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Truth is, part of Joe Lacob doesn’t want you to know all this. He’s protective of this area of his life.
But you should know his fiancée. Nicole Curran has been a Warriors’ fixture since Lacob bought the team. She was on the helicopter headed for Greece moments after he sealed the deal to purchase the Warriors in 2010. She was the cold shoulder Lacob faced after trading Monta Ellis in 2012, and the shoulder comforting him when he got booed for it. She was between the sheets when the couple famously slept with the Larry O’Brien trophy at the Ritz Carlton in Cleveland in 2015.
You’ve seen her many times over the years, sitting next to the Warriors’ owner, screaming at referees and trading banter with players. She’s the 5-foot-9 brunette — “6-foot-5 with heels,” she said — who is thin like a high-fashion model and dressed like she just got back from Milan. Thigh-high suede boots. Or a bright floppy hat. Or a leather punk rock jacket. Or a couture dress. She wears it all.
But all this time, only the surface of Lacob’s significant other has been revealed. People only get to see the portrait, filtered through glamor. Curran’s public persona, as her t-shirt once read after the Warriors won the title, is as a trophy girl.
The initial reaction might be to write her off as a superficial diva, typecast for a Housewives of Palo Alto series. But the person who took over the Warriors Community Foundation, turning it into a resource hub in the inner-city struggle — and the franchise’s retort to those who think it is abandoning Oakland — is so much deeper.
While Lacob might be protective, Curran doesn’t care much about perceptions, isn’t pining for others to see her as greater than the owner’s romance. The other parts of her, the heart and hustle, is all poured into the Foundation.
“There are many many guardian angels up there looking after me,” she said. “I think that kind of reinforced my belief that with one single act you can make such a difference in someone’s life. You have to have somebody who believes in you and tells you that you can be different. That makes a huge difference. I want to be that person, but I also want to be that person to empower other people to be that person.”
Curran’s parents divorced when she was 4. She was raised by a single mom, Barbara, who hustled to make ends meet mostly without child support.
Nicole was 13 years old when her parents sent her away. Both were struggling and unable to care for her. So they put her in the Milton Hershey School, a boarding school for orphans in Pennsylvania.
Helpless, Curran kicked off her teenage years with a lump of abandonment in her throat.
“Could you imagine being a 13 year old girl and being dropped off,” she asked, her eyes coated with tears as she tapped into the emotions of that teenager.
But Curran’s story didn’t stop there. Every bad break was met with life-altering generosity. She endured hardship through clutch support.
When Curran was 15, her mother got her out of Hershey. She left as a confident and hopeful young woman thanks to the relentless support of a history teacher she knew only as Mister Jackson. He cared when she wasn’t sure anybody did. Curran returned to a meager life in D.C. with her mom, who was still single and working hard on the night shift.
Curran was practically grown, finding her way to and from school every day. She modeled and worked at an ice cream parlor, and a hair salon on Saturdays, to buy most of her own food and needs. She got a full ride to George Washington University thanks to scholarship from an anonymous donor.
Those memories have been resurrected by her hands-on work with the Foundation. It allows her to be governed by her compassion, to pull back her cashmere coating and stay connected with her leathery constitution.
“What you see is what you get,” said Lacob, who met Curran at golf tournament at Pebble Beach in 2006. “She is very direct. No hidden agendas. She is tough. She can be pretty volatile. But she is outgoing naturally. She’s got a million friends. Always ready to go to a party, go to an event. Me you have to drag.”
Per the Warriors, since Curran took over in 2012, the Warriors Community Foundation has delivered $6.7 million to the community — among the highest for sports team foundations — in the form of grants, refurbished courts and donated game tickets.
In 2015, the Warriors announced they donated $1 million to 36 organizations. In 2016, their announcement was $1.25 million to 51 organizations. Under Curran’s leadership, the Foundation focuses on education. Early childhood development, elementary literacy, middle schools, STEM, college access, that’s their area of focus.
