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Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Tribal Warriors fare: a chat with Peter Guber

By J.A. Adande

Now that Peter Guber has joined the NBA, finalizing his purchase of the Golden State Warriors along with Joe Lacob, there’s no owner I’m more interested in hearing address the underlying racial aspect of the NBA, a league of predominantly white ownership that consists of majority African American players watched by largely white crowds.

As a movie and music producer Guber is familiar with this dynamic in Hollywood, most notably when he and executive producer Quincy Jones put together the cinematic version of Alice Walker’s book “The Color Purple.” He spoke eloquently on the topic of race in the entertainment business in Charles Barkley’s book “Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man” and Guber’s notion of tribalism accounted for a Thanksgiving-plate portion of my column on LeBron, race and the NBA. We talked on the phone Monday shortly after he and Lacob had their introductory news conference for the Bay Area media.

First I wanted to know how he defined tribalism.

“The idea is, we’re still a society where we recognize and see and even sometimes seek members of our own tribe, whatever that tribe is,” Guber said. “It could be ethnic, religious, geographic, political.

“We tend to become social core groups, whatever our similar interest and background where we came through. It tends to be a filter through which people see themselves. It can be all different ethnicities. They can see themselves as San Franciscans, or Warriors fans. You want to build a tribe of viral advocates for that team.”

(Note the San Francisco reference? Starting with the location of the news conference – in San Francisco – the new ownership group seemed to emphasize that side of the Bay Bridge, something that was definitely noticed by the local media. There are not plans for San Francisco arena now, but it hasn’t been ruled out in the future.)

Back to Guber’s definition: “Tribalism isn’t a bad thing. If you’re a Facebook user, or Twitter user or Foursquare user or LinkedIn user, those are all tribes…and they may even have sub-tribes. It’s not pejorative, it’s declarative.”

In sports all of those various groups can join together to form an even larger tribe.

“It’s really clear that society and the country has moved to an embracing nature that goes to talent and performance,” Guber said. “Whether it’s football or baseball or hockey, whatever it is, the thing that defines it is, ‘You’re a member of our team, and I’m your fan.’

“It’s colorless. It’s about that community. How do we all win? It embraces that. The idea is that the audience may become one ethnicity. They’re bonded together by the commonality of wanting to win. It’s turning the idea of separation on its head.

“What’s now happening, it happens by the nature of our commonality in our society. Audiences who watch sports -- in our case basketball -- in baseball as well as in football, when I say they’re ethnicity-blind or they’re color-blind, they’re not winning-blind. They want to win. That has a very positive effect on our society.”

Guber is very candid about the benefits of inclusiveness, which go beyond trying to unify various tribes in a theater or sports arena for the sake of harmony. In short, what owner wouldn't want his product to appeal to the broadest variety of customers?

“It’s good business,” Guber said.  “When things are good business, it changes everything.

“You can’t will a society to change. You can make it in their interest, you can make it in their economic interest. That’s the way you do it. It does it at its root core level. It does it at its basic emotional way.

“Telling a story, you emotionally transport people. You’re going to transport them into seeing the world differently. When somebody’s feet and wallet and tongue go the same direction, it changes the mindset of the young people looking at it.”

That's the impact of sports, changing perceptions one ticket at a time.