Ratto: Warriors Ownership Primer for Joe Lacob

November 12, 2010, 9:52 pm
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PROGRAMMING NOTE: Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber will appear on Chronicle Live on Tuesday, Nov. 16.
Ray Ratto

Because he didnt ask, and because he never would, we will now tell Joe Lacob how to run his new business.


Thats right. Dont. Lacob may own his share of the Golden State Warriors, and he may be the on-site grand fromage, but the history of owners who have been mega-involved in the operation of the teams theyve owned and succeeded doing so is as follows:

George Halas, and he started out as a player.

Curly Lambeau, and he started out as a player.

Connie Mack, and he started out as a player.

Mario Lemieux, and he started out as a player.

Bill Veeck, and he started out as a child.

Al Davis, and he started out as a coach.

If there are others, we dont care. We made the point. A sports owners expertise is not on the production side, because most owners have as their areas of expertise something other than displaying or assembling athletic talent for money. Mostly they either were born rich or became rich through business acumen, and thats where their focus should be. When it isnt, well, hilarity ensues.

So far, since reaching agreement with the magnificently popular Chris Cohan to take the team off his hands at nearly four times the amount Cohan paid for it, Lacob has been around to see, if not facilitate:

- A new logo and uniforms.

- A new coach.

So far, so good. The logo is simple, almost elegant in its minimalism. It doesnt need words around it, but thats a quibble. The new coach, Keith Smart, is, 6-3 but thats a small sample size. Mostly, he isnt Don Nelson, so that takes care of that.

But now that his name appears on the checks, Lacob has to fight the natural temptation most contemporary owners do -- to vote his stock on things he cannot truly understand, like the things he pays Smart and Larry Riley to do.

In other words, he needs to have the strength to turn the basketball operation over to the basketball department. He needs to findretain the smart marketing people to market, and the financial people to finance, and the advertising experts to findcreate advertising.

And then sit back with a quality cigar and a few beverages that make frothy heads when you pour them into a properly chilled glass and enjoy what Reggie Jackson used to call the magnitude of me.

In other words, Lacob needs to hire people, and then watch them go. Thats how the smart owners have always done it. Hell, its how Lemieux does it in Pittsburgh, and he was one of the 10 best hockey players ever. If he can resist the urge to coach and general manage and market, et. al., then Lacob can.

Then Lacob must. It is the only road to owner salvation. Everything else is failure of one sort or another.

In fact, if Lacob needs a primer, a quick call to Wally Haas, the son of the late As owner would do it. So would a call to Bob Lurie, who bought the Giants in 1976. They were guys who understood that the whole idea of owning isnt to show everyone you own the joint. Its in finding people who can make the joint worth owning.

Walter Haas method of running the As was simple: He was never around unless things were going to bad. He would tour the clubhouse and make sure the players were doing all right. He would ask the general manager and manager if they needed anything they werent currently provided. He would sign checks. And then he went and ran the business he did know Levi Strauss.

Lurie had a bit more fan in him, but he wasnt in the room on draft day, and he didnt make trades, and eventually he found the management team that worked best Al Rosen and Roger Craig. He didnt do a lot of publicity for himself, and he didnt try to get people think he was the mastermind. He did try to get someone else to build a new stadium for his team, which obviously didnt work, and he was underestimated by many smart-assed media types (hello, me!), but as owners go, he was much respected and ended up sane and happy in the end.

That is Lacobs safest and wisest path. Whether he takes it or not is anyones guess. He may decide that Davis is the best role model, but he never coached on the pro level. He might decide Jerry Jones is the best model, but Jones hasnt won anything since the players Jimmy Johnson assembled dissolved. He might want to be Danny Snyder, whos never won anything at all. He might even want to be Donald Sterling, who lurches between hyper-engagement and complete disinterest, leaving the day-to-day unpleasantness to suited underlings.

There are lots of role models for disaster (and youll notice we left Cohan alone here; he sold the team, thereby mastering the one desirable skill he really had after all these years leaving). They all include pretending expertise in areas in which the owner in question lacked expertise.

And there is but one way out the smart way. Assessing smart people by either knowing them or knowing where to find them, and letting their do their jobs. Oh, he can be in the room when the decisions are made, I guess; hes paying the rent after all. But he should only vote the way the Vice-President does in case of a tie in the Senate.

So now hes got the gig. Were about to see whether it was a good idea or not. Because, after all, well be his most important resource. We dispense wisdom without charging a consultants fee, and weve seen owners come and go for eons. Most of them thought they were smarter than they were, and ended up wealthier and more bitter for the experience.

Lacob can thank us later. Weve got nothing but time -- and advice.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.