Since 1993, the Golden State Warriors have had three winning seasons. But this year, the team is off to a hot start with the second-best record in the NBA’s Pacific Division. One of the franchise’s young stars is someone you’ll never see on the court. Forbes Magazine recently named 24-year-old Warriors assistant general manager Kirk Lacob to the sports edition of its “30 Under 30″, a list of young and influential figures in the business of sports. Lacob joined Bill Littlefield on Only A Game.
BL: Kirk, you graduated from Stanford University back in 2010. What did you study to prepare you for an NBA career?
KL: I majored in something called “Science, Technology, and Society.” A lot of people ask me what that means. I usually try to tell them I picked words that sounded impressive and put them together, but it really was an interdisciplinary major. I was studying in a lot of different fields and was able to combine a lot of different educational tactics that I think enabled me to grab a pretty large skill set and hopefully apply that in the real world. And then of course I played a lot of basketball. The joke I tell people is that I actually majored in basketball because I was probably on the court or dealing with something related to my club program more than I was focused in the classroom.
BL: Forbes notes that you play a major role in scouting and analytics. Many of our listeners may associate the term analytics with baseball after reading or seeing Moneyball. Give us an example of how analytics are changing the way people in the game think about basketball.
KL: Baseball’s obviously been on the forefront. And other sports, after watching that whole revolution, needed to catch up. Basketball’s different because there’s a lot fewer direct correlations between plays. It’s a lot more fluid movement, and there’s more people in every play, you could say, that have an impact on the game. But one thing we’ve started to look at is motion capture data.
BL: Motion capture data?
KL: Yeah, we use these cameras up in the rafters up top, so you’ll never see them, but they’re capturing 24 frames per second from six different angles and basically creating a full three-dimensional log of the game and capturing every single movement of the player, the ball, the referees. It’s a lot of data and it comes spit out to us in a giant [Microsoft] Excel file, and then we have to figure out what to do with it.
BL: And that’s where a Stanford education comes in, I assume?
KL: That’s where the Stanford education certainly helps. I’m able to find the right people who are able to help us out with it.
BL: Your father, Joe Lacob, bought the Warriors franchise in 2010, but before that he was a part-owner of the Boston Celtics. How long have you known you wanted to work in an NBA front office?
KL: It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. About three or four years ago when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do my mom showed me something I had written when I was in the third grade. It was one of those I dream papers. I couldn’t be an astronaut or dream of being a firefighter. For whatever reason I wrote, “I dream of being president and general manager of the Golden State Warriors.” I didn’t believe her until she showed it to me. I don’t know what I was thinking at the time. I had some pretty good trades written out, I think–I think I had us getting Shaquille O’Neal. But it was something that was always there for me, a great passion, and I’m very fortunate to be in a position where I was able to get to work in sports.
BL: Some of the other young sports figures on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list include reigning NBA MVP LeBron James, baseball’s Mike Trout, and Olympians Usain Bolt and Gabby Douglas. How does it feel to be in that kind of company?
KL: You know, it feels a little silly, to be honest. They’ve accomplished a lot more than I have at this point. LeBron James is an NBA champion and Gabby Douglas is an Olympic champion. So to be mentioned in the same breath as people who are famous worldwide is certainly an honor, and I’m humbled by it, but it certainly keeps me wanting more, no doubt about that.
BL: But don’t you sort of wonder if back there in elementary school you had written, “I’m going to win an Olympic gold medal,” you might have done that by now?
KL: You know, I’ve thought about that. I really should have done that. that should have been the goal. I don’t know what I was thinking. Got bad advice somewhere.
BL: Last spring the Warriors traded star guard Monta Ellis to Milwaukee in a five-player deal. Ellis had been one of your top scorers for years. How has that trade contributed to the team’s improvement so far this season?
KL: It was part of an overall facelift we were doing to the organization. The timing ended up being where it needed to be. We certainly changed the look of the franchise. Monta was the face of the franchise. But we felt like we needed to get a little bigger, a little tougher. And while we respect everything Monta had done, you know, it was time for a change, and we wanted some new leadership, and we felt that Steph Curry and David Lee were ready to take the reins, and luckily we were right.
BL: Kirk, we have heard that your dad still plays pickup basketball twice a week on the Stanford campus. I’m tempted to ask how his game is or whether you can take him, but it wouldn’t make much sense for you to humiliate the boss, would it?
No, we have a lot of fun. I still play with him every once in a while and he teases me about not beating him all up and down the court. But he’s a lot smarter than I am in the sense that I may be able to beat him all the time, but he never gets hurt. He has a good strategy for not jumping too high in the air, and I don’t know if that’s on purpose or not, whereas I always seem to come down on something. So I certainly need to learn that from him.