SAN FRANCISCO — When Joe Lacob bought the Warriors in July 2010, the venture capitalist said he wanted to be among the league’s royalty franchises like the Celtics and Lakers.
It was a lofty goal. The Celtics and Lakers had 17 and 16 NBA titles, respectively, at that point. Meanwhile, the Warriors had been to the playoffs only once since 1994 and a total of eight times since Golden State won its last title in 1976.
Fans were skeptical after early returns, too, famously booing Lacob at the 2012 jersey retirement ceremony for Chris Mullin after the Warriors had traded popular guard Monta Ellis in a deal that brought Andrew Bogut to Golden State. That year, the Warriors missed the playoffs for the 17th time in 18 seasons.
But Lacob, a self-proclaimed optimist and innately competitive man, had a vision and desire to transform the Warriors into a winning franchise. He wanted to emulate the dominance the Lakers had under owner Jerry Buss, who witnessed his team make it to the NBA Finals 16 times in 33 years.
“We’ve made six in 12 years, so I love that 50% rate,” Lacob said at a press conference Monday as the Warriors gear up to play the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, beginning Thursday. “Whether we can continue that, I don’t know. But I’m sure as hell going to try.”
The Warriors are just the 12th franchise in the four major North American sports leagues to appear in the championship series six times in eight years. They returned to the NBA Finals after a two-year playoff absence, overcoming various obstacles including injuries to Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry that limited its trio of stars to playing just 11 minutes together during the regular season.
Lacob entered the season believing the Warriors had a chance to be competitive.
“I was always optimistic that if we ever got all those guys together that we’d be pretty darn good, and it’s worked out pretty well,” he said. “… Now did I know that we would be where we are today? No… I certainly thought we should make the Western Conference finals.”
Lacob praised the veterans, front office and coaching staff for preparing the team for this deep postseason run.
“What they’ve done is great and what our coaches have done to get them ready for this level of play is great,” Lacob said. “I know we took, I, Bob [Myers], the organization took some criticism from people that we should trade our draft choices that we have to get one more great player or whatever, I was very adamant about it, so was Bob but that was not the path we were going down. We want to be good for a long time, we want to be great for a long time.”
This NBA Finals series between the league’s newest dynasty with a legacy franchise is extra meaningful for Lacob, a native of New Bedford, Massachusetts, which is an hour drive south of Boston.
Lacob grew up listening to Celtics games on the radio. In 2006, he became a part owner of his childhood team and served on the franchise’s Board of Directors.
That experience as a minority partner laid the groundwork for how he was going to tackle his tenure as a Warriors owner.
“It was very important,” he said. “To run any business in life… you kind of need some experience, right? You need to see… what works, what doesn’t work. And when I was building companies, you kind of notice, what’s the right CEO for a certain type of company, what type of people do you hire, I think in this case it’s the same kind of thing.
“Boston was an experience for me, as a limited partner, to get to see how an NBA team ran up front and personal and real. And I got to know people,” Lacob continued. “It was a tremendous experience with the basketball side and business side. I learned some things that I would like to do the way they did it and some things that maybe we do different.”
Lacob doesn’t know where his 2008 championship ring is. And while he’s still friendly with the Celtics’ brass, he made it clear his days of rooting for the green team are long over.
“We’re friends to this day, not too close friends, I want to kill them,” he said. “I’m very competitive about this and I’m sure they are too so it’s going to be a battle on the court and a little bit of a battle at the ownership level, too, we want to kill each other and we want to win.”