An Exclusive Look Into The New Chase Center: Joe and Nicole Lacob Share Their Passions, Past, and Promises for the Warriors and the Community

Joe and Nicole Lacob in Chase Center
Joe and Nicole Lacob in Chase Center

From the outside of the roaring Warriors’ arena, it would be easy to assume that the lives of Joe and Nicole Lacob have always been one of gilded opulence. But, pull back the gold metallic curtains and you’ll find two incredibly grounded and generous individuals.

BY TERESA RODRIGUEZ | PHOTOS BY JASON WELLS

JOE LACOB

Joe Lacob’s journey as Chairman and CEO of the Golden State Warriors started one frigid afternoon in New Bedford, Massachusetts. “I was nine or 10 and my mom took me to see the local Boys’ Club. We walked into the gymnasium and, for the first time ever, I saw an indoor basketball court with its hardwood floor. I thought it was the coolest thing ever! I am not even sure if I had ever played basketball at that point, but I knew that I was really interested in the game. Remember, the Boston Celtics, my hometown team, were a 1960’s dynasty, and I used to listen to them on my transistor radio.”

The story of Joe Lacob’s family was typical for a New England resident. His father worked in a leather goods factory as a foreman. When the company was acquired and then eventually shut down, Joe’s father was singled out and, fortunately, offered a new job to remain with the company. The job, however, was located on the opposite side the country in Orange County, California, specifically in the community of Garden Grove. So, the Lacob family packed up their belongings and moved 3,000 miles away to a very different place. Joe refers to that drastic move as one of the luckiest turns of events in his life.

Although Joe’s favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, did not win the World Series that year, he loved baseball and was inspired to see if he could land a job at Anaheim Stadium, home of the California Angels, which was only a mile or so from his home. His dream became a reality at the Big A, as he secured his first job of selling soft drinks, a gig that left his hands sticky from drink spillage while navigating the steep stairs of the stadium.

Even at a young age, Joe was an overachiever. Management soon promoted him to selling peanuts, which were lighter to move around and allowed him to carry and sell more, thus yielding more profits. “I was a hawker for seven years through high school and college, and I just loved working the games and being at the ballpark. That job also taught me about the value of hard work, as it was straight commission (14%), meaning the harder I worked, the more I earned!”

Joe’s early years listening to the Red Sox and Celtics on the radio, combined with his Anaheim Stadium experience as a teenager, shaped him in critical ways. “Between my love of being at Anaheim Stadium and listening to games on a small radio, I knew that, when I eventually made money someday, I wanted to own a sports team,” Lacob said. Starting at 14 years of age, Joe set his course for success and, several decades later, made his dream come true with the purchase of the Golden State Warriors in 2010. Along the way, Joe dabbled with other sports investments. “Back in 1996, I invested in the San Jose Lasers, a team in the women’s American Basketball League. The Lasers never won a championship, and the entire league was shut down in less than three seasons due to competition with the WNBA. I lost a bunch of money; but, when I was looking to buy the Warriors, that experience, along with my years in venture capital, helped me navigate a successful path in buying and operating a professional sports team.”

In 2010, Joe informed his partners at Kleiner Perkins that he was leaving the firm to buy the Warriors, then an underperforming team. “I told my partners that I was leaving and that a total immersion was the best way to handle it. I wanted to be fully involved with not only owning a team but operating it, too. I spent 30 years at Kleiner Perkins finding businesses to build, hiring the right staff to run those businesses, and creating success for our partners. Now, with the Warriors, this was my opportunity to build something great and a business model that I was truly passionate about, something very close to my heart. At first, there was a lot of intense work; but, with my experience and the experience of Peter Guber, we were able to put together a team comprised of terrific individuals who were dedicated in creating success for the Warriors—from both team and business perspectives.”

Since then, the Warriors have advanced to five NBA Finals, won three NBA championships, and are now considered one of the best organizations in professional sports. Joe’s vision and passion have enabled the franchise to reach new heights, which includes a spectacular, new, privately financed arena in San Francisco, Chase Center, opening this September.

