OAKLAND (AP) — The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved the sale of the Golden State Warriors on Friday to a group led by Joe Lacob and movie producer Peter Guber.
The long-expected announcement allows the Warriors’ new owners to assume formal control of the franchise from Chris Cohan, who presided over 15 mostly miserable seasons for the Bay Area’s only pro basketball team.
The GSW Sports LLC ownership group includes six board members and multiple investors who paid a record $450 million for the Warriors, reaching an agreement with Cohan in July after outmaneuvering billionaire Larry Ellison during a spirited bidding process.
“The unmatched passion of this Bay Area fan base played a huge role in my pursuit of this dream come true, and I’m looking forward to a tremendous ride on our journey to the return to greatness,” said Lacob, a venture capitalist and a former Warriors season ticket holder from Menlo Park. “We will work extremely hard to represent you as the championship organization that you deserve, and the team that you will be proud to be a part of.”
Fans in the basketball-crazy Bay Area already are optimistic that the much-reviled Cohan’s departure will lead to a change in fortunes for this long-suffering franchise, which has made the playoffs just once in the last 16 seasons even while its attendance and local popularity has remained incredibly strong.
Even before his ownership was finalized, Lacob impacted the Warriors by engineering the dismissal of coach Don Nelson shortly before training camp, apparently agreeing to pay Nelson’s full $6 million salary of the final year in his contract with the Warriors.
General manager Larry Riley promoted longtime assistant Keith Smart, who has emphasized defensive responsibility—something Nelson never inspired in his teams—to a roster led by high-scoring guards Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry with new power forward David Lee.
So far, it’s working wonders: The Warriors are 6-3 after their loss in Chicago on Thursday night, their best start to a season since opening 7-2 in 1994-95 — right before Cohan took over in January 1995.
While Cohan and Nelson are gone, many of Cohan’s lieutenants are still in the organization, most notably Robert Rowell. The former assistant controller who never played or coached in the NBA worked his way up to team president in 2003, and eventually began to assert authority in basketball decisions, apparently at Cohan’s behest.
Rowell won a power struggle with former top basketball executive Chris Mullin two years ago, leading to Mullin’s departure last year. Riley, Nelson’s longtime assistant coach, was unexpectedly promoted to GM, keeping the job even after Nelson’s departure.
Nelson, the 70-year-old NBA career leader in coaching victories, led Golden State to the second round of the playoffs with a landmark upset of top-seeded Dallas in 2007. But the Warriors regressed significantly after going 48-34 and barely missing the postseason in 2008, winning just 55 total games in the last two years.
Cohan sold to Lacob and Guber despite an apparently larger offer from Ellison, the CEO of Oracle, whose corporate name adorns the Warriors’ arena. Golden State’s fans had spent several years openly lobbying for Ellison, who claimed he would have paid even more than the Lacob group’s deal, which far surpassed Robert Sarver’s $401 million deal for the Phoenix Suns as the biggest sale in NBA history.
But Lacob has outstanding credentials as well—and not just his business success or his academic passions for statistics and baseball sabermetrics. Lacob bought a minority stake in the Boston Celtics in January 2006, absorbing the NBA business while the club won the 2008 title.
While Lacob is the group’s front man, the 68-year-old Guber is the former studio chief at Columbia and Sony with a lengthy list of producing credits and a recent career as a television show host.
“We all understand that in sports business, it’s about winning,” Guber said. “But we will also strive to make sure that the Warriors are recognized among our industry leaders in innovation and business practices. Joe and I have assembled a group of highly successful and well-respected individuals, each of whom will provide expertise in various aspects of our business. This will be an extremely strong, productive and creative partnership.”
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