Watching a Warriors game with Joe Lacob, super competitor
SAN FRANCISCO >> It only takes watching a Warriors game with Joe Lacob to understand how much this all means to him. Lacob typically watches Warriors games feverishly at midcourt of the $1.6 billion Chase Center built in San Francisco, but today he decides to watch the game from the upper deck.
He strides to his new seat in the 200 level as fans reach for highfives and shout his name, like a Silicon Valley rockstar in a windowpaned sports coat. For an owner overseeing the franchise’s worst season in 20 years after moving the team from Oakland, the support is rather surprising.
“It beats getting booed,” he says. Lacob taps an unknowing fan on the shoulder and says “Hi, I’m Joe Lacob, and I want you to have my seat for tonight’s game.” Owner and fan swap tickets, and Lacob settles into his new seat in the Modelo Cantina.
“Up here,” he says. “You see where all the pieces are moving.”
After politely declining a beer, he chooses to sip on a Pepsi. Lacob has only the occasional glass of wine with dinner and avoids coffee. No uppers, no downers. He doesn’t need it.
To watch a game with Lacob, 64, is to witness his unyielding competitiveness. But today’s game would be the worst-ever loss at Chase Center, a 33-point romp from the Utah Jazz. As the game goes on and the Warriors’ hole deepens, he only becomes more animated, sprinkling F-bombs and “damn its” throughout the conversation.
During an end-of-quarter possession that ends with Jacob Evans’ fruitless attempt at a 3-pointer, he doesn’t hesitate to interrupt his own answer about the future of the Warriors:
We’re shooting 33 freakin’ percent. God dang it…
As Lacob talks about the largest scoreboard in sports (“Are you kidding me? It had to be!”) and the relief of the arena finally being open, he can hardly bring himself to look away from the dilemma on the court.
“My ass is grass if we lose,” Lacob says. “If we have more years like this.”
Lacob had hoped the Warriors would be around .500 by the All-Star break, but dialed back his expectations after Stephen Curry broke his hand in the fourth game of the season (“I was just depressed.”), which cut short the team’s ability to evaluate D’Angelo Russell’s fit (he thinks it can work).
Then there was Kevin Durant’s departure to Brooklyn last summer. He wished he would have stayed, but with Durant sidelined for a year with an Achilles tear, he rationalized the loss.
“I was sad to see him go because I think if he’d have stayed — which I think he should have — we would have, maybe not this year but for the next five years, one of the best players in basketball,” Lacob said. “So that was sad.
“On the other hand, he was going to be injured and out this year and he’s 31, he’s getting older. So there’s a part of me that said it might be for the best, long-term, for the franchise.”
This is ugly. This is a really bad game. We’re down 20…
Let there be no doubt: Lacob is obsessed with winning. Even as his Warriors sit with the league’s worst record, he says he doesn’t believe in a gap year. The Warriors knew, at some point, they would need to get younger. Durant’s departure, Klay Thompson’s injury and the sign-and-trade for the 23-year-old Russell expedited that process.
“I think we’ve accomplished our main goal for this year,” he says.
When asked about his leadership style, Lacob isn’t afraid to use a phrases like “pattern matching” and “maniacal.” He repeats that, no, he is not a micromanager, but knows everything that’s going on.
In his first year running the Warriors, he estimates he fired 80% of the company. “I didn’t do that to be mean,” he says. “It’s just that they weren’t good.”
Lacob tried for more than a decade to buy into the NBA, but opportunities like Phoenix, Atlanta and Philadelphia weren’t right. That’s when the late David Stern, former NBA commissioner, told him to buy into a limited partnership with his hometown Celtics, which provided valuable insight into running a team.
After he purchased the Warriors in 2010, it took only five years — Sorry, “Four years, seven months and 11 days,” he points out — to win a championship. Jesus, 27 points…
Last year, he ended a 47year stay at Oracle Arena when he moved the team to San Francisco, a decision met with backlash from the Oakland fanbase.
“People from Oakland are still bitter, but we’re a team that represents the whole Bay Area,” Lacob says. “I hear you, I understand why you’re proud you’re from Oakland, but it’s really not about Oakland. It’s about the whole Bay Area.”
Ugh, now down 30… So what’s next? He’s relieved Chase Center is open, and is no longer rubbing his temple over the running tab. Instead of the originally budgeted $1 billion, the arena cost $1.6 billion, but “Now that it’s all done and here, it’s like anything else, you don’t think about how much you pay for something.”
He considers Chase Center the greatest arena in the world (“You can be the judge, but I think it is.”) and doesn’t expect ticket prices to go down any time soon.
“We have a very expensive payroll, which will be going up next year.”
With hotels, office spaces and restaurants managed by the likes of Michael Mina and Tyler Florence expected to open on the property later this year, he considers this season a soft launch.
From a league-wide perspective, he isn’t sold that declining TV ratings are a problem, though admits the Warriors losing is not helping. He likes the idea of the NBA implementing a play-in tournament for the playoffs but needs more data before forming an opinion on the proposed 30 team in-season tournament.
We’re down 33. This is incredibly bad. This is so embarrassing…
But none of that matters if the Warriors aren’t winning. During this lotterybound season, Lacob has taken trips to Kentucky, Georgia and Iowa with general manager Bob Myers to scout draft prospects.
Among the current crop of youngsters, he likes what he’s seen from Ky Bowman, Damion Lee and Eric Paschall (a keeper), and believes Golden State’s championship window will be open for the next four years, until Currys’ age 35 season.
It’s hard for me to relate to this. It’s like a dream…
During the waning minutes of the game, with the Warriors headed for their 36th loss, Lacob is asked about the infamous “lightyears ahead” comment. He admits that he let his guard down around the reporter who quoted him, and emphasizes — with eye contact — that he won’t let that happen again.
According to Lacob, the social media meme became a running joke in the Warriors organization as well, but it was boastful comments like that that helped change the narrative around the organization. When trying to pump up your own franchise, Lacob says, a light-years comment is bound to happen.
Golden State Warriors majority owner Joe Lacob, left, had hoped the Warriors would be around .500 by the All-Star break, but dialed back his expectations after Stephen Curry broke his hand in the fourth game of the season.