Franklin Mieuli, an eccentric and colorful figure who owned the Warriors for 24 years and helped put Bay Area sports on the national map, died Sunday at age 89.
Mr. Mieuli, who recently had been hospitalized, died in the Bay Area of natural causes, his family told The Chronicle.
"Obviously, this is a sad day for all longtime Warrior fans, but Franklin's legacy will live on forever in the Bay Area and throughout the NBA," Warriors owner Chris Cohan said.
Mr. Mieuli refused to let the Warriors bolt from the area during trying financial times, and he was instrumental in making possible the DeBartolo Corp.'s purchase of the 49ers.
He once owned a piece of the Giants, playing a role in their early San Francisco popularity through his broadcast production company. He even produced the English-language radio broadcasts from the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley.
"Franklin was truly one of the innovators in our league, who was so proud of the Bay Area and his ability to maintain a team there," NBA Commissioner David Stern said. "I have always fondly remembered his introducing a very young lawyer to so many wonderful sites in San Francisco, his warmth and his belief in the importance of sports to a community."
Mieuli whipped around the city on motorcycles, sometimes forgetting to bring them home, and carried the 1975 NBA championship trophy in the back seat of his convertible. His untamed beard and casual garb, generally topped with a deerstalker cap, stood out among the suits in most ownership groups and made him beloved by the common fan.
He assumed a partial stake in the Warriors when they moved to the Bay Area from Philadelphia in 1962 and became the club's majority owner shortly thereafter. During his tenure with the Warriors, the club captured the 1975 NBA championship, it's lone title while based in the Bay Area. Head coach Al Attles and forward Rick Barry led the team to an improbable four-game sweep of the Washington Bullets in the NBA Finals.
"Franklin Mieuli was one of the most instrumental figures in my life, both from a basketball standpoint and simply life in general," Attles said. "He was one of the most unique and eccentric individuals that I have ever met, and I'm not sure there will ever be anyone like him again."
A longtime radio and TV producer in the Bay Area, Mr. Mieuli had partial stakes in the San Francisco 49ers and Giants, and his production company, Franklin Mieuli & Associates, has been a long-standing and successful operation in the Bay Area for more than six decades.
Born on Sept. 14, 1920, in San Jose, Mr. Mieuli was the second son of Italian immigrants. His father, Giacomo, and older brother, Jack Jr., operated Navlet's Nursery, a successful business for many years in the Santa Clara Valley.
Mr. Mieuli studied advertising at the University of Oregon before serving a stint in the Navy during World War II. After completing his military duty, he returned to San Jose and the family nursery.
In 1949, he accepted a position in the advertising department of the San Francisco Brewing Company, makers of Burgermeister beer, which sponsored 49ers broadcasts. His business relationship with 49ers owners Tony and Vic Morabito resulted in his purchase of 10 percent of that team in 1954, and he bought a share of the Giants when they moved west in 1958.
Mieuli & Associates acquired radio-TV production rights to the Giants and Warriors and engineered games for the A's and Raiders. In 1962, Mr. Mieuli and 32 partners purchased the Warriors from Eddie Gottlieb for $850,000.
When the Warriors were in San Francisco, from 1962 to 1971, they never really had an arena to call home, playing out of the Cow Palace and Civic Auditorium and assorted other sites in Northern California before moving to the Oakland Coliseum Arena in 1971.
Even after the move to the East Bay, Mr. Mieuli considered dividing the Warriors' home schedule between Oakland and San Diego. The team did play a few games in San Diego, but Mr. Mieuli's heart was in the Bay Area, even though financial times were often tough here.
The underfunded Mr. Mieuli, saddled with high salaries to underproductive players like Joe Barry Carroll, sold his majority interest in the team to Jim Fitzgerald in 1986 for a reported $16 million-$19 million.
The high point of Mr. Mieuli's almost quarter-century as Warriors owner came in 1975. As the Warriors were beating the Washington Bullets to wrap up the championship, Mr. Mieuli was in what he called "a delightful haze of animation."
"I didn't want to leave the arena, so I stayed in my seat as long as I could," he said. "Finally, I left and got in this queue that I thought was on the way to the locker room. Turned out it was on the way to the men's room. When I finally got to the locker room, everybody was still celebrating, but I'd missed the TV cameras and most of the Champagne pouring."
Mr. Mieuli found a way to properly celebrate later. Rather than put the championship trophy in some glass case with a guard in front of it, Mr. Mieuli lugged it around in his Triumph convertible for a year, showing it off in bars or bistros.
"The car's back seat was too crowded for passengers but just right for the trophy," he said. "So I made it a people's trophy. More people touched it that year that I had it than ever before or since.
"I never worried about anyone stealing it. What would they want with a damned trophy, anyway?"
Mr. Mieuli was considered loyal to a fault, rarely making changes in his organization.
"People used to kid me that I ran the team like a family, and 'family' wasn't a good word like it is now," he said. "Back then, it meant I ran the team like a mom-and-pop grocery store, but I was kind of proud of that.
"I never wanted to be a big shot. In the good times and the bad, I always tried to be the same."
Dick Vertlieb, who died in 2008 and was general manager of that Warriors' championship team, once said Mr. Mieuli's approach worked perfectly at the time.
"This is no knock on anybody, but Franklin Mieuli is the only owner I ever worked for who was totally dedicated to winning and had total integrity when he said I could do anything - spend as much money, trade or sign anyone and do whatever was necessary - to get a team into the NBA Finals," Vertlieb said. "I never met a person with the integrity of Franklin Mieuli.
"When I die, I want it to say on my tombstone, 'Franklin, I owe you one.' "
Mr. Mieuli is survived by his longtime companion, Blake Green; two children, son Peter Mieuli and daughter Holly Buchanan; and seven grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.
One of the most unsung, underrated Bay Area legends. RIP and Thanks for the memories.