression that I viewed them as partners more than adversaries.  And I would stick to my guns with this pattern no matter what.  Nothing that they said or wrote would make me become less accessible, accommodating, or polite to them.  

In addition I would throw my fan relations machine into overdrive.  I would make sure the best, brightest, and most enthusiastic people were staffing that department.  I would bring out every trick--every gracious move in my arsenal--to make sure that within three years when people heard the name "Trailblazers" they'd associate it with giving, caring, contributing.  I'd be looking way outside the box for ways to accomplish this.

If after all this the media onslaught did continue I would trust the rest of the community to discern and respond.  If there's one thing that blogs like this show in spades, it's that fans are not dumb sheep and should not be underestimated.  I would bank on that fan base and its willingness to find ways to love the team.  

I would be willing to wager that if the Blazers made this commitment and stuck to it, the war would end relatively soon. It would be nice to get the chance to find out.

--Dave (