Golden State Warriors Fans in Good Hands :: Fly On The Wall: At the Media Luncheon with Owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber

I had the fortunate circumstance to attend the Warriors Media Luncheon yesterday at The Epic Roasthouse on The Embarcadero, hosted by new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. I came away with the impression that Warriors fans were lucky -- really lucky -- that Chris Cohan said no to Larry Ellison and picked these guys. And you're gonna love Guber and his forthcoming "idears". Here's my report (read: excessively long, full dissection, "soup to nuts"). There are also links to the major beatwriters' articles on Lacob/Gruber at the end of this. And I will answer any questions you might have in the comments, as best as I can.

But before I give you my fly-on-the-wall-ish rendition, there's no reason to wait until Thanksgiving to give thanks. For me to be invited by the Warriors to attend this schindig ranks right up there with attending the NBA Draft, Summer League, and Warriors Media Day. Thank you to GSoM founders Fantasy Junkie and Atma Brother ONE. Thank you to SB Nation. Thank you to Dan Martinez and Raymond Ridder of the Warriors. Thank you to Sheed of WarriorsWorld for keeping me company. Thank you to ShamSports for making me feel like it's okay to post excessively long posts. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

What made this event kind of ironic for me was that in my previous career working for the venture capital ("VC") business development team at PricewaterhouseCoopers, I got to attend a great many dinners, luncheons, dot-com launch parties and even VC firm launch parties back in the day. This totally reminded me of those days, starting with the free valet parking on The Embarcadero.

The Mingle

Stepping into the The Epic's foyer, I was greeted with a familiar face: Ben Chen of the Warriors PR team (his sister used to work for me), again dressed professionally in formal business attire, who handed me another cool blue Warriors-logo'ed folder to add to my new collection. Inside was the press release and a bio of Joe Lacob, Peter Guber, the other four ownership board members, and a list of other major investors. He also gave me a name plate with a table number in that familiar Copperplate font, as well as my name in some nice calligraphy font. Bottom line: classy, just like how Silicon Valley VCs and entrepreneurs like to do it.

As I chatted things up with Sheed, it being a press luncheon, of course, I saw all of the familiar Warriors TV and media faces: Bob FitzgeraldRic BucherTim KawakamiMatt SteinmetzMarcus Thompson, Tim Roye, Raj Mathai, Monte Poole, Vernon Glenn just to name a few. I also spotted Garry St. Jean and Jim Barnett in a lively discussion about something basketball-related. I couldn't quite hear from where I was standing.

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(photo taken by me, Poor Man's Commish)

When I watched the Comcast segment on this, I noticed that the younger spittin' image of Lacob had to be his son, Kirk Lacob. Let me get this one off the proverbial plate early: business owners hiring their sons happens all... the... time. If owned your own business, you would too. Also, Kirk is right now at the lowest rung of the GM ladder within the Warriors. You or I would be at this rung too. That's the statistical modeling, the number crunching, the grunt work.

Just like when your friend says he works at Kleiner Perkins. Well, he's not a General Partner, right? Then he is the whipping boy of them. He, like the average working class, answers to The Man. He has no decision-making power. This is him getting his feet wet, paying his dues in what will inevitably be a lifelong career in the NBA. Good for him. Too bad for you. It is a non-issue. If Lacob were not to announce it and someone found out, then it would be worse. And I'm sure when Lacob asked Guber and the other investors if they wouldn't mind having his son take a position in the franchise, they all said, "Hey, it's your franchise." Moving on...

Not long thereafter, everyone was encouraged to head downstairs to the restaurant. Everyone was individually seated. I found myself sitting across from Kevin Radich of KGO. To my right were Sheed and Adam Lauridsen. To my left were Steve Bitker and Hal Remy of KCBS.

My jaw almost dropped, as I was finally putting some extremely familiar voices with brand new faces. As Bitker called it, I had a moment of "the magic of radio". You see, back when I was a teenager I was always blasting hip hop or rap. But not in my mom's car; the radio was off-limits. Instead, she had on KCBS. It wasn't even adult contemporary! We're talking talk radio. Not even stereo. AM radio with the "MONO" indicator on!

