Warriors General Counsel David Kelly, an advisory board member for SCU’s Institute of Sports Law and Ethics, reflects on Golden State’s run to the title.
The Golden State Warriors just finished one of the best seasons in NBA history and brought the Bay Area its first NBA championship in 40 years. This was the Warriors’ third appearance in the playoffs in as many seasons.
Serving as the Warriors’ Vice President and General Counsel for those past three seasons has been David Kelly, who is also an advisory board member of Santa Clara’s Institute of Sports Law and Ethics (ISLE).
Santa Clara Magazine writer Harold Gutmann recently spoke to Kelly about the path to the championship.
Santa Clara Magazine: Not many general counsels, if any, are former rappers. What made you decide to become a lawyer and how did you get involved with the Warriors?
David Kelly: My father is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and he also has a law degree, so I always considered law school as an option. My undergraduate major at Morehouse College was English—it matched my love of writing but also prepared me for a potential legal career. Writing is the link between my love for poetry and hip-hop and my legal career.
After graduating from the University of Illinois School of Law in 2004, I worked in the corporate department at Katten Muchin Rosenman in Chicago for 8 years. Approximately 70 percent of my work was focused on general corporate matters and 30 percent was focused on sports transactions. During 2010, I was part of the group who represented Joe Lacob and Peter Guber in the purchase of the Golden State Warriors (GSW). In 2012, I made partner at Katten and decided to make the jump in-house to the Warriors.
SCM: After a long period filled with losing, the Warriors haven’t missed the playoffs in the three full seasons since you’ve been hired. What has it been like for you to be a part of such a successful season?
Kelly: It has been simply amazing to be with the Warriors during this run. Joe, Peter, Rick Welts, and Bob Myers have done a tremendous job of changing the culture at GSW. We really have an open, collaborative, and respectful culture that allows people to take chances and excel. I couldn’t be happier—winning is really just the icing on the cake.
SCM: What does it mean to you to be on the board of the Institute of Sports Law and Ethics (ISLE) Advisory Board? Has your experience with ISLE helped you in your role with the Warriors and vice versa?
Kelly: For me, it is important, while working in the world of sports, to behave in an ethical way that holds true to key principles. To my knowledge, ISLE is the only organization solely devoted to ensuring that sports and ethics go hand-in-hand—a mission that is aligned with my career goals. I think (or at least hope) that my perspective as GC of the Warriors adds to the board and provides a different lens through which to approach issues.
SCM: What issues in sports law and ethics (either from the NBA or from sports in general) should be generating more discussion?
Kelly: As a father of 3 young children, two of whom are soccer players, I am very interested in the campaign to remove “headers” from youth soccer that is being championed by fellow ISLE Board Member Brandi Chastain ’91. I was frankly unaware of the issue, as I am (unfortunately) sure most parents are. Being part of the ISLE Board opened me up to this issue, which is a personal one for me.
In addition, you’ve recently seen a number of instances where teams have been accused of taking actions jeopardizing the level playing field that is vital to all sports competition. This is a major ethical issue that needs to be continually addressed.
SCM: Where were you when the Warriors won and how did you celebrate?
Kelly: I was fortunate enough to be at Game 6 in Cleveland, seated a few rows behind the team bench. For me, I just tried to take it all in and got a kick out of watching the reaction of certain members of our staff who have been with the Warriors for more than a decade and may never have imagined that they’d be able to celebrate an NBA Championship. I could only imagine what they were feeling given the franchise’s turnaround. Watching them, and watching Andre (NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala) share the moment with his son, are the most indelible moments for me.