OAKLAND, Calif. | Golden State Warriors owner Chris Cohan reached an agreement Thursday to sell the franchise for a record $450 million to Boston Celtics minority partner Joe Lacob and Mandalay Entertainment CEO Peter Guber.
“I am incredibly excited to have the opportunity to be the next steward of this storied NBA franchise. This is my dream come true,” said Lacob, who is also the managing partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. “Peter and I intend to do what we do best _ innovating and building. It is our passion to return the Warriors to greatness and build nothing short of a championship organization that will make all of us in the Bay Area proud.”
Lacob and Guber beat out three other finalists, including Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who had been considered the favorite to buy the team from Cohan. Ellison has a personal fortune of $28 billion, according to an annual survey by Forbes magazine, and is the sixth-richest man in the world.
He had been courted by Warriors fans at a game earlier this year to buy the struggling franchise, which has made the playoffs only once in the past 16 seasons. Ellison said in a statement that he was surprised he did not win because he made the biggest offer.
“Although I was the highest bidder, Chris Cohan decided to sell to someone else,” he said. “In my experience this is a bit unusual. Nonetheless, I wish the Warriors and their fans nothing but success under their new ownership.”
Sal Galatioto, the president of Galatioto Sports Partners, which advised Cohan on the sale, said there was a handshake agreement with Lacob and Guber agreed to about two weeks ago. The team had four offers of at least $400 million at the time of the deadline.
While the two sides worked out the details, Ellison came back with what Galatioto described as a “marginally higher” offer just hours before the signing.
“He was way past the deadline,” Galatioto said. “There was no way I was going to recommend that bid to Chris. … Once the shot clock expires, are you allowed to get back on the court and have it count? I don’t think so.”
The bid from Lacob and Guber broke the record for the largest sale in league history, topping the $401 million Robert Sarver paid to buy the Phoenix Suns in 2004.
The deal still needs to be approved by three-quarters of the NBA Board of Governors. Lacob also must sell his interest in the Celtics. Galatioto said he expects the deal to be finalized by the end of September.
Lacob, who has been a season-ticket holder for the Warriors, was part of the ownership group with the Celtics when they won their 17th championship two years ago. He has also been involved in sports websites, was the primary investor in the women’s American Basketball League along in venture capital.
Guber is a producer who helped bring movies such as “Rain Man,” “Batman,” “Flashdance,” and “The Color Purple” to the screen. In 1995, he founded the Mandalay Entertainment Group with partner Paul Schaeffer, who will also be an owner of the team. Mandalay has financed, produced and distributed numerous motion pictures including “Donnie Brasco,” “Enemy at the Gates,” and “Seven Years in Tibet.”
Cohan has had financial problems. In 2007, the Internal Revenue Service said he owed more than $160 million in back income taxes and penalties from the 1998 sale of a cable television company.
Cohan bought the Warriors in January 1995 for about $119 million and made the playoffs just once in his entire tenure. The only other franchises that have been in the league since then to make the playoffs fewer than five times are the Los Angeles Clippers with two appearances and the Memphis/Vancouver Grizzlies with three.
The one playoff berth came in 2007, when the Warriors became the first No. 8 seed to beat the top seed in a best-of-seven series. Golden State lost to Utah in the following round and failed to make the playoffs in 2008 despite winning 48 games. The Warriors have reverted to form the past two seasons with 55 wins in that span.
But despite the long run of on-court struggles, Golden State has a passionate fan base that has helped pack Oracle Arena in recent years and made the team a desirable target for a new owner.
Cohan thanked the Warriors fans, calling them the “best fans in all of sports.”
One of the first major decisions the new owners will have to make is whether to keep the Warriors management team in place. Coach Don Nelson has one year and $6 million remaining on his contract. President Robert Rowell and general manager Larry Riley also could be replaced.
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