Well, flash forward to my late twenties in the dot-com era when it was all about stock prices, sports scores, and avoiding traffic driving to and from the 9-to-5. Thanks to my mom, KCBS became a staple, especially since I had mellowed down from my "need-to-feel-the-beat" years. Anyways...

Bob Fitzgerald got on the mic, welcomed everyone, and introduced the chef. The food at The Epic was delicious, and maybe I agree with Thompson that the gumbo wasn't as great as advertised, but who am I to judge?

Over the next 45 minutes or so, we ate at our tables and chatted. I found out that Radich had covered the Jailblazer era of the Portland Trailblazers as well as the "Queens" era of the Sacramento Kings when they came oh so close to a championship (hey, it was the New Jersey Nets representing the East, remember?), only to be thwarted by the Shaq-Kobe Los Angeles Lakers.

The talk with Bitker, Remy, and Radich ranged from John Madden, to Joe Barry Carroll's locker being ripped out courtesy of a pissed-off George Karl knowing that a menacingly grinning Don Nelson outside was about to take his job, to the Jailblazers being stranded on the tarmac while private jet No. 1 was being serviced for a malfunction and jet No. 2 was being used to transport forty of Paul Allen's friends to a party, to Doug Christie's wife staying on hold on the cellphone while Christie took a few minutes to shower ("I'll be right back, honey"), to speculation that Latrell Sprewell's superhuman athleticism overcame the adverse affects of weed while the same could not be said of his smoking buddy Joe Smith.

The Chat (Lacob)

Alas, Fitz took the mic again and introduced Lacob and Gruber. Here was the opening statement...


You can see that Lacob is extremely articulate, straightforward, and speaks from his heart. He's obviously very level-headed, open, and humble while remaining confident. He thinks before he speaks. You find these traits a lot in the Silicon Valley venture world, especially with the top-tier firms like "KP".

He also still plays pickup, although he said that he is just a three-point shooter now (me too, haha!). If you know me, you know that I am a firm believer that basketball is basketball. The drama, roster issues, player egos, and maturity that happen in the NBA also happen in adult rec leagues. You can learn a lot from being passionately involved in most adult hoops team frameworks. That being said, I wonder to what extent does Lacob have such experience? Notice, I said rec league, not pickup ball. There are huge differences between the two. The structure and dynamic of having formalities such as referees, scheduling disputes, padding stats, and crunch time with the shot- or game-clock winding down cannot be overstated.

Lacob would later say that he approved the David Lee trade and that Lee fits perfectly into the type of player that he wants, not only on the court but off it, too. There was talk about a culture change, a change of philosophy. My conclusion is that Warriors fans should get the strong sense that we will never, ever have a Jailblazers situation here in the Bay, and that the types of players we get can be expected to conduct themselves in the same professional manner a la David Lee, or Lacob, or Guber. Whether or not that translates to obtaining a superstar player such as Kevin Garnett, which Lacob would later reference a few times, remains to be seen.

Lacob talked about how in basketball, with just twelve players, and again using the Celtics as a benchmark, a team can be steered in the right direction in a relatively short amount of time. I have two problems with that. First of all, without any expertise into baseball or football roster maneuvering, I'm not convinced because I know inherently that building a strong basketball roster is a very difficult thing to do. It is already a difficult thing to do at the rec league level, so it must be exponentially harder at the NBA franchise level.

Maybe Lacob knows something I don't and it is really easier than baseball or football, but basketball's definitely difficult. There is always a variable such as a player's ego or maturity that you thought you had control over, but turns out you didn't. Then you are left with the painful choice of grabbing the bull by its horns or getting rid of it. It can be quite frustrating. Just look at how long and what pains it took the Lakers to re-achieve their championship-caliber status.

The secret sauce is to put your franchise in a position to be able to more easily bounce back from such setbacks. It has to be an unfair, usually hidden-from-plain-view advantage of some sort.

If Lacob recognizes that the Celtics was really a situation in which Boston put itself in a position to have an unfair advantage (you can't tell me Kevin McHale being the GM of the Minnesota Timberwolves and personal friend of Danny Ainge didn't have an iota of something to do with that), rather than a master stroke of genius by Ainge, then Warriors fans can breathe easy. The only problem is, we won't really know until after the fact.

