Ratto: Warriors Ownership a Potent Pairing

November 16, 2010, 12:27 am
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"This isn't the cure for cancer. It may be the cure for Cohan, but it isn't the cure for cancer."
-- Warrior owner Peter Guber

Ray Ratto

SAN FRANCISCO -- That sentence may well be among the last you hear from Guber, the principal investor in the New Golden StateSan Francisco Bay AreaAnd Don't Forget Marin CountyCheck With Me Later Warriors, because it speaks to the principal difference between him and front mangovernor Joe Lacob.

Lacob wants you to know he's the guy making the decisions -- collegially, of course, with all his other partners, because he knows partners and he works well with partners.

Guber wants you to know he'll say anything at any time just for the sheer kinky fun of saying it.

This should lead to some interesting Skype sessions between the two men. There is no indication that they won't be collegial and cooperative owners, though multi-gajillionaires do not tend to run in packs. But they are stylistic opposites, and expertise opposites, and opposites make sparks.

Put another way, Joe Lacob wants to be Red Auerbach. Peter Guber wants to be Bill Veeck. At the same time.

Thus, when Guber dropped the Cohan line, one last middle finger toward the departed owner of this forlorn operation, Lacob's heart may have soared, but his brow furrowed and his dyspepsia made an appointment for later in the evening. He probably agreed, but he didn't need the grind of having it out there for us mean-spirited louts to find such amusement.

Lacob wants all vestiges of the Cohan era to disappear, because he doesn't want to have to re-plow old ground and keep having to atone for the sins of his predecessor. Thus, when Guber offered his impromptu assessment of this nation's most prevalent killer and the old owner, Lacob ground down a molar. He tried to hide it, but you could tell.

Of all the things to come from Monday's meet-the-new-kids media fete on the Embarcadero, this was the one thing that didn't need words. These are radically different men, thinking radically different things about this new property they have just consumed. This doesn't mean they will turn into Frank and Jamie McCourt any time soon, but their partnership will not be seamless. It can't be.

Lacob went on and on and about the kind of team he wants to run. Guber went on and on about the fan experience he wants to build. These seem like mutually exclusive notions (when asked about the new geometry class logo, he said, "That's probably something you should take up with Peter), but they are not, and when they intersect, they will both have to be Gandhi supplicating himself to Ali Jinnah at the partition of India not to throw things at each other."

At least metaphorically.

Today was the last day that they could play the "Hey at least were not the guy you used to have here" card, and other than Guber's little knee to Cohan's nethers, they avoided it well. True, Cohan won't appreciate the oblique comparison to mela'noma, but he got paid. "Let him complain to his autobiographer" seems to be the stance of choice.

Now they are two playing the role of one, and between them, they will define your field of interest in the Warriors. If the basketball team loses seven of nine, or general manager Larry Riley trades Monta Ellis for Sebastian Telfair, you now will be yelling at Lacob. If the twerp brigade delivering pizzas during timeouts knocks your soda over, or if the Warrior girls aren't girly enough for your warped tastes, you'll be screaming about Guber.

And if the team isn't good and the crowds start to dwindle, the two men can argue about whether it was the Telfair trade or the T-shirt gun that is chasing them away.

And they will. As they must. It is how they deal with these conflicts that will tell us how long this partnership will endure.

"I've had partners," Lacob said. "I know how to deal with partners. And there are partners with a capital-P. Peter is a Partner."

He said this in what looked and sounded like genuine admiration. But things change once the new-team smell goes away, and this is a relationship that will bear constant monitoring.

There are plenty of land mines, to be sure. Lacob kept calling basketball "my passion," and spoke in glowing terms about the essential zen of rebounding, which means he will make Riley's eye throb with tension headaches from time to time.

He also has installed his son Kyle as director of basketball operations, working "for Larry Riley," he emphasized, although you know how things can change.

And Guber? Well, to call him a potential loose cannon is to call loose cannons socially inhibited. He talks in grand gestures and emphatic arm waves, and he never met an opinion he couldn't tweak into an article of faith.

They are not oil and water so much as oil and vinegar, and if you do it right, sometimes you get a hell of a salad dressing. You might also get some real eye-watering, mouth-puckering moments of, "He said WHAT?" and "He's thinking of doing THAT?"

The issues of where the team might be in five years wasn't settled, as it could not be, but Lacob left every door open but the notion that he would welcome a second team coming into what he regards as his . . . er, sorry, their territory. The logo, the team makeup, the long-term future of anyone in the building, from Cohan's button man Robert Rowell on down, all of it is open to evaluation and change, depending on which way the wind is blowing from the dumpsters.

But first and foremost, there are Lacob and Guber. Two men that seem great at having a beer or 12 together, but who might also decide to go out in front of the bar and throw hands at each other before, if they're mature and rational men safeguarding their investment, going back into the tavern and having a few more as good pals will do.

And maybe at that session, Lacob might suggest to Guber that comparing folks to things you might need chemotherapy to cure is not as helpful an ad-lib as it might seem at the time.

Ray Ratto is a sports columnist for Comcast SportsNet.com.