Chase Center Main Lobby
Chase Center Main Lobby

CHASE CENTER

“Our fans are from all over the Bay Area and we view the Warriors as a team of the region, not a particular city. Still, our first thought was to stay in Oakland and we explored it. We spoke with city officials in Oakland to find potential new sites, but that garnered no traction. Eventually, we were fortunate to meet with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and he partnered with us on Piers 30-32 and the port of San Francisco. That location ultimately did not work out, but fortuitously I received a call from Marc Benioff, the Chairman of Salesforce, with some good news. He said that Salesforce had 11 acres of land in Mission Bay where they were going to build their corporate headquarters, but they decided to pivot and lease Salesforce Tower. He told me that we could buy the land if that made sense for us.”

The land was near the Giants stadium and on the waterfront, too. The most important aspect for Joe and his team was to make sure that ingress and egress to the new arena was feasible, and that it was easily accessible via public transportation. They concluded that the Mission Bay location was, in many respects, superior to the site on the piers. The organization made a relatively quick decision and purchased the land.

“I’m a guy who just wants to get things done! We bought the land and launched forward with our plans through the city. We were, unfortunately, hit with some litigation and two lawsuits that delayed us for two years. Nothing is easy in San Francisco, but we prevailed.”

Chase Center Theater Entrance
Chase Center Theater Entrance

Chase Center is located in a burgeoning part of San Francisco and features a recently-expanded Muni platform directly in front of the arena. The T-Rail Muni line is connected to the Embarcadero BART station (one level up) and provides direct and convenient access to the venue.

The waterfront arena will include two office towers with 580,000 square feet of office space, over 100,000 square feet of retail space, a 5.5-acre public park, and a beautiful plaza that will feature numerous events and attractions.

“I am deeply involved in every aspect of Chase Center. Quite honestly, it might be the single hardest thing I have ever done in my career. I have helped build multi-billion-dollar companies and we have won several NBA championships, but this was much tougher. We want this building to be the best basketball arena and concert venue in the world. And, we designed it to be intimate for basketball, have a terrific sound system, and have a wide variety of food. A lot of people put a lot of hard work into this.”

Chase Center Concert Bowl
Chase Center Concert Bowl

Chase Center will have numerous unique options for dining — both inside and outside of the venue — and several retail shops as well, including one of the largest team merchandise stores in the NBA. It will also offer a great city experience that San Francisco has always lacked.  “And, it’s going to feature a phenomenal customer experience, which is the part I am most proud of,” Lacob said.

Another reason Joe is so proud of the project is because Chase Center was 100 percent privately financed. There were no city funds from San Francisco and no taxpayer money used to pay for the building. “We did not want to take away from essential city services like education, fire, or police,” Joe said. “The fact is, the city didn’t have to pay for it, but the city and the residents will greatly benefit from it. And, we are very proud of that.” San Francisco was the only major city in North America that didn’t have a 15,000-plus seat arena, but now Chase Center will generate ample sales and property taxes for the city.

Chase Center
Chase Center

PHILOSOPHY OF GIVING BACK

Joe is extremely passionate about giving back to the community. “We feel that owning a major sports team, at some level, is more of a community partnership. The team, in some ways, is really owned by the Bay Area and the fans; we have an important role to give back to the fans who support us. We have built many public basketball courts around the Bay Area and, most importantly, the Warriors Community Foundation is committed to improving the lives of others,” Joe shares.

The foundation does not create an endowment that is locked away while slowly utilizing a percentage of the funds over a period of time. Instead, the Warriors Community Foundation raises money each year and it strategically and thoughtfully grants that money to those in need in that same fiscal year. Raise it. Give it away.

Nicole and Joe Lacob
Nicole and Joe Lacob

Joe and his wife, Nicole, believe that a good education is the key to the lives of youngsters. “Underprivileged children and education is our passion and we are extremely focused on that particular issue. Nicole was a teacher for years. We jointly decided to commit to the same goal of education. We are not going to be a championship contender every single season, but we want our fans to know that our efforts in the community will be there regardless and, hopefully, they will stick by us. So, in those terms, it is almost like a joint venture, if you will,” Joe shares. Along with the many programs they support via the Warriors Community Foundation, the organization has also partnered with Kaiser Permanente to support mental health programs in schools.

