The kid in the front office

November, 17, 2010
11/17/10
11:19
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News transcribed new Warrior owner Joe Lacob's chat with reporters. It's a good read. Lacob seems to be doing a great job of straddling the line between good old-fashioned, high-testosterone, cage-rattling sports leadership and new breed business savvy and analytics. This is going to be fun to watch.

One of the more interesting exchanges was about Lacob's son Kirk, who -- right out of Stanford -- has been made the front office's fourth-in-command, with an eye on stat geekery.

Kawakami recounts the interaction like this:
Your son Kirk is going to be in the front office. Any concern that there will be charges of nepotism?

Kirk had a job with the Phoenix Suns under Steve Kerr. He is a graduate from Stanford. You’ll have to make this judgment yourself, I’m biased, but I think he’s one of the smartest, basketball-savvy young men I’ve ever run into. I say that, I know he’s my son, but he really is.

And he’s wanted to do this forever. Maybe obviously has the passion his dad does for basketball. He played… he could’ve played in a lot of college places. Wound up going to Stanford and walking on, starting the Stanford club basketball program and built that.

He had a job with the Phoenix Suns, then Steve Kerr unexpectedly resigned in June, when he was supposed to start. He was going to start after the summer.

I said, well, Kirk, you’re kind of lucky that your dad is bidding for an NBA team. I didn’t have it at the time, though. I said you’d better get off your butt and find another job.

Of course we got it in July and I had to take the summer really to have some discussions with him as to whether this is the right thing for him to do. I’m a self-made guy. He wants to be a self-made guy. That’s a tough call whether he should come join the team or not.

People are going to ask a lot of questions. I told him he has to work harder than everybody else. Everybody else. And I expect a lot from everybody. And he’s going to have to perform just like Larry Riley, Bob Rowell, the coach, everyone’s going to have to perform. And he probably has to perform better, because of the situation.

But I have full and utmost confidence in his abilities.

It's easy to make a case against nepotism, in favor of meritocracy. It's easy to condemn this move.

But if you're inclined to do so, do so while realizing this: Very few good NBA jobs are handed out after an open search, and based on pure merit.

Quick: Name an NBA GM, team president, or head coach who did not play in the NBA, have family in the NBA in some capacity, or some pre-existing business relationship with their employer. There just isn't that much NBA expertise plucked from outside the NBA. In other words, meritocracy is not the norm.

No, it's not always the owner's son. (But sometimes it is. And in Miami, for instance, Micky Arison's son Nick was considered to have been an invaluable part of assembling the current Heat team -- he traveled with Team USA and bonded with superstars like LeBron James.) Much more commonly such jobs go to famous ex-players owners think will sell tickets, or at least be fun for owners to hang out with.

The guy who runs the Hornets, for instance, Hugh Weber, has been earning plenty of praise lately. But it's doubtful he would have gotten that job without being the owner's brother-in-law. And don't even get me started on all the former players who do so-so jobs running teams, yet keep getting second, third and fourth opportunities.

In any case, do I think the best way to run a business is to let the owner's kids get the inside track? Well, no, probably not.

But do I think that the Warriors fell a step behind the competition by bringing in a basketball-crazy kid from Stanford who has been charged with working extremely hard? I doubt they lost anything, because experience suggests if it weren't Kirk Lacob in this job, it would have been some other brand of crony.

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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