Steinmetz said on the air last night that a KG deal like that comes once in a lifetime, and that's why Steinmetz isn't bought into what Lacob said. I'm not sure I agree with that either, as my sources have told me that the Warriors were closer than you would believe to acquiring KG, which essentially involved Brandan Wright being inexplicably picked instead of someone else. It's hard, but it's not necessarily blind luck as to be "once in a lifetime".

But if Lacob does not "get" that it is all about obtaining that superstar (let's face it, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen ain't nothin' without KG), that it is preparing the franchise to look attractive enough so that a superstar would actually want to come here as a free agent or in a complex trade, then we may be waiting longer for a championship. Alas, at least the intent is there. The open-ness, sanity-checking, checks and balances of the management structure, and genuine commitment to excellence will probably yield a very competitive team for as long as Lacob remains owner.

Guber talks a lot about being lucky. You have to position yourself to be lucky. I sincerely hope Lacob gets what that means, in a basketball context. And don't underestimate the ability to relate to your players.

Dai_medium

Sorry for the blurriness. You can see "GM" Larry Riley right there, too.

The Chat (Guber)

I really like Guber. First of all, he personally introduced himself to every new face in the foyer. Secondly, you can see how a personality like his is tied to success in the film and entertainment industry. He wears his passion on his sleeve. He, like Lacob, thinks in clear, logical steps. A to B, B to C, and therefore D. He exudes excitement while at the same time not patting himself on the back or otherwise reeking with ego. He is very, very positive.

In fact, in that self-effacing-yet-subtle manner that you see a lot with successful business owners, Lacob explained that he and Guber had met about ten years ago in a failed deal. The deal was some kind of sports franchise. Lacob, being a previous part-owner of the Celtics, had been involved in several attempts to buy various franchises, and Guber has had a failed attempt, among others, at buying the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In Silicon Valley VC-speak, having all these failures is actually a plus. That means they are not coming into this wet behind the ears. They've actually already taken their lumps a few times.

Now back in my day I read hundreds of business plans (well, executive summaries) and one of the most important things to list were your Board members. True to the culture, Lacob proudly announced that they had a woman on the Board (Erika Glazer), and three Asian-Americans, one of which is Vivek Ranadive, CEO of TIBCO, and according to Lacob the first Indian-American to own an NBA franchise (the other two Asians are Harry Tsao and Dennis Wong). Ranadive holds the title of Executive Vice Chairman.

Lacob dubbed it a 21st-century model akin to the Boston Celtics' large ownership group. There are 22 or so, or more, investors in the entire group. I looked on the investor list and noticed Chad Hurley, co-founder of YouTube, and Nick Swinmurn, co-founder of Zappos.

Funny how not longer than a decade ago, Zappos was the only portfolio company left amongst Tony Hsieh and Alfred Lin's struggling VentureFrogs firm and restaurant over there next to the AMC Theaters at 1000 Van Ness. I could've never guessed that that dude working his butt off on the mezzanine floor would turn out to be a part-owner of the Warriors!

Lacob mentioned that while there may have been another person in the auction for the Warriors who was worth $28 billion, the collective pocketbooks of all of the new Warriors investors probably exceeds that. In short, the investor group has resources.

After the intro round where Fitz asked the necessary foundational questions, Warriors PR man Dan Martinez went around with a mic for questions from the audience. Ryan Leong of KCBS asked the first question. There weren't that many questions, nor hard-pressed questions, as we all had been buttered up while at the same time, the food portions were light (and curiously family-style), so it wasn't like we were in food coma. There were questions from Poole, Ann Killion of SI, and a few others. Most of the questions are answered in the articles linked at the bottom of this post.

Guber was asked if his location in SoCal would be a detriment to the team. He pointed to his example of the Loews Metreon complex as proof that he can deliver on location-based entertainment when needed. I'm not sure there's an issue there as Lacob is the majority owner and without question a Bay Area guy.

