Watch­ing a War­riors game with Joe La­cob, su­per com­peti­tor

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - SPORTS - By Wes Gold­berg

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.

RAY CHAVEZ — BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

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.

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