Beginning with Franklin Mieuli's purchase of majority ownership of the
Warriors and subsequent move to the Bay Area in 1962, the team's time
locally, approaching 50 years, has been presided over by three
Mieuli's, the duo of Jim Fitzgerald and Dan Finnane, and Chris Cohan.
All three have had markedly different levels of success – or failure,
depending on how you look at it.
As longtime Warriors fans will remember, Mieuli's tenure was
highlighted by an improbable sweep of the Washington Bullets in 1974-75
for their only NBA Championship in the Bay Area. Those Bullets were
60-22, a full 12 games better than Golden State's record of 48-34, yet
the Warriors ran the table behind the play of Rick Barry, Jamaal
Wilkes, Charles Johnson, Clifford Ray and so on.
Next year the Warriors went 59-23, their best record since the club was
formed, losing in the Western Conference Finals. Even before that, led
by Wilt Chamberlain, the team lost in the NBA Finals in their second
year in the Bay Area. After trading Chamberlain and getting Barry not
long afterward, they reached the NBA Finals again, losing once more.
Unfortunately, after that high-water mark in 75-76, the team dropped
off and only finished above .500 in three of the last ten seasons
Mieuli owned the club, missing the playoffs the last nine. While that
tarnished Mieuli's overall record as an owner, the Warriors played
their best, most consistently winning years in the Bay Area between
66-67 and 77-78, finishing at .500 or better in eleven of twelve
Being born in 1977, I unfortunately have no first-hand memories of any
of Mieuli's teams and given the way they finished under him, that may
not be a bad thing. The good thing is he is still one of the team's
most recognizable fans, always there center courtside in his trademark
Before the 1986-87 season, Mieuli sold the team to the ownership group
of Jim Fitzgerald, who had previously owned the Milwaukee Bucks, and
Dan Finnane, who was also part of that organization.
They brought in George Karl, who coached a club led by Sleepy Floyd,
Joe Barry Carroll, Purvis Short and a second-year player by the name of
Chris Mullin to a first round upset of the Utah Jazz before falling to
the Los Angeles Lakers. The lone game they won in that series was the
famous "Sleepy Floyd is Superman" game in which he put up 29 points in
the fourth quarter, 39 in the second half and 51 for the entire game.
As promising as things looked after that season, the team fell apart en
route to a 20-62 year that included Karl resigning. This was when I
became aware of the Warriors, when I became a fan.
Fitzgerald and Finnane had also lured Don Nelson away from the Bucks to
be the Executive Vice President. He'd come off seven consecutive
seasons in Milwaukee over .600 before taking a year off from coaching,
then he took over as head coach in 1988-89 following Karl's departure
and Ed Gregory's interim period the year before. Beginning in 1989-90
behind Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Mullin, dubbed "Run TMC," the
Warriors played a fast-paced, high-scoring style of basketball that led
to four playoff appearances in Nelson's six full seasons, including
first round upsets of both the Jazz and San Antonio Spurs.
The 1993-94 season also saw the emergence of star rookie Chris Webber
and Latrell Sprewell's second year, though things would turn very sour,
very quickly afterward. During the time Fitzgerald and Finnane ran the
Warriors, they finished above .500 five times, making the playoffs each
Once the founder of Sonic Communications, Chris Cohan joined the
Warriors with a 25% interest in the team in 1991. In 1995, he won a
lawsuit and full control of the team. The Warriors haven't been the
Coming off the 50-32 season that was Webber's first with the team, a
rift opened up between Nelson, Webber and Sprewell. Cohan sided with
Nelson and Webber was traded to Washington. By the end of the 1994-95
season Nelson himself was gone, replaced with Bob Lanier. The Warriors
Rick Adelman coached the team for two years, the second of which was
played in San Jose while the Coliseum Arena was remade inside,
increasing the capacity from around 15,000 to about 19,500. Adelman's
time led to an unimpressive 66-98 mark.
With the arrival of P.J. Carlisemo, things took a turn for the worse.
There was the very public choking incident with Sprewell, who was gone
not long afterward. Carlisemo followed as the Warriors went through a
rotating carousel of head coaches that included Garry St. Jean, Dave
Cowens and Brian Winters. In four out of five seasons between 1997-98
and 2001-02, the Warriors finished with an average record of 19-63,
interrupted only by a 21-29 season that was lockout-shortened. In the
midst of all this, the Warriors hosted the 2000 All-Star Game. The two
biggest memories from that are probably Vince Carter's performance in
the Slam Dunk Contest and Chris Cohan getting booed in his own arena.
St. Jean and Dave Twardzik served as General Managers during this time
and their runs were filled with poor coaching hires and draft mistakes
along with bad trades and free agent signings.