Perhaps the most challenging question came from Lauridsen, who referenced the Cohan era. Lacob said he did not want to dwell on the past and everything was about this point, moving forward. It would only be later that Guber would make his now-famous "cure for Cohan" quip. Other than that, there was absolutely no negative talk of Cohan, again true to Silicon Valley VC form (at least in open doors!).

Lacob stressed that, again as VCs often do when they take over a company, the current mode they're in is "assess". They need to figure out what's working and what's not, both on the court and off. He didn't mention the timeframe, but one has to imagine that there will be enough data to glean by at least the end of this season, if not sooner.

The Split: Lacob

As the talk came to a close, Lacob remained on the mini-stage while Guber sat down on a stool not too far away where the reporters could ask questions one-on-one. I listened in on each, first with Lacob.

The most interesting thing about his one-on-ones was that Kawakami had asked him about the $12 to $14 million in expiring contracts coming up, and Lacob corrected him to say $17-and-a-half million and that he thinks about that everyday. Really cool to see an owner (and not deferring to his GM) having a firm grasp on the roster numbers.

The other good news is that Lacob loves defense and rebounding. He spoke about how the previous roster makeup was run-and-gun, but if you couldn't rebound the ball, who cares? It didn't matter how good the guards were.

He said that he felt Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis represent one of the best backcourts in the NBA. He also felt that the Warriors need to add beef, a la the Celtics frontline, but that there could be a fusion with the Showtime Lakers, in that we would have the guards to run as well as the girth to board.

Then he mentioned that rebounders Ekpe Udoh and Louis Admundson had not even gotten a chance to play with the team yet. So even with the present lineup, he is optimistic.

On the topic of the Warriors logo, Lacob said that the NBA process for changing a logo takes three years. As with all other aspects of the franchise, as necessary they will assess and make decisions as they are brought to the Board.

The Split: Guber

Leaving to go listen in on Guber, you could really see where this was, indeed, an extremely complementary partnership. Guber, with all of his experience building cinemas and making movies, was oozing with passion for his trade. It felt like you could spend a whole day with him telling you stories of what he learned in each of his past business successes and failures.

His approach is very engaging. Along with the raspy Bostonian accent, he'll do a fair amount of hand and arm gesturing, even some finger pointing and poking you just enough to make sure you have his full, undivided attention.

He talked about his concern that young fans aged 7 or 9 would have a hard time coming to a 7:30pm game at Oracle on a Tuesday night. He talked about perhaps having a mascot to re-engage such fans. He talked about how he hated it when someone sang the national anthem and you couldn't hear what he or she was singing. And how he wants to somehow tie in social media, to which Bucher joked that ethernet at an arena was all but an impossibility.

Guber even broached the subject of anime or animation on-screen at the arena. He joked that the dot races were terribly outdated, although Bucher quipped that they were hugely successful. Guber wasn't disagreeing with that, but he was hoping for better ideas and even more engaging experience.

It was clear that Guber was ready to put every ounce of his expertise to work, for the benefit of Warrior fans.

Of course, in the press, he will now be forever tied to his, "We're not the cure for cancer, but we may be the cure for Cohan" quote. Sure, it raises eyebrows and is headline-worthy, but the most oft-repeated words I heard him say were:

  • Location-based entertainment,
  • A need to know the questions before the answers,
  • Attitude along with the aptitude, 
  • Communal aspect,
  • You need to be lucky too and
  • Fun.

Last week my dad, while not surprisingly broaching on the subject of Jeremy Lin, told me about Terry Tai-Ming Guo, the richest man in Taiwan. Well, Guo may be a tycoon, but recently some of his employees jumped off their building to commit suicide. This is a rather extreme example and I'm looking at this from a macro level, but suffice it to say, I have a feeling that Guo and Guber have opposite personalities, especially with Guber's continued repeating of the word "fun".

Reflection

After that, Warriors head of PR Raymond Ridder, scurried Lacob and Guber upstairs for more on-camera interviews and the event was officially over. On my way out, I had one of The Epic's magnificent desserts that I can only describe as something-that-is-not-ice-cream-in-a-mini-waffle-cone, splashed with some chocolate sauce. I almost wanted to take a 2nd one with me, but decided that I might look like a pig in doing so.

