An Open Letter to Joe Lacob
On behalf of the Bay Area’s most passionate and committed fans, I would like to welcome you as the official new owner of the Golden State Warriors. Tonight you will enter the Oracle a hero to a beleaguered fan base, and you will be showered with affection and praise because you have liberated us from sixteen years of basketball purgatory. In a league where more than half of the teams make the playoffs, the Warriors have managed to make the post season only once under Christopher Cohan. That is a stunningly remarkable feat of underachievement in league that has socialized the privilege of playing in the post season. Of course, the mediocrity of our Warriors spans more than 16 seasons. This is a team that has not been a title contender since 1976. The last time the Warriors were nationally relevant was 1975, the only year that the Bay Area has enjoyed an NBA championship. And yet in spite of the team’s irrelevance, in spite of being overshadowed by the success of other Bay Area sports teams, and in spite of the many diversions offered in this happening metropolis of ours, the Warriors have maintained a loyal and feverish fan base. Talk about unrequited love.
This is the backdrop from which you enter the fore. You have a chance to do something that no Warriors owner has done: make the Warriors a perennial playoff team and contender. You have a chance to build a winning tradition and make the Warriors relevant and elite. You have a chance to feed the insatiable hunger of fans who have been tortured by losing and mediocrity nearly as long as Giants fans have. In short, you have a chance to be a mythic hero! Don’t blow it.
So far we fans are happy with the vision you have shared with us. When you told Marcus Thompson this summer that, “We’re all about winning,” we cheered. When you told Rusty Simmons that, “Our goal is to put ourselves at the same level as the Lakers,” we roared. We’re used to being courted by low expectations and marketing campaigns that try to pacify us by promising us “a great time out.” That has worn thin. Your public statement that you are setting your sites squarely on an NBA Championship was refreshing, even though one would expect any new owner come in with lofty goals. But this is the Warriors. We’ve been locked in a gulag of low-balled expectations and excuses for so long, that the purposeful, confident proclamations of a new owner come down on us like rain on a parched dust bowl. Thanks for daring to give us reason for optimism.
We like it that you attend the games and cheer enthusiastically and consider this opportunity a dream-come-true. We like it that you have been accessible to the media and responsive to fans. We like it that you are taking a strong interest in the operation of the team because we feel with that comes accountability. We are also heartened by the fact that you come with a good reputation in the business world and have been involved in the Boston Celtic ownership group that was a part of that team’s remarkable resurgence. We hope that your great track record translates into success here.
But I’m sure you also realize that fans are fickle and impatient by their very nature. They will love you and embrace you one minute, and hang you in effigy and curse your mother the next.
Warriors fans are remarkably in tune with the pulse of the franchise. We have long been frustrated by the apparent lack of a coherent long-term plan. We have been agitated and repulsed that no measures of accountability have appeared to be in place from top to bottom. And we have been put off by the cronyism and lack of transparency that has pervaded the culture of the front office in the recent past. You have mentioned that you will demand a change in culture and take a different approach to decision-making. We look forward to seeing how that takes shape.
We do have some questions that we hope you’ll answer in the coming months. Why does Greg Papa not have a job with the Warriors? He’s the best basketball play-by-play man in the Bay Area and is respected and well liked by fans. The one currently employed on the television side has turned off the majority of fans with his smarminess, obsequiousness, and condescension. Fans are also perplexed about why Robert Rowell is still is hanging around. The guy is persona non grata and a symbol of the dysfunction and failure of an era we’d all like to bury and forget. Finally, we wonder if KNBR is even aware that they are the radio station that broadcasts Warriors basketball. Warriors games are bumped to the 1050 weaker signal during drive time; preseason Giants games take precedence over Warriors games that are being played during playoff races, and the team is off the radar in all of the talk shows except for the noon to three slot. Certainly, it’s up to the Warriors to make themselves newsworthy, but the station seems to go out of its way to avoid their nuisance of a stepchild.
I urge you to keep a finger on the pulse of the fans. Don’t withdraw like your predecessor. Listen to them. Hear what they have to say. Though fan reaction to current events will capriciously shift day-to-day like a richter scale measuring a series of earthquakes, pay attention and study the long-term trends. Fans see through the machinations and manipulations of bad management. The alienation felt by players and front office personnel over the past few years also impacted the fan base and ultimately bit into ticket sales and tarnished the organization’s image.
Lastly, take the advice of one of former Stanford Business School professor, Jim Collins, who studied well run organizations. As an MBA graduate of the Stanford School of Business, I’m sure you are familiar with Collin’s work. He discovered in his research that leaders who have cultivated enduring success in their organizations do the following:
They are genuinely humble and put the success of the organization ahead of all else, even if it is personally costly.
They get the right people on the bus, then figure out where to go. They get the wrong people off the bus as soon as possible.
They make their management teams confront the brutal facts facing them and find ways to successfully meet those challenges, rather than putting their heads in the sand when difficult situations arise. And when they do, they never give up hope.
They build a culture of discipline and accountability that pervades all levels of the operation.
They know what their organization is really good at and stick with it; they don’t get distracted by false opportunities or venture into areas outside of their strengths and talents.
Not a bad framework, even for a basketball team.
So, Joe, know that the fans are behind you. We couldn’t be happier that you’re here. You now have the keys to the car. Have fun, but take care of it, because it’s not really your car. It’s ours.
We’ll see you at the game tonight…