The 1971 NBA Meetings were held at the Sheraton-Boston Hotel and I was covering them.
As I was answering the call of nature one afternoon, the man at the adjoining urinal struck up a conversation.
"You won't believe the (naughy word) that's going down in that room," he said.
The man was Franklin Mieuli, the owner and president of the team officially listed in the league directory as the "Warriors" (no surname). And what he was referring to was an owners' meeting at which the man who owned the San Diego Rockets was seeking permission to move the franchise to Houston.
It was an interesting request, given that when the owners arrived in Boston, said proposal was not even on the agenda. But that's the way things could be done in those days. In the span of about six hours, the Rockets moved from San Diego to Houston.
Indeed, a lot of (naughty word) was going down.
Franklin Mieuli died this past Sunday of natural causes at age 88. Though he relinquished control of the Warriors in 1985, he had retained a piece of the club. He was a significant part of the NBA for 23 years, having been the man to whom Eddie Gottlieb sold his Philadelphia Warriors at the end of the 1961-62 season.
But he was more than just the owner of the Warriors. He was a major sports presence in the Bay Area as a sports producer and entrepreneur, and he also had a piece of the 49ers. It's safe to say it would be impossible to have been a sports fan in the Bay Area at
any time in the last 50 years and have been unaware of the presence of Franklin Mieuli.
He was an unconventional owner, to say the least. His closest spiritual heir among the present crop of NBA owners would probably be Mark Cuban, if only for his wardrobe, which seldom included coats and ties and which featured, for many years, a Sherlock Holmes cap. His preferred mode of transportation was a motorcycle. Suffice it to say he was the polar opposite of the button-down owner. A stuffed shirt, he wasn't.
Above all, Franklin Mieuli was a people person. When he took you into his orbit, your life would be changed for the better. "He was probably my dearest friend," says Clifford Ray, the Celtics assistant coach, a Warrior from 1974 until his retirement in 1981. "He is the man who introduced me to the world."
Whoa. That's a pretty interesting statement.
"I mean it," Ray says. "He taught me about sailing. With him I sailed from Hawaii to the Samoan Islands, from Samo to Tahiti and from Tahiti to Fiji. He was just a great guy who took a personal interest in the lives of his players."
He was far from the multi-multi-millionaire of his peers. He was just a sports-loving guy who wanted to enjoy his ball club. And he was generally successful. During his time, the Warriors made the playoffs 10 times, won four division titles and, most importantly, won their only World's Championship in 1975. That was the team on which the ultimate virtuoso and athletic loner, Rick Barry, had an MVP season while being surrounded by a
bunch of willing worker bees, Clifford Ray among them.
Nothing so became Franklin Mieuli as his leaving. "How many people," inquires Clifford Ray, "get to die with 13 people hugging him and giving him love? There were 13 friends and loved ones with him at the end. I wish I could have been one of them."
What an epitaph. Now that's a life well-lived.