Owner’s stunt led War­riors to carry Golden State name

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BAY AREA - By Peter Hart­laub

The War­riors mov­ing back to their orig­i­nal Bay Area home brings up a touchy ques­tion: Will they be the San Fran­cisco War­riors, or con­tinue to rep the am­bigu­ous Golden State?

Which begs an­other ques­tion: How did they be­come the Golden State War­riors in the first place?

The an­swer, in short, is that it ap­peared to be part of a bluff. War­riors owner Franklin Mieuli un­veiled the name in 1971 while he was ne­go­ti­at­ing with the Oak­land Coli­seum Arena, and was threat­en­ing to split the team be­tween Oak­land and San Diego. By the time the War­riors signed a lease to play in Oak­land full time, it was likely too late — or Mieuli was too cheap — to change the Golden State jer­seys.

The his­tory of “Golden State” is hard to grasp in 2017, when the War­riors are a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar or­ga­ni­za­tion, in the fastest ris­ing pro sport, em­ploy­ing two of the most pop­u­lar ath­letes (if not hu­man

But in 1971, the War­riors were barely afloat. Since 1962, when the team ar­rived in San Fran­cisco from Philadel­phia, ev­ery year had been a fight to keep the team from fold­ing. The Chron­i­cle re­ported that the team lost money in all but one year in the team’s first decade in the Bay Area.

From 1962 to 1971, the team shut­tled be­tween three ill-fit­ting are­nas in or near San Fran­cisco; the War­riors were so low on the sports hi­er­ar­chy that they some­times prac­ticed in high school gyms. Mieuli’s lob­by­ing for a bas­ket­ball arena in the Yerba Buena Gar­dens area — he also pitched one on the water­front — seemed dashed for good in 1971 when the city pulled a bond mea­sure to fund the cen­ter off the bal­lot.

“De­spite Mieuli’s su­per-provin­cial­ism — the uni­forms with the in­signia, ‘The City,’ and the ca­ble cars mov­ing up to the stars,” Chron­i­cle Sports Edi­tor Art Rosen­baum wrote in 1971, “pro bas­ket­ball has been a box of­fice flop in San Fran­cisco.”

In fact, the War­riors in 1970-71 had the low­est gate in the league, av­er­ag­ing just $12,500 in ticket sales per game. (No doubt some­one sold a sin­gle Or­a­cle Arena seat for that much dur­ing the 2016 NBA cham­pi­onship.) The War­riors were out­drawn by the ex­pan­sion of the Cleve­land Cava­liers and the San Diego Rock­ets, whose $14,000 av­er­age was enough to force the team’s move to Hous­ton that year.

In other words, the sit­u­a­tion could not be more dire for the War­riors, and The Chron­i­cle re­ported that in­vestors were breath­ing down Mieuli’s neck to make a big change or sell the team. So the for­mer ad­ver­tis­ing man did what he did best: He came up with a mar­ket­ing stunt and played the me­dia.

The “Golden State War­riors” name change was bro­ken by the San Diego Evening Tri­bune on July 17, 1971, and caught the San Fran­cisco me­dia by sur­prise. The Chron­i­cle ran out to con­firm that Mieuli’s tri­maran yacht (named “The City,” nat­u­rally) was still an­chored in San Fran­cisco and hadn’t moved south.

A few days later, Mieuli, re­main­ing un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally quiet, leaked the new War­riors logo — with the fron­tier “Golden State” let­ter­ing that Rick Barry would wear dur­ing the team’s 1975 NBA cham­pi­onship.

“The War­riors, a pro bas­ket­ball team that used to be from San Fran­cisco and wore an em­blem with the Golden Gate Bridge in the mid­dle, now will play in Oak­land and San Diego and have an em­blem with the map of Cal­i­for­nia in the mid­dle,” The Chron­i­cle re­ported.

Dur­ing the first week of Au­gust, the good news was an­nounced: The War­riors had reached a fa­vor­able lease for the Oak­land Coli­seum Arena, whose ex­ec­u­tives were no doubt pan­ick­ing about los­ing 20 days of po­ten­tial rent and con­ces­sion shares to an­other city. Af­ter a game of (San Diego) chicken, the War­riors were Oak­land’s team — even if the city’s name never made it on the jer­sey.

“Some cyn­ics, rec­og­niz­ing War­rior owner Franklin Mieuli as a head-spin­ning pro­moter, find it strange that af­ter all the pap and pub­lic­ity, the War­riors never re­ally left home,” Rosen­baum wrote. “Was it just an­other Mieuli stunt to pub­li­cize the War­rior move to Oak­land while mak­ing the San Fran­cisco fans un­der­stand ‘The Sit­u­a­tion’?”

Al­most cer­tainly. Sub­se­quent ar­ti­cles in The Chron­i­cle sug­gested that San Diego had not been as vi­able as Mieuli made it seem.

But Mieuli had once again saved the team, which made slow but steady progress at the box of­fice in its new home. Signs of dis­re­spect were still ap­par­ent — the Golden State War­riors were bumped by the Ice Fol­lies at their home arena, and had to play two 1975 NBA Fi­nals games at the Cow Palace in Daly City.

But the crowds con­tin­ued to grow, on the way to gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for the best fans in the NBA. And by the time Barry hoisted the NBA Cham­pi­onship tro­phy over his head in 1975, with Mieuli by his side, it be­came clear the War­riors — San Fran­cisco, Golden State or oth­er­wise — would not be go­ing any­where.

The Chron­i­cle 1968

S.F. War­riors Pres­i­dent Franklin Mieuli (cen­ter) in­tro­duces head coach Ge­orge Lee (left) and as­sis­tant coach Al At­tles.

Bill Young / The Chron­i­cle 1973

Rick Barry, who later would help the War­riors win their first cham­pi­onship, at the Palace of Fine Arts.

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