— November 20, 2017
You’ve probably heard of Moneyball—the book and movie that told the story of how data analytics made the Oakland A’s into playoff contenders. But have you heard of Betaball?
For years, the Golden State Warriors didn’t have the players, leadership, or data to reach a championship. That all changed in 2010 when a new ownership group led by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber paid $ 450 million to purchase the team.
While all new owners want their teams to win championships, most owners don’t have the skill sets of Lacob and Guber to make it a reality. Lacob came from a successful background as a venture capitalist in the tech industry and knew how to use data to evaluate companies, while Guber came from the entertainment industry and knew how to create a great fan experience.
Over the next five years, Lacob and Guber both used their respective skills to overhaul the entire franchise. Lacob used his leadership and analytic experience to construct an elite team and front office, while Guber used his entertainment background to improve the fan experience from buying tickets to paying for snacks to feeling like a part of the team’s success story.
They did this following the formula of great players, great leaders, and great data.
It all started with the players. The Warriors already had Steve Curry on their roster, but needed more good players to grow their bench. By using the talents of new General Manager Bob Myers, the Warriors were able to add great players like Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala to build the foundation of a championship team.
But the Warriors didn’t stop with hiring great starters. The team also created a bench so deep that all their “secondary” players could start on any other team in the NBA. This allowed the individual Warriors players to stay rested while keeping the entire team competitive.
The coaching staff was also changed twice over five years. Coaching changes are usually signs of a franchise in disarray; however, for Lacob and Guber, it was their way of beta testing the right coach.
While head coach Mark Jackson got the Warriors to the playoffs twice, Lacob knew he was not the right person to take the team to the finals. While Jackson was beloved by players and fans, he did not fit the team culture of high personal standards (having been outed publicly for having an affair). Jackson also did not have full faith in data analytics to improve the team.
So Lacob made the bold choice to fire a successful head coach and instead hire someone who fit the organization’s culture: Steve Kerr. While Kerr did not have any head coaching experience, he did have experience winning the NBA championship five times as a player, and he understood the power of using data to improve a team.
Lacob’s bold experiment was a success. In Kerr’s first three years with the team, he guided the Warriors to three NBA Finals, two NBA Championships, and the best single-season record in basketball history. How’s that for beta testing?
Finally, and most importantly, Lacob and Guber used data and the beta approach to change the Warriors into champions.
However, in the first year of ownership, this data approach meant Lacob did not change anything. While most new owners make drastic changes, Lacob instead gathered data to justify his decisions. He evaluated the coaches, the players, and everyone in the organization to determine who was working well and who wasn’t.
Then after evaluating everyone, Lacob wasn’t afraid to make bold changes, such as firing a successful coach when the coach didn’t fit the team culture or trading a high-scoring starter to get a better defender.
Lacob also hired data analytic services to improve the Warriors performance on and off the court. The Warriors were one of the first adopters of SportVU and Synergy Sports, two data analytic services. The Warriors used the data to analyze how players could improve on offense, defense, and when starters should be rested.
Using all three ingredients—great players, great leadership, and great data—Lacob and Guber made the Warriors into one of the most successful basketball teams in the past decade.
It should also be noted that Guber’s “golden touch” has continued with other sports teams. Since taking over co-ownership of the L.A. Dodgers, the Dodgers reached their first World Series in 2017.