What the Golden State Warriors did—on and off the court—to make history

Curry and the Warriors make history.
Curry and the Warriors make history.
Image: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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It’s official: the Golden State Warriors have broken the record for the most regular-season wins in NBA history.

Their 73 victories, with just nine losses, nudged them ahead of the legendary 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, the team led by Michael Jordan that went 72-10. The Warriors and their star shooter, Stephen Curry, beat that record yesterday (April 13), defeating the Memphis Grizzlies at home in Oakland, California.

It’s an amazing turnaround from 2010, the year when a group of executives with little experience in the NBA, led by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Joe Lacob, bought the franchise for $450 million. At the time, it was struggling both as a sports team and a business. The new owners proceeded to reorganize everything about the way the team operated both on and off the court, setting the course for the team’s historic performance over the past six months.

None of it would have been possible, of course, without the consistently exceptional play of Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and the rest of the squad. Just what made the Warriors into a record-breaking team?

Off the court

Most NBA teams operate under a single owner with near total control, supported by silent investors.

But borrowing from his Silicon Valley experience, Lacob and his partner, Peter Guber, recruited investors who functioned like a board of directors, according to the New York Times (paywall). It created an open structure where everyone was expected to play a role in the team’s success. For example, the same math prowess John Burbank of Passport Capital used to make investments often guided the team on player acquisitions.

Jun 19, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Co-executive chairman and CEO Joe Lacob points towards the Larry O'Brien trophy during the Golden State Warriors 2015 championship celebration in downtown Oakland.
Joe Lacob celebrates the Warriors’ 2015 NBA championship win.
Image: Cary Edmondson-USA Today Sports

The Warriors also hired based on potential rather than track record, a practice much more in keeping with the VC mindset than a sports team. When they brought on Mark Jackson, a former player and commentator, as coach in 2011, he’d never held a coaching job. Neither had Steve Kerr, another former player who replaced Jackson in 2014.

Actually, Jackson’s firing was a controversial move at the time, reflecting another way of thinking that fit more with a business venture: don’t be afraid to mess with success. Under Jackson, the Warriors improved to 51-31 in the 2013-14 season. But Lacob, who according to the Times thought Kerr would be a better fit with the organization’s open structure, was willing to disrupt the progress in hopes of getting an even better result.

On the court

Historically, teams have often built their offenses on getting close to the basket. The Warriors, as the Wall Street Journal reported, were the first to totally reorganize their offense (paywall) on backing away from it—to behind the three-point line.

The decision came from the simple realization that players shooting behind the line are about as accurate as those shooting just in front of it, yielding a higher return. The Warriors are the first team to make 1,000 three-pointers in a season.

A Golden State Warriors fan holds up a 73 sign before an NBA basketball game between the Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies in Oakland, Calif., Wednesday, April 13, 2016. The Warriors had 72 wins heading into their final regular-season game, the same number of wins as the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls.
The Warriors have made history.
Image: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

And let’s be honest: the Warriors would not be the team they are without Stephen Curry.

Already a Warrior when Lacob acquired the team, he offered a cornerstone for the offense the team wanted to build. This season, Curry averaged 30 points a game, completely destroyed the record for three-pointers in a season with more than 400, and remarkably, has hit them at a rate of 45%—higher than the NBA average for all shots. He sinks them without even having to get close to the three-point line.

But the Warriors also wouldn’t be what they are without Thompson. He’s a terrific three-point shooter in his own right, forcing defenses to cover him closely and relieving some of the pressure on Curry. Green, Andrew Bogut, and Harrison Barnes complement these two, and have allowed the Warriors to take—and hit—more three-pointers than any other team this season. As a unit, the team is practically unstoppable.

By clinching win number 73, the Warriors did what few people thought any team could and made history. But its season isn’t done. To really top the 1995-96 Bulls, its next step is to win the NBA championship for the second year in a row.