How the Golden State Warriors Achieved Unicorn Status

May 30, 2019, 1:37 PM UTC

Seven years ago, Golden State Warriors fans rained down boos on a visibly stunned majority owner Joe Lacob as he was delivering a speech during a jersey retirement ceremony for Warriors’ hall of fame sharpshooter Chris Mullin.

The seasoned venture capitalist and partner at Kleiner Perkins, renowned for his ruthless and successful investing in the tech mecca of Silicon Valley, felt the proverbial wrath after his team just traded away a then star player, Monta Ellis. It was a seminal moment as the loyal fans’ frustration of the Warriors not making the playoffs for the fifth straight season became tantamount. Eventually, it took another Warriors hall of fame shooter, Rick Barry, to chastise the fans, vowing that Lacob “is going to change this franchise.”

Did he ever. Now the Warriors, which resembles an aggressive late-stage tech startup, are attempting to become just the sixth NBA team ever to win three straight championships, and their fourth title in five years, as they take on the Toronto Raptors tonight in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

And they’ve definitely achieved “Unicorn” status. Lacob and former Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Peter Guber bought the team for a then-record $450 million nearly nine years ago (reportedly outbidding Oracle CEO Larry Ellison). It’s now worth more than $3.5 billion.

The duo’s ability to execute has had “a profound effect” on the team’s value, buttressed by “the global reach and strength of the NBA, a powerful combo of developments,” said David Carter, executive director at the University of Southern California’s Sports Business Institute. The Warriors’ Silicon Valley influence on and off the court has also attracted star players Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Andre Iguodala to invest in several startups. Which led us to wonder: Which tech giant do the Warriors resemble the most? While the Warriors did not respond to a request for comment, a few sports experts were game to offer their insights.

“I think I’d say Amazon in terms of how the Warriors have grown so fast into a juggernaut,” said Marcus Thompson II, a lead columnist for The Athletic, a digital national sports startup. Thompson, who has covered the Warriors for more than a decade and written two books featuring Curry and Durant, gave more thought to comparing the NBA champs to one of the world’s largest digital retailers.

“Amazon is omnipresent for whatever you need because of Prime and the access to shopping, movies, and music,” Thompson said. “The Warriors are similar in that aspect because they also have variety; They can shoot you off the court with Curry, (guard) Klay Thompson and Durant and can clamp down on you on defense. They offer some of everything to dominate.”

Add the 2016 free agent signing of Durant, a perennial All-Star who has been the Finals MVP the past two seasons are comparable to “Amazon acquiring Whole Foods,” said Steve Gera, CEO of the Gains Group, a sports innovation consultancy firm that works with the likes of soccer powerhouse FC Barcelona and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

Gera adds that the Warriors’ signing of former All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins this season is comparable to Amazon’s billion-dollar acquisition last year of Ring, the popular smart home company that makes those smart doorbells with built-in cameras and famously rejected on TV’s Shark Tank, or Amazon buying game streamer Twitch in 2014.

“The Warriors were smart to build a great base with Curry, Thompson, and (forward Draymond) Green, core players from their first championship team,” Gera said. “Since then, they’ve been diversifying their style with new ‘products’ like Durant and Cousins. They have consciously built a team like a company that can offer you multiple services on one platform.”

However, Brooks Melchior, owner of the site, believes Google and its “tinkering and refining” of tools might most resemble the Warriors’ mindset in terms of having a talented team where as many as 11 players could play at any point in a game.

“My read on Google is that it is constantly attempting to upgrade hardware and software and those efforts are being refined with user productivity in mind,” Melchior said. “Look at how Google Docs, Slides, and Tables are really game changers worldwide—and how Google is always looking to add more.”

Gera, who was a coach and scout for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and San Diego Chargers, said the Warriors have arguably the best business plan in sports as partnerships with company sponsors like e-commerce site Rakuten and a new tech-enhanced arena in downtown San Francisco opening this fall.

The Athletic’s Thompson goes a step further about the team’s quest to be called a dynasty.

“They don’t care what the critics think,” he said. “They are trying to be number one and monopolize the game.”

Come to think of it, sounds like pretty much every tech giant we know.

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