As I waited for my car outside, Marcus Thompson sure enough was trying to get rid of his dessert cone, to which Poole and Roye were having none of. I'm not quite sure how he got rid of it. In any case, I chatted up Roye, who had the envious task of being with the Warriors on their recent roadtrip. Surprisingly, Milwaukee was clear and sunny -- much like the day we had at The Epic -- although, it was still Milwaukee. He wasn't all too excited about Memphis, in sort of a been-there-done-that with the BBQ thing.

For me, I was giddy. After all those years of dot-com party-hopping and schmoozing with the VCs, with this new ownership group, I felt like my past life in Silicon Valley had returned to mesh with the new one in basketball. Lacob and Guber seem accessible. The fact that Guber had followed me on Twitter just hours before the luncheon, perhaps at the behest of Martinez, indicated that he was true to his word that he would try to make the Warriors even more social than they already are (with all due credit to Ridder, is that even possible?).

Here are two owners who "get" that an NBA basketball franchise is really about the community. It's the players, the roster moves, the management hirings, the media, the fans, the fan experience, and the continued cultivating of the market. Running a huge recreational basketball league that spans the three areas of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, which Lacob often referenced, I cannot stress how on-point that is: basketball and community are forever intertwined; it's a symbiotic relationship.

It seems to be an open-door policy here with Lacob and Guber. That's good enough for me, to start. I'd rather have that and no cleaning of the house, than a cleaning of the house but the front doors still closed.

I felt really opportunistic and hopeful. I felt like we were lucky. Even though we all know that Ellison has a limitless pocketbook and his devotion to winning the America's Cup clearly shows that he will stop at nothing to win, I think we were fortunate to get Lacob and Guber instead. The way that they are going about this, that is the Bay Area way. From every topic, including the one about whether the Warriors would be eventually moved San Francisco, was addressed in the multi-faceted way we look at things here in the Bay.

Predictions

So, here are my predictions with this ownership group, based on my feel for Lacob and Guber (and I could very well be wrong):

  • Cleaning house will not happen. True to the VC way, people will exit without much fanfare. New hires will be celebrated, but not overly-hyped, because that is no longer necessary. The culture is already changing. To reach their soon-to-be-determined desired level of culture change, need not "rock the boat". This point goes against Kawakami's beliefs that there needs to be a clear and present change from the Cohan era.
  • Riley probably won't be here long-term, especially once Lacob learns the nuances -- if he doesn't already have them from his experience with the Celtics -- of the relationships needed in making deals happen.
  • Lacob still needs to hire a brand-name GM on the level of Jerry West or Donnie Walsh. I just have this feeling that Lacob can see the jungle of the NBA and plan for it, but as far as getting in there with a machete and hacking his way through to the Promised Land, he needs an expert guide (who can find the Tarzans).
  • Keith Smart will definitely be earning his paycheck, but the good news is, his philosophy happens to be in line with Lacob's.
  • The Warriors frontline will get bigger.
  • By next season there will be a Warriors mascot and, with Guber's Cohan quip, it certainly will not be a reincarnation of Thunder.
  • You will probably see some nice Draft-day maneuvering on the (revered) level of Danny Ainge.
  • You might see an All-Star Game back at Oracle sooner rather than later.
  • If there is an NBA lockout, you can rest assured that when play resumes, these owners will do everything in their power to mend the inevitable broken hearts of the fans.
  • The Warriors will continue to be the franchise that leads the NBA in technological and social media advances.
  • Guber will become a regular reader of GSoM. (okay, that's a wish more than a prediction, but I think we're right up his alley)

Links

Here are the links from the luncheon. If there are any I missed, post them in the comments and I will update...

Oh By The Way

Incidentally -- and here is your reward for reading all the way down to here -- my sources (not the same sources as the KG/J-Rich deal) tell me this is how the $450 million broke down. And it is second-hand information, so it could very well be wrong. Note: this information was not available at the luncheon...

  • Lacob: $75 million
  • Guber: $25 million
  • Major investors: $100 million pool
  • Minor investors: $100 million pool
  • $150 million in debt instruments

I will try to answer as many questions from the comments as I can. Thanks.

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