That has something to do with Curran’s background as a public school teacher. After George Washington, she took to the classroom in 1993. She taught history and government, and one year of sex education, at a rough high school in D.C.. She remembers trying to convince the school’s biggest weed dealer to use his business savvy legally.
“I was making $23,500 a year as a teacher,” she said. “Working 80 hours a week.”
She married a doctor and moved to Arizona. There, she mainstreamed youth from Black Canyon Prison into the Phoenix Union District High School. Her formative adult years were spent digging deep for potential in young kids. Now, she devotes 60 hours a week during grant season being a resource for those making the most of their potential.
And Curran isn’t a figure head. She is deeply invested. She uses her party-throwing skills, and big pocket connections, to raise money for the Foundation — including an annual Charity Poker Tournament and family fantasy camp featuring the Warriors’ biggest stars. She pores over the applications, builds relationships with the tireless workers and develops soft spots for the kids. She makes the phone calls to announce whether she is giving the grant or denying it.
Moira Hess, the senior institutional giving officer for Children’s Hospital, still remembers the random email she got from Curran.
“It was so friendly, and so casual, and so warm,” said Hess, who oversees the Hospital’s program CHAMPS, an internship program that introduces and trains high school students in the medical field. “It was very personal. You don’t expect to get those. I’ll never forget that.”
Curran can tell you all about the Urban Ed Academy — a mentorship program for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders in the Bay View district of San Francisco that buys up liquor stores in the poor neighborhoods and turns them into classrooms. She spouts the unofficial motto of CHAMPS — “we want a medical workforce that looks like our patients” — like she coined it.
She is besties with Ron Thompson, a senior at Envision Academy in Oakland who is headed to Boston University on a full ride. Curran lights up when she talks about Ron, who endures a nearly two-hour commute daily for his education.
She invited him and a friend from his basketball team to sit courtside with her against Denver. But first they ate in the owner’s lounge. The teenagers passed on steak and the other high-end options, settling on hot dogs and burgers. Curran, still recovering from the flu, didn’t eat but sat with them and chatted.
Her eyes are usually widened with intensity. She tells stories with a one-time-at-band-camp cadence and has a mastery of urban vernacular. She takes no mess but also greets everyone with hugs and air kisses. She can switch from haughty to ‘hood in a blink, hold a convo with millionaire CEOs or impoverished teens.
One afternoon in November, Curran got out of the back of a black SUV on Broadway, right across the street from the Everett & Jones near Jack London square. She walked into a nondescript storefront as if she were a regular, her thousand-dollar black Stuart Weitzman boots clacking on the stairs as she explained the work being done at this location.
She walked into a room teeming with energy, a chaotic and youthful atmosphere of high school freshmen and sophomores lounging, studying, working. Within minutes, Curran — in her black Chanel skirt, black Louis Vuitton vest and white pirate-sleeved blouse — had blended right into the setting. She had come to deliver a $50,000 check and, after handing it off, she hung out with the youth.
“The fact that someone of her (status) and connection to the organization, at the top level, can come down to the center, that shows the investment isn’t superficial,” said Omar Butler, regional executive director for the Bay Area region of College Track, a program that helps thousands of under-served youth get a higher education. The Warriors built the tech center at their Oakland offices.
“We know that with respect to the Warriors, they show up a little different. They show up better. They show up more authentic. It’s not this dog-and-pony show. She comes in and we don’t have to have a stage and all this Pomp and Circumstance. We can be ourselves and she shows up as herself. It’s just a genuine relationship we have with the Warriors.”
It is so clear Curran loves this stuff. She didn’t know what she was getting into when Lacob came home and dropped the news in her lap that he had named her president of the Foundation’s board. But doing it has given her a greater purpose within the Warriors’ organization.
There is a textured, experienced, layered woman behind the flawless makeup, long lashes and glitzy jewelry. The money, access and power hasn’t swallowed up the underprivileged little girl who survived on the benevolence of others.