IN THE pantheon of eccentric sports team owners, Franklin Mieuli will certainly have a seat in the front row. It is a position he earned.
We mourn last Sunday's passing of the 89-year-old erstwhile owner of the Golden State Warriors, who was much more than the owner of a sports team franchise. He was a humble Bay Area icon who contributed mightily to the community, especially the East Bay.
In large measure, Mieuli was one of three team officials who helped form and develop professional sports in the East Bay.
He purchased the Warriors in 1962 and moved the team to Oakland in 1971. That began a magical run that no East Bay sports fan should ever forget.
Legendary A's owner Charles O. Finley — no stranger to eccentricity himself — had put together a baseball team that was to take three straight World Series championships from 1972 through 1974. The next year, it was Mieuli's turn in the spotlight as his Warriors won their only West Coast NBA championship in 1975. And the next year, the Oakland Raiders — with the unconventional Al Davis as its managing general partner — won their first Super Bowl title.
Mieuli stood out in the crowd at Warriors games — or anywhere else, for that matter — as he nearly always sported a full beard underneath his signature deerstalker hat, a look he shared with Arthur Conan Doyle's famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.
Much was made of Mieuli's appearance, but he shrugged it off as merely an expression of freedom. In his mind, he was a free spirit being free.
But while Mieuli may have been different, he was nobody's fool. Not only did he own the Warriors for 24 years, he also had stakes in the 49ers and the Giants.
More importantly, he had the vision to see the potential for professional sports in Oakland. Moving the Warriors to this side of the Bay and changing the name from the San Francisco Warriors to the Golden State Warriors was one of those instinctive business decisions that were the hallmark of his tenure with the Warriors.
Yes, he had some stinker draft picks and a few bad trades in his day. But he also had some strokes of genius. Hall of Famer Rick Barry was one of those, as was Mieuli's decision to promote defensive guard Al Attles to become only the second black head coach in the league's history.
Barry's play and Attles' coaching were the heart and soul of the 1975 team that would win the championship in four straight games.
Mieuli always said that he couldn't run a basketball team like a regular corporation, that as far as he was concerned it was an enterprise that he had to run with his heart.
We are grateful that Mieuli gave his heart to the Warriors and Bay Area sports for so long. He will be sorely missed.