Eric Musselman coached a couple seasons in Golden State and while their
record was better than the previous low points, the team was still more
bad than good. They'd risen up to mediocrity instead of simply being
pathetic. At least they had a few promising players that included
Antawn Jamison, Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas, though Arenas
would sign with Washington after his second season. Musselman wore out
his welcome and the Warriors tried Stanford coach Mike Montgomery. That
didn't work either.
Along the way Chris Mullin returned to the franchise, first as a player
in the last year of his career after three years in Indiana, then as
Executive VP of Basketball Operations, succeeding St. Jean. On one
hand, he had to deal with some of the leftovers from St. Jean's time,
particularly in some poor contracts the team was stuck with. Mullin
made some mistakes of his own but began to show an indication that he
had an idea of how to improve the team. He traded for Baron Davis.
Montgomery was shown the door and Mullin was instrumental in getting
Don Nelson to return beginning in 2006-07.
During that season, the Warriors pulled off a trade with Indiana,
unloading the disappointing Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy along with
failed draft pick Ike Diogu in exchange for Stephen Jackson and Al
Harrington. That would soon turn out to be the catalyst for a
late-season run that propelled the team to their first winning season
and playoff appearance since Webber's rookie year in 93-94. This time,
the "We Believe" mantra helped carry the team to a stunning upset of
top-seed Dallas, Nelson's former team. It was also the first time the
8th seed beat the 1st seed in a 7-game series.
Then the Warriors traded Jason Richardson without significantly
improving the roster. Last year the Warriors finished with a better
record by six games, aided by the emergence of Monta Ellis, but their
inconsistent play and a stronger Western Conference led to them being
on the outside looking in come playoff time in spite of finishing 48-34.
Most Warriors fans know the recent history of the team. Baron Davis
opted out. Monta Ellis seriously injured himself in a moped accident.
The front office, in a frantic attempt to do something, offered
contracts to Elton Brand and Gilbert Arenas only to be stuck overpaying
for Corey Maggette. Questions began to surface as to who was
specifically responsible for what happened. Was it Mullin, who seems to
have been phased out of power? Was it team President Robert Rowell, who
after years in the background finally decided to thrust himself in the
spotlight to ensure "salary protection" and the marketability of the
"product?" Was it Don Nelson, who appears to be falling into the same
patterns he did before the end of his first stay with the club?
In the end, does it really matter? What is easy to lose sight of is one
constant throughout all of this: Chris Cohan. Though he sold 20% of the
team to a quartet of Silicon Valley investors in 2005, he is still the
man at the top. He's been in trouble for tax evasion and he's presided
over the darkest days for the Warriors in the Bay Area and after two
promising seasons the team looks like it's heading back there again
unless they can somehow prove they've learned from their past mistakes.
The fact they're being made again, so far, indicates the answer to that
is no. Right now, it looks like the only hope the team has is a buyout
of Cohan, whose real legacy rests mainly in adding about 4,500 seats to
the arena and changing to a uniform that is almost universally hated.
Rather than winning, Cohan's focus is on how much money he can make and
how many Season Ticket Holders he can retain. Nelson was extended
probably more to get him the mark for most coaching victories than
anything else and skim off the public relations boost from it, marking
this the second time he's taking Cohan for a ride. Meanwhile, Rowell
extended Stephen Jackson and allowed Maggette to be signed in the first
The Warriors have already been blessed with a very loyal fanbase, even
in the worst years of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Giving them just
a small taste of the old excitement locked them in again, but how long
will it be before they decide enough is enough and stay away until the
team has a fourth primary owner?
One of the goals of this summary is to show just how the team has
performed under each ownership group. The cutoff between Mieuli and
Fitzgerald/Finnane appears to be clear, but it's a little murkier
crossing over to Cohan. He became the sole owner in 1995, during the
first year of the team's decline, so I'm giving him credit for that.
It's not like he needs it one way or the other.
While Mieuli's time brought the Warriors their best, most sustained
levels of success and quality play, the majority of his last decade was
filled with mediocre teams. Fitzgerald and Finnane actually hold the
best overall winning percentage if only because Cohan gained control
around the time things fell apart. I think it can easily be said that
he had a very direct role in much of that. Breaking it down, we have:
Mieuli: 933-1026 (.476)
Fitzgerald: 325-331 (.495)
Cohan: 430-716 (.375)
With all that said, is there any question Chris Cohan must go? Is there
any doubt the Warriors will never amount to anything as long as he's in
control? Whatever went on with General Managers, head coaches, players
and so on, at what point is the finger of blame pointed squarely in the
direction of the man at the helm? When is Cohan forced to accept the
full measure of blame for what has happened to this franchise under his
For this Warriors fan, that time can't come soon enough. It's amazing it hasn't happened already.