When David Kelly, Chief Business Officer for Golden State Entertainment, wakes up at 5:36 each morning, his mind quickly goes to sponsorship agreements, legal negotiations, and other pressing work concerns.
Kelly, who is responsible for all legal matters affecting the Warriors, including transactions, disputes, and compliance, joined the company during the 2011–2012 NBA season as vice president and general counsel in 2016, later becoming chief legal officer. He’s now in his 11th season with the team.
A CHILDHOOD FILLED WITH SPORTS AND MUSIC
Kelly grew up on the south side of Chicago with three older sisters, a stay-at-home mom, and a father who was the first African American partner at the prestigious law firm Arthur Anderson.
“I had a great relationship with my father sports-wise,” Kelly says. “We used to go to Final Fours. We played a lot of golf together.”
Kelly played many sports growing up, but basketball was his first love, followed by golf—so working for a sports team is a dream come true. His mother was one of the biggest supporters of his love for music, and he came from a long line of musicians.
“My parents bought me a keyboard when I was probably 12 or 13 years old, and I used to be on that thing, just constantly creating tracks,” says Kelly, who particularly loved house music and hip-hop.
Music went from his hobby to his job after Kelly graduated from Morehouse College and became an underground rapper in Chicago.
“Me and my partner Tony created an independent record label, and we put out our own records, and then we signed some other acts from the Chicago area, and we put out some music in other areas as well,”
The company they started, All Natural Incorporated, allowed them to tour through Brazil, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, and Canada. He released eight albums and was featured on ABC, the CBS Evening News, and CNN, and in Time, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Wall Street Journal.
Even now, Kelly uses his musical expertise to inform his job, especially through one of the newest avenues, Golden State Entertainment.
“I started thinking, music and storytelling is really who I am, and really my background,” he says. “And is there an opportunity for us to engage in storytelling that might have a music component related to it that fits into this larger vision of a sports entertainment media technology company? So, that’s where the idea for Golden State Entertainment really came about.”
FINDING THE RIGHT PATH
Kelly’s parents and sisters still live in Chicago where one older sister is the head of human resources for the Art Institute of Chicago, another is a certified public accountant, and the third sister is an entrepreneur.
After growing up in an ambitious family, Kelly thought he’d become a magazine publisher after studying English in college. However, he eventually concluded that, out of all his interests, law school was the one that would allow him to achieve his dreams of working in business or becoming a writer.
On top of his professional passions, during his first year of law school, Kelly married his wife, Zeenat.
“We were living a very modest life as newlyweds,” Kelly says. “I was in law school. She was studying for US MLES [United States Medical Licensing Examination], and so there’s a lot of studying going on in the house.”
The studying paid off for both of them, as Zeenat is nows an emergency room physician. The couple also has three children.
Kelly didn’t skip a beat after getting his law degree in 2004. He worked for Katten Muchin Rosenman, a full-service law firm spanning the United States, London, and Shanghai, with a focus on financial markets and funds, commercial finance, private wealth, and more.
“So, I worked at Mucin Rosenman’s big firm in Chicago for eight years, made partner, was in the corporate transactional group, MNA work, corporate governance work, some security, some private equity,” Kelly says.
That job would change the White Sox fan’s life forever, as the corporate transactional group also worked in sports.
“We worked on the Bulls and the White Sox, and so we represented [Jerry] Reinsdorf, who owns both teams,” Kelly says.
The pieces began to align, as Kelly helped represent sports team owners who were buying or selling teams.
“We represented Joe Lacob and Peter Guber when they purchased the Warriors back in 2010. And so, that was the entry point of the relationship. I caught wind of the fact that they were looking for a general counsel and I immediately raised my hand.”
The prospect of living in the Bay Area was appealing to Kelly and he also appreciated how the executive team that was being assembled, which included Rick Welts as president of the Warriors and Bob Myers as president of basketball operations for the team,
“I was actually doing the employment agreements for Rick and Bob, so I was aware of the moves they were making and they had hired Jerry West,” Kelly says.
LEARNING THE ROPES
Kelly began learning a great deal from Welts and Myers as well as Kirk Ferentz, head football coach at the University of Iowa. Watching Ferentz was particularly helpful for Kelly, as the coach was skilled in weaving each player’s personality together for a more cohesive team. That leadership style guides Kelly on how to manage his own team.
Kelly recalls being asked to join the draft room when he had only been at the organization for three or four months.
Immediately feeling out of place as the “salary cap guy” in a room with Myers, former manager Larry Riley, then Warriors players Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli, and others, Kelly questioned his qualifications.
“And so I’m like, what the hell am I doing in this room? What do I add to this room? Right? These guys know far more about basketball,” Kelly says.
But he realized that it wasn’t his knowledge of basketball that would earn him points in the draft room—it was his knowledge of numbers.
“Like, if we do this sort of a deal, what do the numbers look like? What does this do to our salary cap flexibility if we were to trade a pick or something like that?” he says.
Kelly soon understood that he deserved to be among the people he respected and found his footing as a mentor and guide for his team.
“When I’m hiring people, I’m thinking about the roles that they’re going to play and what it is inside of their personality, in addition to their experience, but really their personality that’s going to make them successful at that role right off the bat,”
His understanding of how certain personalities complement specific jobs, deals, and other professional dynamics are reflected in how he assesses each part of his job, whether it’s maintaining transparency with sponsors, nourishing long-term partnerships, or communicating with a new client.
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT
Within the next five years, Kelly sees more potential for the team to evolve. He also wants to create a new WNBA team, as well as new music and film projects for Golden State Entertainment. He is already making those goals a reality.
Golden State Entertainment played a supporting role in 38 at the Garden, an HBO documentary short on the cultural impact of NBA trailblazer Jeremy Lin and the cultural phenomenon known as “Linsanity” that surrounded him during his 2011-12 season with the New York Knicks. It went on to win the 2023 Sports Emmy for Outstanding Short Documentary.
Golden State Entertainment was also a consulting producer for Stand, a documentary about former NBA star and social justice activist Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. In November of 2023, Grammy-nominated EDM-duo SIDEPIECE dropped a sports-themed anthem, “Feel The Need,” in conjunction with Golden State Entertainment. GSE-signed artist Tiny Deaths also dropped their debut solo album Sprit of the Staircase, Additionally, Golden State Entertainment released the single “Wheels Up” by KPop star BamBam. BamBam debuted the song during a live performance at halftime of the Warriors 2022 regular season finale against the Los Angeles Lakers. The song featured Oakland-based recording artist, MAYZIN, who is signed to a multi-album recording contract with GSE.
“I think that we are still just scratching the surface in terms of what the Chase Center can be,” he says of the arena where the Warriors compete. “We used to say Madison Square Garden of the West. We ultimately want Madison Square Garden to be the Chase Center of the East.”