We here at Chat Sports are determined to give you an inside look into the true cutting edge of the sports industry, opening up the conversation about the convergence between sports, new technology and the business world.
That's why we were so fortunate to have the two men behind this years' NBA Finals participants - Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob and Cleveland Cavs owner Dan Gilbert - with us on Friday for a historic "Minds Behind the Game" panel at the Zynga offices in Downtown San Francisco.
Moderated by Chat Sports CEO James Yoder, this once-in-a-lifetime event came the very next day after the Warriors' thrilling 108-100 overtime win over the Cavs in Game 1 - a game which proved even more costly for the Cavs after news that start point guard Kyrie Irving with be sideline for 3 to 4 months with a fractured kneecap.
"One point one way or the other way in a 48-minute game, one call the wrong way or one free throw one way or the other way is the difference between us being 1-0 in Golden State against the team with the NBA's best record with our point guard is playing and he's fine and he's healthy, versus our point guard is out for the season and we're down 1-0," Gilbert said.
However, the mood lightened pretty quickly as both Gilbert and Lacob took to grilling moderator James Yoder about his rooting interest in the Finals:
As the panel moved along, we also got a unique glimpse into Gilbert and Lacob's beginnings in the workforce.
"I loved delivering pizzas, I really did," Gilbert said of his first job. "This was before cell phones and GPS - you had none of that, but you did have shortcuts. With delivering pizzas, I just loved the sense of urgency. I was always sort of entrepreneurial growing up."
That acute interest in an applied trade has continued to be a dominant them in Gilbert's work, ranging from founding Quicken Loans to his venture capital interests with Rock Ventures and DVP. A similar thing can be said for Joe Lacob, who got his feet wet early on as a peanut vendor for the then-California Angels at the old Anaheim Stadium.
"I learned that peanuts was better than selling Cokes or anything like that because you could double-stack them and sell more, or you could throw them," Lacob said.
The crowd was so into Lacob's peanut-hawking past than one audience member asked him to break out his peanut call for old times' sake.
It was a loose, fun-filled night altogether, but there was still plenty of insight to be gleaned. For example, Gilbert opened up on just why he's helped invest nearly $2 billion and thousands of jobs into the struggling economy of his hometown Detroit.
"We figured we had to be in an urban core anyways to get great talent," Gilbert explained. "At the same time, we could help our great city come back. Now we have 12,000+ people there, you can't find an apartment and things are going pretty well. I think we're just at the ground floor.
"There are articles out there that call Detroit the 'Silicon Valley of its day,'" he continued. "I think there are similarities and there are differences, but I find that hard to believe that something like that would happen here. I've lived around the city (of Detroit) all of my life, but the last five years of really being there, driving the neighborhoods and looking at the buildings, not only in downtown...There are 78,000 homes in the process of being taken down. 1,000 a month are being taken down right now. To this day walking by and looking, although it's been vastly improved and will keep being improved, I think, 'How did this happen in this country?'"
Lacob displayed a similar affection and passion for the 32 years he's spent in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"The truth is there's something very magical in the water here," Lacob said. "I told my kids as they were growing up, when they were choosing colleges, I used to tell them to go look at different places. But, you come back here and there's just something that is hard to say. It's a cultural thing that is very encouraging of entrepreneurship. Even when you talk to kids that come out of places like Stanford, they're just a different breed. I'm sure there have been other places in the world like that, but there's something about this place."
Switching gears to the tech side of things, Lacob gave us an idea of just what he's looking for when he's scouring the nation for "ahead of the curve" startups to invest in. For him, even virtual reality technology isn't quite what he'd consider to be "out of the box."
"Virtual reality is certainly at the earliest stages," he said. "I think it's a very exciting area to invest, but the problem is most venture firms are investing in VR startups. Look how many there are. To me, I still think it's early enough, but I wouldn't call that ahead of the curve."
Adding to the conversation about companies out in front of the pack when it comes to innovation, Dan Gilbert name-checked one of the companies in his investment portfolio, Krossover.
