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The Man Behind the Magic


Posted on November 30, 2016

Vivek Ranadivé, the majority owner of the Sacramento Kings, fell in love with basketball while coaching his daughter’s school team.

Photography by Kevin Fiscus

"The defining moment for my life came in the middle of the night, when I was a boy growing up in Bombay, India,” says Vivek Ranadivé, majority owner of the Sacramento Kings. “I was listening to a ‘live’ Voice of America radio broadcast of the moon landing. I thought, ‘Who are these people? How could they land on a rock 250,000 miles away, perfectly, the very first time?’ 

“I decided at that moment that I was going to study science and technology.”

It’s worked out for him pretty well, you’d have to agree. He came to the United States when he was 17 years old, and jokes that “someone must have made a mistake and admitted me to college.” Not just any college. By the time his formal schooling was completed, Ranadivé had earned master’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in business administration from Harvard University.

Leaving academia behind for the moment—although he still maintains close connections with it, notably with the University of California, Davis—he began asking questions, both of himself and the blossoming information technology industry. He wondered why no one had thought to marry certain elements of computer hardware to computer software, “which would make everything work in real time,” he says. “The software I developed at my company, TIBCO, served as what you might call the plumbing for real time.” That plumbing soon became the technical foundation for airlines, government, eBay and Amazon, not to mention Wall Street itself, which Ranadivé is credited for bringing into the digital age (an age he largely created).

By this point, he recalls, “I was a single dad and wanted to spend quality time with my daughter.” He says he “foolishly agreed to coach my little girl’s school basketball team, even though I’d never touched a basketball in my life.”

A BASIC MATH EQUATION

He accompanied his daughter, Anjali, when she was 12, to the school basketball “draft” in the Bay Area. “All the dads were veterans of the game in some way or another, and looked like giants to me,” Ranadivé recalls. “So here I was, this little nerd from India, who got the passed over (last string) little girls to coach.” He pauses and laughs. “I mean, I didn’t even know what a layup (shot) was.”

Ranadivé says he approached this new challenge as he had others: using science. “I came up with a basic math equation that saw our team (winning) more turnovers than the other teams,” he says. You can probably see where this is going: Anjali’s team ended up reaching the national finals. (Anjali, 25, is—in addition to being an entertainer and songwriter with the stage name Anjali World—a marine conservationist. More on that in a moment.)

“The more I worked with my daughter and her team,” Ranadivé says, “the more I realized I was falling in love with this game.” Enough so that when his friend Joe Lacob decided to buy the Golden State Warriors—at the time, the Oakland business most in need of a turnaround—“I thought, sure, why not? They weren’t very good at the time. Maybe we can help.” Apparently, they did (it likely involved science). Golden State won the National Basketball Association Finals in 2015. This year, it was the NBA’s second-best team.

“THE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM”

While the Warriors were starting to get their act together a few years ago, leading to their dramatic wins, Ranadivé was approached by a contingent of Sacramento leaders. They wanted him to consider joining the fight to keep the Kings in Sacramento. “I said I would look into it but I would make no promises,” he says. He found that the only way the NBA would agree to let the Kings remain in California’s capital would be “if we were to build the team a new arena.” There were other considerations, of course—but what affected this Silicon Valley businessman’s hesitancy was when he realized that “the passion of the fans was like something I had never seen before. I felt that if the Kings had left Sacramento, it would have been like ripping the heart out of this city.”

With partners, he agreed to buy the Kings. “And they gave me the keys to the kingdom—the Sleep Train Arena,” he says with a laugh. “I was standing in it and saw that the roof was falling in, literally. You have to understand that this was my first day on the job.”

This is when Ranadivé decided that he would not only build the Kings a new arena, but that it would also be the greatest showstopper on earth. “Sacramento is the capital of California, the world’s sixth largest economy,” he says. “I said we shouldn’t play second fiddle to any other city in this country, much less this state.”

