Joe Lacob leaped out of his courtside seat as the final shot arched toward the basket. As it swished through for a Golden State victory, the venture capitalist and Warriors owner danced onto the court.
Lacob, 57, celebrated with his players and slapped high-fives with fans. The man booed 21 months ago during a ceremony to honor a former player is now a hero, running an improved team and planning a $1 billion arena project along the San Francisco waterfront for the 2017-18 season.
Lacob’s Warriors have increased in value about 78 percent since he and Peter Guber bought the National Basketball Association franchise for a then-record $450 million in 2010, according to a former team shareholder. Lacob said he used tools honed as a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers to turn around the perennial losers.
Though he sees a lot of similarities between his two careers, Lacob said there’s a big difference -- he didn’t race around high-fiving associates when a deal was completed.
“In business, it takes a long time to get answers to things,” he said in a courtside interview hours before Andre Iguodala’s last-second shot gave the Warriors a 116-115 win against Oklahoma City on Nov. 14 for their only buzzer-beating win this season. “It’s rewarding if you win, but it takes years to get it, you have to be very patient. The great thing about basketball is that you get immediate feedback.”
Lacob, who got his master’s degree in business administration from Stanford University after receiving a master’s in epidemiology from the University of California, Los Angeles, still plays pickup basketball games one or two mornings a week at Stanford.
He was an investor in the women’s American Basketball League, which lasted two seasons before declaring bankruptcy in 1998. A native of New Bedford, Massachusetts, he was a minority owner of the NBA’s Boston Celtics from 2006 to 2010.
Lacob led the July 2010 purchase from Christopher Cohan of the Warriors, who have sold out their last 47 games at 19,596-seat Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. The team says it increased merchandise sales by 18 percent last season over the 2011-12 campaign. Season ticket sales are up by 3,846 this season to a franchise-record 14,509.
Vivek Ranadive, who sold his minority stake in Golden State when he bought the NBA’s Sacramento Kings in May, said the Warriors were valued at $800 million when he sold his share.
“Joe Lacob is one of the smartest guys I know, and when I had the opportunity to be a partner and join him at the Warriors it was a no-brainer for me, because I knew this was a person that knew how to make money,” Ranadive said in an interview in Sacramento. “I doubled the value of my investment.”
The Warriors had missed the playoffs in 15 of 16 seasons before Lacob bought the team, and had a losing record in 14 of those seasons. After two more losing seasons under the new ownership, Golden State returned to the postseason in 2012-13 by going 47-35, and reached the second round before losing to the Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs.
This season, the Warriors are 13-10, two games behind the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division.
The success of the last two seasons has allowed Lacob plenty of opportunities to celebrate. He pumped his fists and hugged fellow spectators as confetti rained down when the Warriors completed a first-round playoff victory against the Denver Nuggets in May.
That was in stark contrast to the reception he received in March 2012, five days after the Warriors traded away leading scorer Monta Ellis. At a ceremony to retire the jersey of Hall of Fame player Chris Mullin, Lacob was booed so ferociously that Mullin put his arm around the owner and took the microphone to plead for patience. Lacob called it “a hard thing to go through.”
“From an athlete’s standpoint, we’re used to being critiqued on a nightly basis, that’s part of the learning process for someone coming into this field,” said Mullin, 50, now an adviser to Ranadive at the Kings. “It’s like if I went down to Silicon Valley, I’d have to have a lot of help, too.”
Lacob joined Menlo Park, California-based Kleiner Perkins in 1989 and has participated in investments in more than 50 life-science and medical device companies, according to the firmâs website, as well as leading the company’s investment in AutoTrader.com and SportsLine.com, where he was a board member.
Mike Levy, founder and chief executive officer of SportsLine, said Lacob turned Kleiner Perkins investments of about $6 million in the struggling company into a payout of more than $100 million when it was bought by Viacom Inc. (VIAB:US), then the parent company of the CBS television network, in 2004.
Lacob led the initial investment of $3 million in May 1995 and arranged for Kleiner Perkins to make a $1.5 million loan to SportsLine in February 1996 when the company was starting to run out of money, Levy said.
“We would have never made it without him,” Levy, 66, said in a telephone interview. “The best part is he was not a micromanager, he counted upon us to run the business. He was just there to help whenever he could.”
Lacob said investing in companies at Kleiner Perkins prepared him for the process of trying to turn around a team that did not have an NBA All-Star for 16 years until David Lee was selected as a reserve in 2013.
“When you’re building companies, every company is different, you never run into the same problem twice in a row, so I think a lot of it translated into this business as well,” Lacob said as players ran pregame drills behind him. “Look, all my life I’ve been a sports fan. I’m a business guy, but I’m a sports fan and sometimes the two interact and cross over. Fortunately for me, I get to live in this world.”
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