The N.B.A. demands that each franchise confer one owner, regardless of stake size, with nearly dictatorial power. Lacob wields his softly, just as he typically sits in the back of corporate board meetings without saying much, absorbing information, then guiding the discussion toward a decision. “I’m a professional listener,” he told me. “There’s a lot of smart people in the world, you know. I’m not the smartest. I’m just an integrator. The N.B.A. isn’t like the outside world. I can do whatever I want. But you don’t treat people that way.”
Even teams in small markets cost hundreds of millions of dollars these days. Unless you’re Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft chief who spent $2 billion on the Los Angeles Clippers without the help of outside investors, most potential owners don’t have the wherewithal, or the gumption, to finance a purchase themselves. But rather than money without strings attached — investors who would have little involvement beyond writing checks — Lacob and Guber purposefully sought out entrepreneurs and businessmen with attributes and access that complemented their own. “Everyone he’s partnered with has a strategic reason to be there,” says Dennis Mannion, C.E.O. of the Detroit Pistons, who has held executive positions with teams in all four major American sports leagues. “You have this phenomenal bullpen of talent.”
So after the shareholder Dennis Wong, the managing director of SPI Holdings, advised Lacob on the real estate purchase for the new arena, Walecka helped with the financing. When I spoke with Swinmurn, he reeled off rapid-fire opinions on the design of the Warriors’ branded attire, the type of food sold at the concession stands and other disparate topics. Occasionally, minority partners can even influence what happens on the court. John Burbank of Passport Capital, who uses a deep knowledge of mathematics in his own investments, contributes detailed memos applying complex metrics to potential acquisitions. “I don’t know if any of it has 180ed us on a player,” Bob Myers, the Warriors’ general manager, told me, “but it has certainly moved us in a direction, one way or another. And he’s done it enough that it’s just the course of things now. It’s part of the process.”
This is a fascinating, engrossing piece of writing. I'm really worried now, too—all three of my favorite sports teams stand to be left in the dust if this is the future of sports ownership.