"With Krossover, it's just this great technology company that's three or four years old," he said. "In New York City, we were introduced to (CEO) Vasu (Kulkarni) who is a great entrepreneur and is building a company that allows high school teams, in basketball and football primarily, to instantaneously look at highlights and stats overnight."
The going theme here? Connectivity in the modern age and its impact on sports and culture in general.
"It's obviously changed so many things," Lacob said of the recent shift towards a hyperconnected society. "The Internet itself, just the basic concept of the Internet 20 years ago now...actually, at our firm we funded Netscape. Many of these companies in the late 90s were just one after the other. But, it's just the whole idea that everybody is connected all the time."
Not exactly impressed by the Warriors' use of connectivity when it comes to providing real-time stats and data to those attending games at Oracle Arena (the Cavs do just that at Quicken Loans Arena), Gilbert turned the conversation on its head with an EPIC one-liner:
Dan followed up his zinger, however, with his take on using modern-day technology to improve the relationship between businesses and their customers.
“What you learn from your customers, whether it is sports or anything, that to me is the best part of social and mobile," he explained. "You have your tentacles, if you use them right, you can get that live customer feeling that you can't get if you're sitting in an ivory tower somewhere."
However, as was the theme on this night, there was yet another awesome one-liner to be had:
Of course, that spiraled into more hilarity. When confronted about his well-publicized encounter at Game 1 of the Finals in Oakland (and the fact that he moved seats away from Rihanna at one point), Joe Lacob provided yet another Internet-friendly sound byte.
All jokes aside, the true underlying thread of this night was the evolution of the sporting experience, both for businesses and the customers themselves. One audience question on the impact of secondary-ticket marketplaces such as StubHub on the two owners' respective teams really highlighted the tightrope NBA teams are balancing on when it comes to at-the-gate revenue.
Gilbert explained his view on the matter, citing the team's relationship with secondary-ticket provider Veritix Flash Seats as one way that skeptical NBA franchises can use such services to their advantage.
"When somebody knows there's a liquid secondary market, they're more apt to buy on the primary market because they know they can get rid of it and they can move those tickets very quickly digitally," Gilbert explained.
“I think that teams are crazy," he added regarding NBA team's reticence about secondary-ticket sites. "It's good for their fans. A lot of times people think that, if you have it in one place, you're sort of monopolizing it. I think it's the actual opposite...I believe a visible, liquid secondary market is fair."
Moving from ticketing into the future of the in-arena and outside-of-the-arena experience of NBA basketball, Lacob once again brought things back to the introduction of virtual reality technology to the sporting mix.
"We had a test case we ran at our arena that we broadcast internally on VR," he said. "It was basically cameras at courtside and it was unbelievable. It was as though you were sitting in a courtside seat. You can turn your head, you've got this thing on your head which was cell phone-based in this case, and it's as though you're sitting in that seat and watching that game. That is an unbelievable technology. Think about it improving quickly over the next year or two years. I think that has a chance to revolutionize the way people at other locations can watch a game."
For revolutions like virtual reality and liquid secondary-ticket markets to fully take flight in the NBA sphere, Gilbert believes there needs to be a shift in the mentality and corporate cultures of NBA teams.
"Joe and I were actually discussing before we came in here how traditionally, and probably still in the majority of the NBA, there's this wall up between business and basketball," he said. "A lot of it intentionally. I thought they were kidding when they we explaining this to me. It's bizarre almost. Nothing could be worse, I think. Both sides can help each other tremendously and I think the new wave of owners, most of them think the way we're talking about."
As evidenced by the entirety of their time on stage at "Minds Behind the Game," success for Lacob, Gilbert and their respective teams isn't just measured by wins and losses. It's about instilling a working culture which delivers innovation in the hopes of constantly improving the relationship between the sports world and the business world.
To view our groundbreaking chat with the minds behind the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavs, be sure to watch the recording of the full event at this link.Back to the NBA Newsfeed