Posted Nov 18 2010 6:39PM
SAN FRANCISCO -- Chris Cohan officially put the Warriors up for sale in March, and offers charged in. Offers charged in with such an immediate flurry, in fact, that some veterans of the league office who had been through several previous franchise transactions couldn't hide the delight at the interest for the perennial lottery team.
But, then, it was never about the basketball. Financial goliath Larry Ellison wasn't attracted by the roster, Magic Johnson wasn't lured into the bidding as a potential minority owner from another group by the trade possibilities, and Joe Lacob and Peter Guber didn't make the winning bid of $450 million, the most ever for an NBA franchise, because general manager Larry Riley had big plans for reconstruction.
The pursuit of the Warriors included some of the biggest names in sports and industry despite years of losing because the suitors viewed this as a market with tremendous growth potential. It certainly already had an indestructible fan base, the way Golden State finished 11th in attendance in a time of economic crisis last season while going 26-56. It had the important corporate structure of many companies with a worldwide reach. And, it had San Francisco.
Interviews with several people involved in the process revealed that The City was at the very least a consideration in bids and, for some, a significant part of the decision to chase a team that piles up losses and is part of the pack in the distance behind the 49ers and Giants as the top sports attraction in a crowded sports field. More specifically, the possibility of a new arena in San Francisco held enough of an appeal that at least three groups are known to have considered the short move as they weighed an offer to Chris Cohan.
That was enough common interest from successful businesspeople to signal the chance for a very lucrative return and turn what otherwise would have been a local issue into the stuff of league-wide dynamics.
Lacob and Guber, after officially taking control last week, have done nothing to squelch speculation. They held a series of introductory media sessions at a restaurant and downtown hotel suite here when the team plays across the bay in Oakland and when, in fact, the Warriors office is connected to a major hotel. They made not-so-sly references to San Francisco that were impossible to miss even if people had not been looking for hints.
Hints are no longer necessary. The new owners at some point will begin searching out a new arena, and this world-class city will be at the forefront of the conversation.
There is the important disclaimer: Lacob and Guber said they will consider several options, including remaining in the current site twinned with the home of the Raiders and A's next door. That would mean another renovation that could force temporary relocation for the Warriors, just as they spent 1996-97 in San Jose when the building known at the time as Oakland Coliseum was gutted and updated, but Guber said it "sure" is on the table.
"We view this as we are the team of the San Francisco Bay Area," said Lacob, previously a Celtics minority owner. "That's what it's called. There are three major cities in this area: Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco. Put 'em in any order you want. We are very fortunate to have those three cities as our market. Right now, we play in Oakland and we have a very nice arena. We have tremendous fans, who, by the way, actually are from all over the Bay Area. We have great fans, we have a great arena, we have great access to that arena. We are very happy where we are. We're delighted with it. At some point in the future, we may get presented with options, for San Francisco, as you suggest, or somewhere else, for a new arena. And we would look at that.
"Everyone always wants a newer arena. We'd be silly not to say that we didn't want the best accommodations for our fans and for our team. So I think having a new arena that's done properly is an advantage and if we're lucky enough to be part of that process at some point, whether it be in San Francisco or Oakland or wherever, then that'd be great. There are advantages to both, certainly. San Francisco is a major metropolitan area, it's got a lot of name identification. But Oakland, frankly, has a tremendous fan base and it's a great city in its own right. And there are great fans over there. It's not something that we sit around and say, 'Oh, we're dreaming to go to this city,' or whatever. We are happy -- very, very happy to be where we are -- very happy to have three great cities of the greater San Francisco Bay Area as our market."
Lacob said there have not been any actual conversations with the Giants or anyone in San Francisco, only what he called a passing "hallway discussion" with a Giants executive. A genuine talk will undoubtedly happen at some point, because bidders for the Warriors always knew any San Francisco proposal would, at least initially, go through the Giants with land around AT&T Park mentioned most often for an arena site. Maybe Ellison had singular options as the sixth-richest man in the world on the Forbes list -- buying up all San Francisco, buying Major League Baseball and shutting down the Giants to turn the stadium into an arena, weekend spending sprees like that -- but the World Series champions will be involved.
For now, Lacob said, there are no plans to meet with the Giants or anyone on the arena front. They have a lease at Oracle Arena and the more-pressing priorities of turning their sponsorship and marketing hopes into reality and deciding whether to keep or deal large expiring contracts to boost the roster.
The building discussions will start at some point and a move across the Bay Bridge will be considered, just as other groups would have done if they bought the Warriors, with one insider noting, "Everybody talked about it." What actually happens is far less clear, except for one thing: This is not just a local issue.
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