“The Golden State Warriors are now more than a basketball team,” Lacob said. “We are a sports and entertainment organization. We have venues that we own and manage, and we own and operate restaurants. We are booking concerts; the lineup we have in place for the opening month of Chase Center is amazing. Every major act that goes on tour will want to play in San Francisco. We plan to be the Madison Square Garden of the West Coast and like O2 in London.”

The opening concert at Chase Center on September 6 will feature Metallica and the SF Symphony. “We wanted it to be big, but we also wanted it to be very San Francisco. Twenty years ago, the Symphony and Metallica won a Grammy for collaboration, so we wanted to recreate that magic. I’m not a huge symphony guy in general, but for Nicole, it is pretty cool,” Joe said.

Q: How will you shore up the team after the loss of Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala?

A: We think we had a very productive summer with the roster moves that we made. Kevin and Andre were a big part of our team and helped us win multiple championships over the last few years; and, we thank them for all of their terrific contributions. 

Q: How much pressure do you feel to have a solid team for the first year at the new arena?

A: Our goal is to be a good team for a sustained period of time, which is the true test of an outstanding organization. We don’t feel any added pressure being the first year at Chase Center, because our goal is to field a competitive team every season. At the end of the day, we realize that we are not going to make the Finals every season, but we will always strive for excellence.

Q: The Warriors have dominated the Western Conference for the last five years. What are your feelings about the monumental changes in the team, the staff, and the big move to SF?

A: I’m really excited about the upcoming season and the move to San Francisco and a spectacular new arena. We’ve had a few changes on the roster, but that’s part of the game. Change is inevitable. But, I really like our roster and the moves we made during the summer. And, I think our fans will be excited as well, especially with some of our young players who will get an opportunity to play this season. It’s an exciting time, both on the court and with the new arena in San Francisco.

Nicole announces Generation Thrive Project
Nicole announces Generation Thrive Project

Photo Credit: WARRIORS COMMUNITY FOUNDATION

NICOLE LACOB

At 13 years old, Nicole Curran wasn’t given the choice of how her life was going to unfold. She was raised by a single mother who sent her off Milton Hershey School, a boarding school for orphans in Hershey, Pennsylvania. At the time, Nicole’s mother, Barbara, was working full-time and raising her young daughter on her own. As one would imagine, Barbara was overwhelmed and overworked. So, she packed up her daughter’s belongings one day and sent her off to experience, hopefully, a better life in Hershey.

Fortunately, the teachers at Milton Hershey, basically a group of strangers to young Nicole, were dedicated to teaching and serving underprivileged children. The school, now celebrating its 110th anniversary, only accepts children who are at or below the Federal Poverty Level. For many, being shipped off to an orphanage would be the start of a tragic life and a tale of abandonment and fear, but not for Nicole. This is where Nicole Curran-Lacob began her lifelong journey and ambition to change the world, one child at a time.

Nicole’s life was changed through the compassion and attention that she received at Milton Hershey. The school believes that the power to build an exceptional life begins with an excellent education. That philosophy was successfully passed down to Nicole.

Eventually, Nicole found her way, thanks to the love and support of her educators, especially her ninth-grade teacher, Mr. Jackson. From that point, Nicole vowed that she, too, would become a teacher later in life and help others. “At school, I milked cows in the morning and baled hay and scooped poop in the afternoon. It was rough, but I do believe that the tough things in life make us stronger,” Nicole shared.

She later returned to join her mother at home, where Nicole went to school during the day and worked at an ice cream parlor at night. She spent weekends working at a hair salon and modeling. Never forgetting the importance of education, she desperately wanted to attend college and, as if by divine grace, was gifted a full-tuition scholarship to George Washington University. The scholarship came from an anonymous donor, setting the stage that has made giving back a part of Nicole’s mission in life.

