Warriors owners eye elite status for club
SAN FRANCISCO -- Joe Lacob looked up at the soaring Bay Bridge above his head, soaking in both the man-made marvel and the flawless weather greeting his first workday in the job he has coveted since he was 5 years old.
"Dawning of a new day," Lacob said.
The Golden State Warriors' beleaguered fans sure hope so.
When Golden State's ambitious new owners formally introduced themselves to the Bay Area on Monday, Lacob and Peter Guber promptly declared their intention to raise this long-struggling club to a place among the nation's elite sports franchises.
It's a bold stance to take with a club that's made just one playoff appearance in the past 16 years, yet Lacob and Guber believe their extensive success in business and entertainment can change the fortunes of a franchise that languished under the much-criticized ownership of Chris Cohan.
"I want to make this fun," Guber said. "This isn't the cure for cancer. Maybe the cure for Cohan, but it isn't the cure for cancer."
Lacob claims he has dreamed of owning -- not playing for -- a team since his early childhood, and he intends to embrace it.
"It's a great personal achievement to get your hands on a franchise like this and do something positive with it," said Lacob, a venture capitalist from Menlo Park. "I'm clearly going to be very involved. This isn't the kind of ownership that's going to come in once a month and not be involved."
The group headed by Lacob and Guber formally took control of the franchise Friday when the league's board of governors approved their $450 million purchase, a record for an NBA team. Yet Lacob and Guber believe the price was easily justified by the Warriors' assets -- including the fans of the basketball-crazy Bay Area, where the Warriors are the only hoops show in town.
The group also includes Vivek Ranadive, a Silicon Valley innovator who is believed to be the NBA's first Indian-American owner, and real estate mogul Erika Glazer.
"My strategy is to leave it better than I found it," said Guber, a veteran movie producer and former studio chief at Columbia and Sony. "I've been given a unique opportunity, and I'm going to take advantage of it."
Lacob and Guber say they complement each other well, which isn't tough to understand after listening to their opinions on the Warriors and the wider sports world.
Guber describes his lengthy history and portfolio in sports ownership -- including several minor league baseball teams, a minor league hockey team in Las Vegas and failed bids for the Oakland Athletics and Miami Heat -- as the pursuit of "assets." He also speaks of "fan acquisition," new media ventures and "reaching fans with different products."
Although Lacob made his fortune building and selling businesses at Kleiner Perkins, basketball clearly hits him on a more visceral level. He still plays in a pickup game twice a week, and he bought a piece of the Boston Celtics in 2006 to learn the business while waiting for his chance to control a franchise.
Lacob's son, Kirk, will become the Warriors' director of basketball operations but won't have authority over general manager Larry Riley in the new power structure. In fact, Joe Lacob praised Riley for drafting Stephen Curry and trading for David Lee, describing the former All-Star forward as "our kind of player."
Lacob and Guber said they'll take their time evaluating the franchise's structure before making changes, yet Lacob already engineered a major change by getting rid of coach Don Nelson, the NBA's career victories leader, shortly before training camp began. Lacob said the move "had to happen."
And Lacob has nothing but praise for replacement Keith Smart, who got the Warriors off to a 6-4 start heading into Monday night's game against the Detroit Pistons.
"It's already happened," Lacob said. "New ownership, new coach, just the whole philosophy here is clearly different. These guys have already bought in. I didn't do this. They did. ... We're lucky. Something very special happened here already. I'm really looking forward to the rest of the year here to see how good we can be."
The owners' decision to introduce themselves at a San Francisco restaurant will rekindle suspicions that the Warriors have designs on moving from Oakland's somewhat nondescript, freeway-adjacent Oracle Arena to a new building in The City, its home from 1962 through '71.
Lacob and Guber understand the speculation -- and they didn't exactly quiet it, with Lacob noting their lease on Oracle expires in seven years.
"Is there a day in the future when the team could wind up being in San Francisco? It's possible," Lacob said. "Like any good businesspeople, we're going to evaluate our opportunities. If it's a better thing to move to San Francisco, we would consider it. ... We are very well aware that our primary fan base is in Oakland today. We're conscious of that. We're aware of that. We love it there. Let's not confuse the issue, but we would have to consider our options."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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