NOTE: Starting today, I am going to be writing a weekly Sunday column profiling various people around the NBA. It'll be called Sunday Reads: NBA Profiles.
What is PASSION? What is it to find something that fulfills you? Something that entangles your brain in such a way that you are pleasured by the act of untangling the problem. For each day can be a problem. The act of waking and dressing and walking out your door, unsure of what the world holds for you. Unsure of the day's unfolding events.
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Vivek is a popular name in South Asia, particularly in India and Nepal.
The most basic meaning means "wisdom" or "knowledge."
The popular narrative for Vivek Ranadive goes something like this: A young Indian child from Bombay, now Mumbai, sees a documentary about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and decides that it is the place for him. He applies and is accepted, age sixteen. He badgers the Indian government, setting up camp outside the Reserve Bank of India until somehow, through sheer force of will, is granted the required tuition money upon which time he sets sail for Boston with no more than $100 in his pocket. Once there, he tears through his classwork, earning both his undergraduate and Masters degree from MIT, as well as his MBA from Harvard. In 1986, age 30, he founds Teknekron Software Systems, and creates "real-time" computational software that revolutionizes Wall Street--leading to the eventual digitization of all trading. Eleven years later, he crosses over into the sports world, teaming with CBS Sportline to apply his software to such firms as the NFL and the NBA. When he finally sells his company, in 2014 to, I assume, fully concentrate on his ownership interests in the NBA, the company he has built is worth $4.3 Billion.
There is a new trend in NBA owners. No longer are you seeing old-school Real Estate Barons, Slumlords, Cruise Line Operators, or even Rich Kids whose parents Gifted Them Everything. No, the NBA's newest owners for the most part share a common thread: They are all brilliant, forward thinking entrepreneurs. They are investment bankers and technological pioneers. They are men who have conquered business foes. Men for whom failure is not an option. If tearing down a team and building from scratch makes the most financial sense--seems to provide the greatest likelihood of success--well, then, these men have the gumption to tear the damn team apart.
Joe Lacob is such a man. And so is his former partner, Vivek Ranadive.
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Vivek famously coached his daughter's youth basketball team. The whole episode was chronicled by Malcolm Gladwell in the beautiful piece How David Beats Goliath. Their team had neither the tallest girls, nor the most skilled basketball players, so Vivek implemented critcial, outside the box type entrepreneurial thinking to the situation and came across a simple answer. His team would live and die with the full-court press. They would OUTWORK the other team. Get under their skin. His daughter's team went all the way to the state championship.
When Ranadive bought the Sacramento Kings, staving off a push from Seattle-based investors who wanted to relocate the team to the Northwest, he brought with him a young, bright, upwardly-mobile coach named Michael Malone, giving him his very first head coaching job. Malone had been part of Mark Jackson's staff here in Golden State, and in many ways is the father of our currently top-ranked defensive unit. Second, he hired Pete D'Alessandro, former Assistant GM of the Warriors. Chris Mullin is a senior adviser. In many ways, Vivek created a sort of Warriors 2.0 in Sacramento, poaching not only many of the ideas and strengths of our organization, but many of our actual employees as well.
There is a joke and a thought that new owners want to make a splash. They want to win right away, sure, but more importantly they want to announce to the world and to their fan base that TIMES HAVE CHANGED. Joe Lacob did this by trading Monta Ellis. And boy were we unhappy.
Vivek decided to make a splash by floating never-before considered things like crowd sourcing their draft and only playing four people on defense. Naturally, the establishment scoffed. Who was this upstart, new owner? Sure, his wacky ideas might work in a youth basketball league. But here?! In the NBA?! No no no. We don't do things like that. No sir.
Again, this was Vivek just being Vivek--thinking outside the box, reevaluating the meaning and existence of the box. Does it have wooden sides? Acrylic paint? Can I hang a poster of Shania Twain? No? Damn. What about Mark Twain?
Joe Lacob fired Mark Jackson in a move that many saw as foolhardy and downright cowboyish. Mark Jackson was successful! He turned the franchise around! And yet men like Lacob, and many of the other new owners, have made their living and their fortunes by making difficult choices. You don't get to be a multi-multi-kajillionaire by sitting pat. And you definitely don't accrue that type of $krilla while doubting yourself.
While Lacob's gamble has obviously paid off, Vivek's gambles have so far fallen flat. He hired Malone to install a defensive identity, but then hired a GM who valued motion and speed. His crowdsourced draft famously produced Nik Stauskus. Stauskus? STAUSKUS! even though the Kings already had a young (very young!), talented two-guard in Ben McLemore, who will most likely end up being a far, far superior player to Nik Stauskus.
Demarcus Cousins is their cornerstone, their franchise beast. When he got viral meningitis earlier this year and missed 10 games, the Kings went 2-8 and promptly used the skid as an excuse to fire Malone. Now they bring in George Karl, a hall of fame coach who himself is no stranger to the Warriors. (Thanks Andre! Love you forever cuz of that!)
And yet Lacob fired Jackson DURING THE OFF SEASON. He didn't make a quick gut call mid-season. He valued his options, weighed all sides, and then ultimately pulled the trigger. Vivek, for all his genius, seems to have perhaps out-smarted himself. Karl may very well turn the team around and create a contender, but it's never a good idea to have your most talented player, who you just signed to a huge contract, involved in trade talk before the new coach has even arrived, and attributing all the internal turmoil to "God's Plan."
Life is hard. Nothing comes easy. We all try our best to keep a straight face--excel in the little things and hope that someday it'll all make sense. Men like Vivek Ranadive intrigue me. Men and women who have built their castles one brick at a time, inventing new construction techniques--constantly improving their vision of the future. Making their own inner vision come to life, and thereby changing the world around them.
It is yet to be seen if Vivek's vision is sustainable. I guess we'll find out in the coming years. But from an outsider's perspective looking in, for the first time, there are some major cracks in the armor.
And that, I suppose, brings us back around to my initial question and the reason I wrote this whole article: What is PASSION? Is it enough to sustain you? Is having a strong vision ever enough? Or does life get in the way no matter how hard you try? No matter how much effort you exert.
P.S.: Important Reading (in his own words).