After George Washington University, Nicole did indeed become a teacher. She taught history and government at an inner-city high school in Washington, D.C. After getting married, she moved to Phoenix where she helped mainstream kids from Black Canyon Prison adjust to life in the Phoenix Unified School District. Most importantly, Nicole had an incredible gift of seeing potential in others — just as others found potential in her. For Nicole, teaching was all about providing an opportunity where there was seemingly none.

“I wanted to help students thrive and become more than what their environment dictated,” she said. “I was making $23,500 a year as a teacher and working other part-time jobs to make ends meet. When I was teaching, I tried so hard to make history exciting. We’d play weekly ‘history jeopardy’ with NERF® basketballs and a milk crate. When someone answered a question correctly, they could shoot the ball for their team.”

Joe and Nicole Lacob
Joe and Nicole Lacob in a new suite at Chase Center

Education remains her passion many years later. After moving to the Bay Area and marrying Joe Lacob, she has been the perfect person to lead the charge for the revamped Warriors Community Foundation. Regardless of the sparkle and shine that Nicole routinely wears at Warriors games, she will never forget her past and how important it is to inspire, connect, and support the next generation of children who come from less than ideal life situations. That compassion and drive are evident in the incredible success of the Warriors Community Foundation under her guidance.

Nicole and Marty Glick, a minority investor of the Warriors and special advisor to the team’s ownership, founded the Warriors Community Foundation in 2012. Glick was inspired by his wife, Judy, who spent her life volunteering at early literacy programs throughout the Bay Area. It was clear, given their backgrounds, that the focus of the foundation would be on education. They both shared the conviction and belief that opportunity could change the trajectory of a child’s life.

In the early days of the Warriors Foundation over seven years ago, the focus was on the journey from kindergarten to high school. However, Nicole and Marty quickly learned that was not enough to ensure success. The program eventually morphed into a cradle-to-career model. The foundation now invests in everything from matching funds for college savings accounts at birth to mentorships through college and first job placements.

Nicole keeps close tabs on the kids in the program and is persistent and passionate about the children in all of the different initiatives the foundation supports. “At first, we were monitoring their success and they were, indeed, going to college, but just for the initial year. They were getting lost in the system. I got lost in the system, so I know how overwhelming and difficult it can be to navigate. Our kids would drop out due to simple things, like not having money for books. After we helped them through college, they didn’t know how to present themselves in an interview. As an example, there was a student in Fruitvale who had to stay home and sell fruit to help his family, so his foundation mentor needed to have a conversation with the parent about the importance of the internship. Obviously, a kid who is selling fruit is not going to have the same opportunities as a kid who does an internship. His parents understood it and now he’s gainfully employed. That makes me happy.”

For Nicole, seeing students rise above all that could hold them down is not only her goal, but her dream. To achieve that, the foundation helps with the most mundane, yet critical needs. “One of our programs, Students Rising Above, will buy college-bound students bed linens so they have sheets when they go off to college. The program will give the students money for jeans and shoes so they can fit in with everyone. Once they get through college, the program will help them find careers.”

Nicole beams when sharing the joys of her job. One of her favorite stories is about a young man from Alameda County whom the Warriors Foundation has supported. He traveled 2.5 hours on multiple buses to get to school every day because he viewed school as an opportunity. Now, he is a junior at Boston College.“This upcoming year, our grants review committee will thoroughly review all of the grant applications. We will eventually give away $1.9 million and $500,000 for Hoops for Kids.” says Nicole.

Chase Center Aerial View
Chase Center Aerial View

GOODBYES AND BULLYING

The past few months have been an emotional ride for Nicole. The Warriors played their final game at Oracle Arena in June and everyone around the Bay Area was hoping for a championship. That did not happen. It was doubly sad, because Nicole knew that she had to say goodbye to the famed old arena and all the incredible people who worked there over the years. “I cried the night that we lost, because I had to say goodbye. It seemed as though I hugged every single employee there. We have been at Oracle for so long and there was so much love. Everyone at Oracle Arena had the opportunity to apply for a job at Chase Center; but, to me, it felt much like high school graduation and leaving everyone who was a big part of my life.”

