The Forbes pro sports value evaluations have always been a festival of guesstimates based on financial experts trying to divine what a franchise is worth based on not seeing any of the three versions of their books (the ones they show their partners, the ones they show the feds, and the accurate ones they keep for themselves). The team operators like the Forbes numbers because they mostly tell a tale of investments gone well, but when you ask them about specific ones, they will say with a measurable level of condescension that the Forbes folks have no idea what the truth actually is.
Namely, that the team owners are making a hell of a lot more than Forbes says they are.
But you know Golden State Warriors principal operator Joe Lacob strutted around like James Brown at a dress rehearsal when Forbes declared his team the richest and most successful in the National Basketball Association. Maybe Forbes isn’t the definitive word on who makes the biggest killing, but its forensics experts can make out a spatter pattern without too much margin for error.
The Warriors have been declared to be worth $7 billion in the latest Business Of Basketball examination by Mike Ozanian and Justin Teitelbaum, nearly a billion more than the second-ranked New York Knicks, more than a billion more than the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 3, and nearly $3 billion clear of the fourth-place Chicago Bulls. Now this number has no real meaning given that neither Lacob nor their partners have any intention of selling, and even if they did they could probably fetch well north of that figure, but because owners use the Forbes metrics as their MVP voting, Lacob et. al. can strut brazenly through owners meetings because they have 15-folded their original purchase price and can now declare themselves to be better at this thing than Jimmy Dolan or Jeanie Buss or Jerry Reinsdorf or even Screamin’ Stevie Ballmer.
Which leads us to the obvious question—how big a slice of the ownership torte does Stephen Curry deserve when he’s retired? Two percent? Five? Ten? More? And how much less than that will he actually be gifted when he’s done playing?
Not that the $470 million some-odd he will have received when his current contract expires isn’t sufficient to keep him from eating mac and cheese raw from the box, cheese powder and all. But gratitude is supposed to be part of the Warriors’ culture when it doesn’t include the odd fiver to the mush, and the Warriors aren’t worth anywhere near $7B, if not for Curry’s incandescent glow; not even the nightmarish and ongoing specter of Holey Moley or his short-lived crypto ads can dim his essential flex. More than anyone else, his name is all over this Forbes thing, and even though he chooses only to be first among equals in San Francisco, nobody with a working brainbox doesn’t grasp his place in the firmament.
Or, to bring it all back to the crassness of money, there’s this with Curry’s teammate Andre Iguodala (go to 4:05 for the fun).
The Warriors have zero rings without Curry. They have zero clout either locally or nationally without him. They are still in Oakland playing in a building they don’t own, and don’t fill nightly, without him. Lacob may have talked about moving to a new arena in San Francisco when he bought the team in 2010, and he may have bought bayfront dirt for a new building in 2014, but it took the first championship ring a year later to clear most of the pressure-sensitive landmines that are San Francisco politics, and the second one two years after that to make it an enthusiastic part of urban renewal in a town that could use a touch-up here and there.
And now that there are four rings, and now that Curry is the nuclear core and longest-serving member of this uranium mine with $30 beers, and now that he is the player brought before the media to help explain Draymond Green’s recent descent into madness as an acknowledgement that his must be the voice that carries loudest even when he doesn’t even speak at all, what’s a fair retirement gift for someone who isn’t ready to retire yet and can’t be replaced when he does?
Put it this way: In 2016, the year before the first hole was dug under the watchful eye of, among others, Kevin Durant, the Warriors’ Forbes number was $1.9 billion, and the average NBA franchise was worth $1.25B. Under normal league growth/inflationary patterns, the Oakland-centric Warriors would now be worth about $4.25 billion, give or take a suite.
Before you neo-economists explain all the places where the math doesn’t bear up, let all agree that you are largely friendless and definitely dateless because of that kind of tedious pedantry. There’s somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 billion that can be linked to Curry’s gifts of basketball, diplomacy, and inoffensive charm, and now that Forbes has put a new dollar sign on that muscle, the size of his piece is well worth considering.
Not by him, of course. Part of his allure is that he has the good sense not to make a thing of his place in the Warriors’ customer service politburo; that’s for Iguodala to suggest, and he is not bashful in making the point. But the remaining stability of the Jenga tower that is the Warriors dynasty is almost entirely based on Curry’s longevity. By the time his current contract expires in 2026, the team could be worth close to $10B, and when he goes, the Warriors as a basketball force almost certainly go with him.
That means there’s somewhere in the neighborhood of $5.5B of additional equity since the building’s construction was begun, and that’s the conservative estimate. I’m thinking Curry’s got a good 20 percent of that coming to him, and that too is a conservative estimate. After all, Joe Lacob may have an outside valuation of himself as all owners do, but even if he can’t see the wisdom in repaying Curry for the ways Curry has paid him, he knows one thing: He does not want Andre Iguodala on his ass. Iguodala knows guys. Hint taken.