As a longtime partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Joe Lacob had a reputation for backing high-risk, high-reward startups. But when he paid $450 million in 2010 for the Golden State Warriors—then valued at a measly $315 million and considered the worst team in the NBA—even die-hard fans scoffed.
Seven years later, the Warriors are two-time champs worth a reported $2.6 billion. In his new book, Betaball, Erik Malinowski (a former WIRED staffer) credits the slingshot turnaround not to Steph Curry’s swishing three-pointers but to Lacob’s application of Silicon Valley strategies to revitalize a sluggish team.
First off, Lacob used his newcomer status to build a thriving corporate culture. He paid a reported $1.6 million for a flashy, startup-style open office that encouraged collaboration. Then he set up an email account where fans could submit feedback—and actually get a response.
As the first in his family to go to college, Lacob was a firm believer in hiring based on potential, not experience. He appointed Phoenix Suns GM Steve Kerr as head coach and former sports agent Bob Myers as general manager. Neither had ever formally wielded an NBA clipboard, but their passion for the game swayed the new owners. On and off the court, Lacob emphasized character. He signed upstanding players like Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes, and he traded Monta Ellis, who had been sued by a staff member for sexual harassment. (The case was settled.) The message: zero tolerance for brilliant jerks.
Having spent decades investing in experimental technologies, Lacob was one of the first NBA execs to see potential in SportVU, a motion-capture camera system. Another company, MOCAP Analytics, used AI and machine learning to turn the raw SportVU data into play simulations. Like big-data-obsessed startups, the Warriors began quantifying everything, from players’ sleep schedules to their shooting accuracy.
Coming from the land of nap rooms and Soylent, Lacob embraced Jobsian mindfulness. His team experimented with meditation, sensory-deprivation pods, and electricity-transmitting headphones. Turns out ballers like butter coffee too.
Before pouring millions into a startup, investors set clear performance goals. Lacob’s target was ambitious: to win a championship within five years. His team clinched the title in four years, seven months. A Golden unicorn was born.
This article appears in the October issue. Subscribe now.