Golden State Warriors: The Unpopular Road to Success

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 11, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 19:   Golden State Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob and Nicole Curran (behind him) watch the Warriors play the Indiana Pacers at Oracle Arena on January 19, 2011 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It's only 46 seconds long, and the camera is a little shaky. The sound is muffled, too. But this little-known video represents—with crystal clarity—the moment everything changed for the Golden State Warriors.

Let me explain.

Shot in the bowels of Oracle Arena in Oakland just after the lowest moment in owner Joe Lacob's professional life, the video shows a man clearly bent, but unbroken.

Lacob was visibly rattled when Warriors fans rudely booed him, ruining a night meant to celebrate the retirement of Chris Mullin's jersey. But by the time Lacob mercifully escaped center court, his demeanor had changed to one of quiet resolve.

He knew he'd presided over the trade of fan-favorite Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks, one of the most unpopular moves in Warriors history. So he probably expected some backlash. But he could never have foreseen what actually happened that night.

Nonetheless, Lacob gamely answered a few questions after the boo-fest probably still somewhat dazed. His message was clear: popularity be damned; we know what we're doing. To quote him:

I'm just saying that I think we did the right prepare our team to win going forward. We have our resolve—we know it was the right thing to do. I think a lot of fans will see that as time goes on.

It's rare for an owner to openly tell fans that he simply knows better.

In the case of past Warriors ownership, it never happened. In fact, it was pretty obvious during the entire tenure of former owner Chris Cohan that he would do just about anything to appease his fanbase. He signed and extended numerous underperforming, overrated crowd favorites to keep the fans happy.

Of course, that tactic led to a consistently awful product—which fans still inexplicably continued to support, positively incentivizing Cohan's continued ineptitude. The Warriors sold out just about every game during their historically inept run from 1995 to 2010.

So, making shortsighted, popular decisions can keep the seats full in Oakland, but it certainly doesn't lead to success.

In defending management's decision to move Ellis, Lacob showed that things were going to be different. Being popular was no longer a priority. Winning was.

Sure enough, the Warriors tanked during the second half of the 2011-2012 season in an effort to retain their first-round draft pick—another unpopular decision that alienated many of the franchise's less thoughtful fans. But it worked.

The fact is: since Lacob and his group took over the Warriors, management has been bolstered by the addition of a number of savvy decision makers. The legendary Jerry West is on board, and former agent Bob Myers was promoted to GM in place of Cohan holdover, Larry Riley.

The new brain trust under Lacob is singularly devoted to turning the Warriors into a winning franchise, regardless of short-term fan sentiment.

Maybe the moves made under Lacob's watch have all been wrong. (For what it's worth, I think trading Ellis was a brilliant decision.) But the point is that Lacob believes these moves are the right ones, that they set the Warriors up to be winners. He doesn't care if a few (or a few thousand) fans don't like them.

That's a big change for the Warriors. And with a recent history like the one in Golden State, change is good.