After one of their best seasons in recent history which culminated in a surprising NBA playoff run and Western Conference semi-final appearance, the exciting times just keep on rolling for the Golden State Warriors, the San Francisco Bay Area’s NBA team.
The positive momentum has continued through this offseason where the Warriors emerged as a serious contender for free agent center, Dwight Howard, considered the best free agent in this season’s class. To even have a shot to sign Howard or any other star free agent, the Warriors had to free up significant cap space by trading what were viewed originally as untradeable, undesirable contracts of veteran players, Richard Jefferson and Andres Biedrins. Miraculously, the Warriors front office managed to pull off such a trade by tying future draft picks and the expiring contracts of Jefferson and Biedrins to the rebuilding Utah Jazz. This added financial flexibility allowed the Warriors to perform their greatest coup of the offseason. While the world saw that Warriors focused on their improbable quest for Howard, they stealthily became the suitor of choice for another top free agent, former US Olympian and NBA All-Star, Andre Iguodala. While not as heralded as Howard, Iguadola offered many of the characteristics they need to propel themselves to the next level— an elite defender, efficient finisher at the basket, and capable ball handler. Iguodala even took less money to sign with the Warriors than what was offered by his existing team, Denver Nuggets or another suitor, Sacramento Kings. Iguodala really wanted to play in the Bay! An impressive signing capping off an equally impressive offseason for Golden State GM Bob Myers. Now, the next part of this story is what really interests me.
And, to be sure, Iguodala has his eye on the bay area’s business possibilities.
“I talked to Joe (Lacob) extensively about the business side and the market and the Silicon Valley area,” said Iguodala, who interned with a Merrill Lynch venture capitalist during the 2011 NBA lockout.
That statement is the first time I can remember in 13 years of living in the Bay Area that a free agent in any of the professional sports signed with a Bay Area team with that as one of his reasons. With the prominence of Silicon Valley in news reports, the global exposure and scope of social media like Facebook and Twitter, the glorification of the startup scene in movies like the Social Network, the Silicon Valley is getting significant mainstream attention. While I may be reading into that statement a bit more than what it really means, I believe the long-term business benefit of being here may becoming apparent to athletes like Iguadola, just as they have to entrepreneurs, engineers, investors, and other dreamers.
We’ve often heard of how athletes are interested in signing with Los Angeles teams to take advantage of the proximity of the Entertainment industry. In LA, star athletes can seamlessly join the celebrity culture, make cameo movie and television performances, increase their personal brand, and help set themselves up for post playing career opportunities.
In Silicon Valley, the opportunities are much less obvious and visible—they include being an investor in new technologies, connecting their name to growing Internet brands, and having access to entrepreneurs. This isn’t going to appeal to the majority of athletes, but for a small sub-set, I think it will. Internet companies and startups have become sexy; you already hear of celebrity investors in startups such as Ashton Kutcher (whose investment firm A-Grade has invested in Foursquare, Spotify, Airbnb), Justin Timberlake (part owner of MySpace with Specific Media), and Lady Gaga (investor in Backplane with Google’s Eric Schmidt). It would be natural for athletes to have similar attraction. The success of Magic Johnson in his post playing days as a prominent business man from everything from Starbucks to movie houses, I’m sure hasn’t been missed by today’s progressive professional athlete like Iguadola. With a key difference being, in today’s world, an athlete with new found money, it’s become a lot more exciting to be part of the next Facebook or Twitter, or associate his brand with a Zynga game, than build up wealth by putting up a few coffee houses or burger joints. Now in Iguodala’s case, Joe Lacob, the owner of the Warriors, is a prominent VC in the Bay Area. He undoubtedly offered up his connections with both leading VCs and known companies to help intice Iguodala to select the Warriors. Of course, getting a chance to play with the sweet shooting Stephen Curry and rising stars Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson was certainly the primary reason to play here, but being connected to the Silicon Valley, SF startup scene, and Digital Media opportunities of the Bay Area clearly helped. A trend for the future. I fully expect to see more free agents tout the proximity of the Internet and technology scene as a reason to come here and no doubt, we’ll see some of them pop up on AngelList as the newest Bay Area Angel Investor!