Contrary to what “prevailing wisdom” said would happen, Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle Corporation, did not win his bid to buy the Golden State Warriors. Joseph Lacob, managing partner of the Menlo Park-based venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Peter Guber, movie mogul owner of Mandalay Entertainment, made a big splash both in dollars and press to steal the spotlight. Let’s hope it’s a lot more entertaining show than that produced by longtime owner Chris Cohan.
Many Bay Area media types (and others) were disappointed that Ellison, an internationally famous yachting enthusiast, was not successful. They believed that the flamboyant billionaire would give a new life to the franchise after the inept and essentially invisible Cohan. Famous (or infamous) for pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into winning the America’s Cup, which is all about rich kids having the biggest and best toys, it was felt that Ellison would spare no expense in making the Warriors another prized trophy on his sporting shelf. According to SB Nation, Ellison claimed he put in the highest bid, but the firm Cohan hired to conduct an auction, Galatioto Sports, asserted that Ellison’s bid “came in too late”.
So why would Cohan deny the Bay Area fans such a dynamic owner? Given the years of effort and anticipation, with Ellison often conspicuously appearing at Warrior’s games and tacitly stating how much better he would run the Warriors than the incumbent, it is perhaps not surprising that the curmudgeonly Cohan ran up the price using Ellison’s enthusiasm, then waved his middle finger in the face of the sixth richest man in the world by accepting the lower bid.
Some sports scribes felt Ellison might be an owner along the lines of Mark Cuban, majority owner of the Dallas franchise. Personally, I believe that enthusiastic is not always rational, and outside of Dallas, Cuban is seen more as a runaway bull than as a Maverick. Anyhow, the Warrior’s have already “done” flamboyant in the persona of Franklin Mieuli, the beloved but eccentric owner from 1962 to 1986. Although the franchise won the National Basketball Association (NBA) Championship in 1975 and was usually competitive, the team was primarily known for its wild promotions and a fast-paced, exciting brand of basketball that produced a lot more rabid fans than championship teams.
Given both the backgrounds and apparent personalities of the two new majority owners, the management of the Warriors might be more low-key than that under Mieuli, but certainly more involved and dedicated to winning than under Cohan. While Oracle is extremely successful, it is not show biz, and Lacob and Guber know a lot about promoting entertainment.
As a mover and shaker in many successful startup companies, Joseph Lacob certainly knows the business side of ownership. Lacob holds an M.B.A. from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, and is strongly involved in the local community. Moreover, Lacob also owns a partial stake in the Boston Celtics (which he must now sell) and is a long-time Warriors season-ticket holder. According to Peter Guber, “he’s a lifelong Warriors fan.”
“I feel like I understand basketball. It’s a tremendous passion of mine,” Lacob said. “I tried to bring that to the Celtics. I was in the draft war room each year, and I’d like to think I had something to do with some of the big, bold moves that we made at the right time to get that thing turned around.” The Celtics were 57-107 in the two seasons before Lacob bought part of the team in 2006. In 2008, the team won the NBA championship.
Peter Guber is also pretty successful in the business and entertainment world. The Sony Pictures chief from 1989-95, Guber produced such films as “The Color Purple,” “Rain Man,” and the “Batman” string of hits. Guber has also been involved in minor league sports ownership since the 1990s, owning pieces of the Class-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes baseball team and the Las Vegas Thunder hockey team, among others. A long-time Lakers fan, Guber attempted to join Frank McCourt in the Dodgers’ purchase in 2004 and was also interested in buying the Kings from Bruce McNall and the Ducks from Disney.
“The strategy in the entertainment business and the sports business is to win and put [fans] in the seats, and I’ve done it in both,” Guber said. “I believe we’ll tap into this powerful Pacific Rim marketplace in the Bay Area, which has all the earmarks to be tremendously successful, and bring a winning attitude to this loyal fan base. We’ll be doing what we should to fulfill what the promise is.”
While the future is hard to predict, the past histories of Lacob and Guber should give a lot of hope to Warriors fans. They are both smart, successful businessmen, and dedicated sports fans. They know entertainment, and they both seek to bring high-production values to every enterprise they touch. Bay Area basketball fans can only hope they bring the same golden touch to the Golden State.