When Chris Cohan, the owner of the Golden State Warriors since 1995, put the team up for sale in March, he had a price in mind.
That figure — $450 million — was met Thursday morning when dark-horse candidate Joseph Lacob, a part owner of the Boston Celtics, emerged as the majority owner of the team.
Perhaps the bigger news was that Lacob's group, which includes Mandalay Entertainment CEO Peter Guber, had beaten out heavy favorite Larry Ellison, the billionaire CEO of Oracle, which has the naming rights to the Warriors' home court, the Oracle Arena in Oakland.
"We're all about winning," said Lacob, a managing partner with Menlo Park-based venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. "We think it's a very good opportunity as a business enterprise and the (financial) potential is there. But this is all about winning. We're going to change the course of the franchise."
Lacob's group, heavily in the mix all the way, leapfrogged groups led by Texas financier David Bonderman and Lafayette resident Mark Mastrov, founder of 24 Hour Fitness.
But did the group outbid Ellison, one of the richest men in the world?
"Although I was the highest bidder, Chris Cohan decided to sell to someone else," Ellison said in a statement released by Oracle. "In my experience, this is a bit unusual."
According to Sal Galatioto of Galatioto Sports Partners, an auctioneer that handles large sports transactions, four
Galatioto said Ellison's bid came "weeks" after the deadline and after an agreement was in place with the Lacob. Galatioto wouldn't reveal Ellison's bid but confirmed it was a few million dollars more than Lacob's. Galatioto said it was so late that it would have been unethical to consider it.
"It was not much more than the winning bid," Galatioto said. "Chris and I both felt that the moral and ethical thing to do was to honor the deal we had. It just wouldn't have been morally right."
Galatioto said Ellison's people were informed of what was going on each step of the way. One source said Ellison didn't believe Cohan had such a high bid until it was too late.
None of that mattered to Lacob.
"I personally don't really know (what other groups bid)," Lacob said. "It was an auction process, so who knows what really went on. We did what we felt was right. We did our due diligence. I think we wanted it more than the other guys and I think we are more knowledgeable about basketball than all these others guys. And if I didn't think so we wouldn't have done this."
Many fans expected, and even hoped, that Ellison would buy the team. Ellison is known as a zealous competitor, and fans were hoping to get that kind of pedigree.
Lacob would like to think they did.
"We're fans, too," Lacob said. "We all think we can do this better than the current owner. We all do. Certainly, it occurred to us that given the history, we could wind up looking pretty good. With their record (on the court), you couldn't go much lower than that, to be honest. But we're going to try to do everything we can to do a better job.
"The No. 1 thing (fans need to know): We're going to do our damnedest to bring the Warriors to respectability on the basketball court."
The NBA now gets its chance to look over the sale agreement and do background checks on the incoming owners. Lacob also has to sell his minority interest in the Celtics. The NBA Board of Governors also has to vote to approve the new ownership group. Twenty-three of the 30 owners must approve for the sale to go through. The expectation is that it will take about 60 to 90 days.
According to insiders, there is little doubt the sale will be approved as many, including NBA Commissioner David Stern, have long wanted Cohan to sell.
"As I conclude my tenure as owner of the Warriors, I wanted to take this opportunity to express my sincerest gratitude, and to personally say thank you to the 'best fans in all of sports,' " Cohan said in the release. "It's a phrase that is too often utilized by players, coaches, executives and owners in all sports leagues, but I can say without reservation and with unbridled conviction that Warriors fans have earned the sole right of that honor and distinction."
Cohan became a minority owner in 1994 and purchased the remaining interest in the Warriors in January 1995, the moves costing him $135 million.
Cohan sold 20 percent of the team in 2004 to Michael Marks of Flextronics, Jim Davidson of Silver Lake Partners, John Thompson of Symantec and Fred Harman of Oak Investment Partners.
In his 16 seasons as majority owner of the Warriors, the team was 477-803 with one playoff appearance. Only the Los Angeles Clippers had a worse NBA winning percentage during that span. Only the Warriors had fewer than two playoff appearances in that stretch.