Ranadivé’s vision for the Kings extends well past the city limits. As he recently told Economic Times, India’s top business newspaper, “When I took over the Kings, I presented a vision titled NBA 3.0 . . . driven by three vectors. One of the vectors is technology—about how we distribute the game, how we enjoy the game and how we come to the arena. The second is the continued push on globalization because we know that it needs more than just basketball in order for the sport to have a global impact.

“The third vector is that basketball can be an agent of good and an agent of change. I’ve spent almost $5 million in realizing this vision of mine. Within the community of Sacramento, we donate millions of dollars to schools, to kids, to literacy programs. We also do it along with the NBA in China and (are) starting to do in India.”

Ranadivé says he approached what would be one of the world’s fastest-track monumental undertakings in the same way he approached his tech businesses. “I laid out the mission statement—the main point of it being that we were going to build something that would enhance the life of everyone it touched.”

He continues: “My partners and I saw the new arena as reaching landmark status, something that would be on a postcard of California’s most important monuments. We wanted it to be the most technologically advanced arena in the world.” (Spoiler alert: It actually is.) Asked what that would mean in a metaphorical way, Ranadivé has clearly been awaiting the question. “Every other arena, you arrive and check in,” he says. “This arena will check into you. It will guide you to your seat, your parking place, your entire experience.”

And outside, with the ongoing construction of Downtown Commons, or DOCO, a public plaza, “The effect will be like a (high-tech) version of (Rome’s) Spanish Steps. A spectacular place you come to see and be seen, to reconnect with your friends, to celebrate this very special city.”

Vivek Ranadivé

A GREEN MOMENT IN ALASKA

Asked to name his mentors or inspirations, Ranadivé is quick to respond. “Walt Disney was one of the greatest innovators of our times,” he says. “Leonardo da Vinci was one of the greatest forward-looking artists in history. And then there was my very good friend, Steve Jobs . . .” At the mention of Apple’s late founder, Ranadivé’s voice seems to trail off a little for a moment. But when he’s given the opportunity to talk about his commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship—Golden 1 Center is poised to become one of the world’s greenest arenas, in terms of its energy usage and other conservation measures—it’s game on. He’s also reading the crowd: In a survey of more than 20,000 Sacramentans, sustainability proved to be a primary concern. It turned out to also be a family matter.

“My daughter is probably the person most responsible for my passion for ecology,” he acknowledges. “We were living in the Silicon Valley and decided to take a trip to Alaska. What really affected me was when I saw a huge sign in the water with the number 1985 on it. I asked our guide what the number signified, and the answer had a profound effect on me. It stood for the year a glacier had once been in this now-empty expanse of ocean.” Ranadivé says that his daughter gives over “all her earnings as a performer to support studies of the ocean and environment. How could I not be moved by her example?”

And when the arena is in full swing and DOCO is both completed and peopled every day and night, will Ranadivé feel the kind of postpartum letdown that often washes over creative people once they give up their opus to the world? “I’ll feel happy and satisfied if we manage to do what we said we would do,” he says. “But there is always more to be done.”

The World’s Greenest Arena
In interviews and his own writings, Vivek Ranadivé, majority owner of the Sacramento Kings, has offered a sneak preview of how Golden 1 Center will be not only the world’s most technologically advanced sports arena but also its most environmentally progressive.

HIGHLIGHTS:
• The arena’s electricity will be totally solar-powered. Eighty-five percent of that power will emanate from SMUD’s new 10.9-megawatt solar farm. The remaining 15 percent will come from rooftop solar panels.
• Ranadivé also says that Golden 1 Center’s energy-saving platform—which includes LED lights and enhanced ventilation—will annually prevent roughly 4 million miles of auto emissions from entering into the atmosphere. That’s about 2,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
• For the drought-conscious: Ranadivé says that the arena’s low-flow plumbing fixtures will eliminate as much as 40 percent of what would have been the facility’s annual water consumption.
• In addition, during demolition and construction, Ranadivé says that more than 100,000 tons of waste would be recycled—almost 99 percent of what was torn down to make way for Golden 1 Center.