He put chandeliers in the Cow Palace and Rick Barry’s jersey behind an office door, delivered bags of fruit to sports writers and delivered a championship to the Bay Area.
You could call Franklin Mieuli eccentric. I preferred to call him passionate. He had a beard, a deerstalker hat and a love of life.
A character, that’s what Mieuli was: delightful and charming, if manipulative. He was the last of the mom-and-pop team owners, and the team he owned, the Golden State Warriors, did him proud.
Not only because 35 years ago, in a less commercial, less promoted but no less important time, the Warriors won the NBA title — an occurrence judged then as unlikely as the sun rising in the West.
But because the Warriors represented values he held dear, they were a part of the community: a home town team that was property of a home town guy.
Mieuli died Sunday at age 89. He leaves an empty seat near half court at Oracle Arena. He leaves an empty place in our hearts.
One by one the Bay Area’s sporting men of history, the Morabito brothers, founders of the 49ers; Charles O. Finley, the A’s splendid maverick; Horace Stoneham, the man who brought the New York Giants to the city by the bay; and now Mieuli passes on. Only 80-year-old Al Davis and 89-year-old Lou Spadia remain from the golden era.
No one but Franklin Mieuli would think of a black tie dinner in conjunction with a pro basketball game, ordering chandeliers to be installed temporarily above tables near the floor, a blending of cummerbunds and rebounds.
No one but Franklin Mieuli, in reference to an outlander’s term for San Francisco, would have the name “Warriors” on the front of the jerseys replaced with “The City.” Even one of the players, Fred Hetzel sniggered, “I thought it said Daly City.” But more than 40 years later, retro “The City” uniform tops have returned.
No one but Franklin Mieuli, a minority stockholder in San Francisco’s two other franchises, the 49ers — for which he once held radio rights and to the end owned a small percentage of the team — and Giants, would distribute a decal to trumpet his preferences, “We Love Thee All Three.”
What I as Warriors beat man for the Chronicle from the mid ’60s to late ’70s loved were the conversations, debates really, with Mieuli. He would drop by San Francisco’s two newspapers with bananas, apples and advice on how to cover his team.
Mieuli was from San Jose and the University of Oregon, a pioneer in radio who produced national broadcasts of the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics, for which one of his announcers was Lon Simmons.
Mieuli wanted people to think of him as unsophisticated, but he was singularly clever.
When Rick Barry jumped to the new ABA, to play for then father-in-law Bruce Hale, Mieuli took Barry’s No. 24 jersey and said it would remain there until Rick returned. Of course, Barry did return, leading Golden State to the championship.
The good days soon ended. Mieuli couldn’t compete financially in a sporting world gone corporate and in 1985 he sold his beloved Warriors.
For a quarter century he kept showing up for games. Once his team, always his team. We’ll miss you, Franklin.