As with everything else in San Francisco these days, this is a story that begins with the seemingly untenable pipe dream of a venture capitalist.
Five years ago, after purchasing (along with Hollywood power-player Peter Guber) a largely moribund basketball franchise for a record amount of money, Joe Lacob stood up and declared that the Golden State Warriors would contend for an NBA championship within five years.
“I’m either good or very lucky,” he told The San Francisco Examiner recently. “Or maybe both.”
What’s happening in Oakland right now might as well be a metaphor for the Bay Area in this gilded epoch: The Warriors have become the best team in the NBA, a trendy franchise with a glitzy appeal that feels youthful and prosperous and potentially revolutionary.
They are one win away from the NBA finals, where they have not been since the 1974-75 season. They appear to be in the midst of what might become a dynastic run of success. They are a vibrant and inventive organization that’s worked against convention time and again. They’ve gambled on personnel (including a skinny and undersized guard named Steph Curry) and embraced progressivity, and Lacob and his underlings have taken skillful and intelligent risks.
It was only about three years ago that Lacob was so thoroughly booed at the jersey retirement for Warriors forward Chris Mullin that Mullin himself had to step in, along with Rick Barry, and assure the crowd that things would indeed get better.
Lacob had just traded away Monta Ellis for an injured center named Andrew Bogut. A fan base that had long suffered the indignities of a poorly run franchise with no real identity seemed on the verge of outright mutiny.
At the time, redemption — for both Lacob and the Warriors — seemed a long way away.
But then Lacob began hiring the people he wanted. This is something he’s done time and again in 30 years as a venture capitalist, over the course of founding roughly 70 companies. All he sought, Lacob said, were the right people to make decisions.
He brought in Bob Myers, a lawyer by training and a sports agent for more than a decade, as his general manager, and Myers was recently named the NBA’s Executive of the Year. He hired Jerry West, a man who has literally held every position imaginable in basketball, as an adviser, and Lacob and Myers consult West nearly every day. Lacob hired Rick Welts, the first openly gay executive in sports, to be the team’s president, to reach out to a community brimming with both energy and untold wealth. Lacob sought out intelligence and versatility and cultivated a manic energy, and despite Mark Jackson’s relative success as head coach, Lacob took another chance by firing Jackson after last season and bringing in Steve Kerr, a man who had never coached in the NBA until now.
“We have a small crew, but they’re really good,” Lacob said. “It’s not just one thing, it’s everything. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s some pretty intense people around here. Bob’s intense, Peter’s intense, I’m intense. We’re on all the time. We’re always thinking about the next move.
“You have to as a great organization—you have to think about what you’re going to do next. We’re already thinking about this summer, we’re thinking about next year, and I don’t mean just basketball roster, I mean everything. We’re building an arena, we’re doing a lot of different things. We have kind of a 10-year plan for this organization to become the greatest organization in sports and stay there.”
This includes all of the little things: In 2001, Lacob and his partners bought an NBA D-League team in North Dakota, moved it to Santa Cruz, built an arena and won a championship this past season. The idea, Lacob said, was to develop young talent, especially in management, building the organization from the lowest levels upward.
“That’s a bigger example of what we do than almost anything,” Lacob said of the Santa Cruz venture.
There are challenges ahead — in the impending move to San Francisco (which already faces opposition from the community and might need to go to the ballot for various approvals), in balancing out the salary cap, in re-signing key cogs like Draymond Green during the offseason. And, of course, there is the challenge of finishing off a championship run over the next few weeks.
But these are heady days for a franchise that appeared to be sinking under its own weight only a few years ago. There are a number of fundamental tenets that Lacob and the people under him discuss with each other — methods of improving and sustaining an organization that has suddenly become the exemplar in professional sports.
But there is no written mission statement that encapsulates these tenets, Lacob said, because there doesn’t have to be.
“You don’t need to write it down,” he says, “if you talk about it every day.”Bay Area NewsGolden State WarriorsJoe Lacob
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