Not only did Nicole have to say goodbye to all of the wonderful folks at Oracle Arena and accept the Warriors’ loss, but she also had to deal with a national cyberbullying crisis that was aimed directly at her. The quick recap for those who don’t follow TMZ …

Nicole and Joe invited Jay-Z and Beyoncé to a game during the NBA Finals. As they were sitting courtside, Nicole graciously asked what the two wanted to drink. Jay-Z wanted a vodka tonic. It got loud. Nicole then asked if he wanted a lime with it. It got louder and, as a result, she couldn’t hear and leaned in, across Beyoncé, for clarity. She was accused by a Beyoncé follower that she was trying to pick up on Jay-Z. The accusations spiraled out of control on social media, and Nicole received death threats in the middle of the night. Her Instagram was filled with hateful allegations. She eventually shut down her account because it was so overwhelming and scary. Nicole was hesitant to talk about the incident, but she opened up in hopes that it could help someone else who might be dealing with bullying.

 “Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who are perfectly lovely people, were our guests at a game, and a short clip was shown on TV. I leaned over and asked Jay-Z if he wanted a lime in his drink; and, that’s when the bullying started. I feel obligated to speak up about bullying, because I am an older person and I worked my entire life so that children could have a safe place to exist. It makes me incredibly sad that there are people in our society who could try to destroy people’s lives with hateful messages. Just recently, a 13-year-old girl killed herself because of cyberbullying. I really think that there is some sort of responsibility that these social media platforms need to take to, hopefully, end this madness. Children should not be threatened like this. I am an adult and it was heartbreaking. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to go through such a traumatic experience as a 13-year-old,” Nicole said.

The drama has died down, but that has not stopped Nicole’s passion for creating safety and kindness for children. If anything, it has given her another reason to press forward and continue the great work she is doing for underprivileged youth.

SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY GALA

This year, Nicole was asked to co-chair the final season of the Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas at the helm. The money raised from the gala supports a myriad of community programs. These programs include an impressive list of programs that provide access to music education for all students in San Francisco’s public elementary schools. The programs also support all band and orchestra programs in San Francisco’s public middle schools and high schools—all provided free of charge. Yes, free of charge. Yes, all students in SFUSD.

Regardless of all the pomp and circumstance to which the gala is beholden, at the end of the night, the money raised is going to support our youth. And, once again, Nicole is fulfilling her promise. This time, instead of new courts and mentoring, it’s free concerts and music.

Draymond Green Court
Draymond Green Court

Photo Credit: WARRIORS COMMUNITY FOUNDATION

CHASING NEW BEGINNINGS

Following her commitment to improve the lives of others, the Warriors Community Foundation and Kaiser Permanente viewed the opening of Chase Center as a perfect opportunity to partner with and form a special program called Generation Thrive.

“We are going to use our former office space and practice facility in Oakland to create an incubator for our nonprofits. This incubator will create opportunities for them to become better, provide space to collaborate, and ensure that programs communicate effectively as a whole and with each other. We can make sure that children in our third grade programs will transition smoothly to our fourth grade programs. We can make sure that our high school students are being linked with appropriate college financial and emotional support. The lifespans of our students and programs will be linked. As it stands, each is different and we want to make sure we don’t lose those kids in the transition. Also, we are working with SFUSD and OUSD to provide mental health programs for students and teachers. There is a lot of trauma in schools, and Kaiser is the perfect partner to support the mental health of the students,” Nicole shares.  

From adopting schools to building billion-dollar arenas, Nicole is not slowing down. As she turns her eyes towards the future of Chase Center, she elaborates. “I joke with Joe, because he loves real estate and he asks me to decorate all of the properties he buys. Then, Chase Center happens, and I thought, ‘What now? An arena!’ We have a room named the Bridge Club, for investors, and it is going to be spectacular. At Oracle, that club was such a small space, but now we have a very large footprint to work with. 

Chase Center opens the night after she hosts the Symphony Gala on September 6, 2019. The grand affair will be an epic concert with Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony performing together. It truly exemplifies all that Nicole has worked extremely hard to create over the years: some hard rock gently mixed with the melodic refrains of sweet orchestrated success.

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