The son of an Italian immigrant, Mieuli went to work after college as a PR man for Burgermeister Beer. He has come a long way, and a lot of people in San Francisco are jealous of him. They say he was lucky: "I knew the guy when he was pushing Burgy," that kind of thing. What they really mean is, how did this guy do it and I didn't?
How Mieuli did it was to see the sports boom coming and ride it. First he tried but failed to talk the brewery into buying the 49ers. But that led him to 49er Owner Tony Morabito, and in 1953 Morabito let Mieuli have 10% of the club at an advantageous price. Mieuli, who was not making $10,000 a year at the time, had to scrape for the money, but he got it up and was off.
Within a decade he had constructed his own radio-TV sports production company with broadcast rights to the 49ers and the baseball Giants. He had bought in for 10% of the Giants, too, and being an incorrigible buff he even took a little piece of the Warriors when they came West from Philadelphia in 1962. When the big money in the Warriors vamoosed after one bad season, Mieuli increased his holdings to a majority share. There was no fan interest and it was a pretty bad team. Now, they said, that little son of an immigrant is finally going to get his.
But Mieuli is nothing if he is not resilient, and in the years that followed he managed to bounce back to successively higher peaks after periodic disasters. People were always saying, "Well, you did it again." He laughs, repeating the remark, but it seems to hurt him a little because it has been spoken more often in surprise than in acclaim. His success has always been muted by insinuations of luck and happenstance.
Mieuli's outstanding quality is a kind of nervous enthusiasm. He is a pacer and a talker. He talks too much, rat-a-tat-tat. He drives his lawyers berserk. Most of the time, though, his judgment is good. Occasionally it is not. Early in May, for instance, he offered $10,000 to Bruce Hale if he would stay at home and coach University of Miami basketball. It is true that Barry's father-in-law—a dear friend of Bob Feerick, the Warrior general manager—was practically a member of the Warriors and was often on the phone discussing his negotiations with Oakland for the Oaks coaching job. But it was nonetheless naive for Mieuli to make such a proposition, however "jocularly" he says it was intended.
Similarly, Mieuli's firing of Alex Hannum last spring made little sense. Hannum, the best pro coach there is, was let go supposedly because he would not stay in San Francisco during the summer and run clinics. The real reason was a clash of two strong personalities—Hannum's and Mieuli's—and the decision has come back to haunt the Warriors.
But when Bill Sharman coached San Francisco to the finals against Hannum's Philadelphia 76ers, Mieuli had done it again. Sometimes it seemed that Mieuli was more the embodiment of the American dream than Rick Barry or even Pat Boone. The Warriors were clicking—everyone, even Alex Hannum, said a new dynasty was in the making. The town loved the Warriors. The dream had come true.
"I could feel it," Mieuli says, "because I had seen it before with the 49ers and Frankie Albert and with the Giants the year they won the pennant. We had it all last spring: the crowds, people talking everywhere, a TV rating of 52. It was just so great to be a part of it." He walks over to the wall and pulls down an autographed team picture. The Warriors, in the rococo uniforms he designed, are posed in front of the Golden Gate. He names the players now gone. His finger comes to Barry, and he just stops and smiles. "Look at it. Just five months ago. To have the dream go just like that—that hurts more than losing just one great basketball player."
Pat Boone, the man who got Mieuli's star, is all of 33 now but his face remains apple-cheeked, ample-toothed and without a crease. His white shoes are still on his feet. His good-guy image has been unscarred by the vicissitudes of business striving. His firm is called Cooga Mooga, Inc., and is situated on Wilshire Boulevard down in Beverly Hills. The receptionist trills "Cooga Mooga" as a greeting on the phone, and a caller is tempted to respond, "And Cooga Mooga to you." Boone looks serene and remains gracious, but he is harried. He must devote almost all of his time to the Oaks, and he has already given up one lucrative state-fair singing gig because of the demands of his new job.
Boone originally came into the Oaks "for a couple points" but later lent money to the club, and eventually took it over to protect his investment when ABA Commissioner George Mikan said he could have control for a song. "I really haven't decided yet," Boone says, steepling his hands, "how much of the club I want to own. One of the big things is just the fun of it. It can be such a lark." He says he is trying to sell 30% of the franchise right now (leaving himself with 55% and Barry his 15%). Boone says that associates of his in L.A. are clamoring for shares but that he wants to get Oakland money into the project. However, the present capitalization plan of 20,000 shares at $100 each apparently has made Bay buyers balk.