Brett Yamaguchi, the Golden State Warriors’ entertainment orchestrator


Brett Yamaguchi. photo by Scott Nakajima/Nakajima Photography

Brett Yamaguchi. photo by Scott Nakajima/Nakajima Photography
Brett Yamaguchi. photo by Scott Nakajima/Nakajima Photography

OAKLAND, Calif. — Few sports fans would refute that the Golden State Warriors have been one of the most entertaining teams in all of professional sports this season. From their furious pace and lightning quick ball movement to Stephen Curry draining shots from otherworldly distances, the entertainment value of Warriors games has been compared to the Showtime Lakers of the ‘80s and the dynastic Chicago Bulls teams of the ‘90s. But what most fans don’t know is that in the middle of this entertainment juggernaut is a 5-foot-10 Japanese American who hasn’t put on a basketball jersey since high school.

A self-described 3.5-generation Japanese American, Brett Yamaguchi is the entertainment orchestrator at every Golden State Warriors home game at Oracle Arena. For 19 seasons, Yamaguchi has played a role in whipping nearly 20,000 Warriors fans into a frenzy before and during every home game. However, he’s quick to point out that, “The players on the court are the main attraction.” Nevertheless, it’s Yamaguchi’s job to make sure every fan who attends a Warriors home game is not just entertained by the game, but becomes part of the experience.
Yamaguchi’s official title is director of game operations, a position he’s occupied for the last nine years. In that role, he oversees and directs all of the on-court promotions and entertainment during Warriors games. At every home game, you can see him sitting at center court next to the public address announcer, directing a myriad of functions to keep the fans engaged and revved up during the Warriors’ record-setting campaign. Synchronizing the lights and sound effects, queuing up video on the Jumbotron, and directing traffic for the Warriors Dance Team and other on-court performers are a few of the dizzying list of things that Yamaguchi juggles during every game.

In addition to everything that Yamaguchi is responsible for within the game, he still has to pay attention to what’s happening on the court so that the entertainment follows the pulse of the game. “I have to pay attention to the game so that I know the flow of the game, what the mood is, and how the crowd’s reacting to prep for the next break,” Yamaguchi said.

So during timeouts when the players take a breather and fans at home are watching commercials, Yamaguchi is deciding what to do next or what song to play to keep the fans’ energy level high. In other words, when the players get a timeout, he keeps working.

“It’s definitely fast-paced,” Yamaguchi said, which seems like an understatement, especially given the worldwide attention the team attracted during their record-breaking, 73-win season.

Even during the interview Yamaguchi gave for this article, which concluded a few minutes before tip-off, he seemed relaxed and utterly composed. Yamaguchi described his job in a soft, calm tenor that belied the pressure of the nationally broadcast game that was about to get underway.

Part of Yamaguchi’s calm demeanor seems to stem from the hours of preparation that he puts in before every home game — meeting with the production crew, stage managers, and all of the non-player entertainers who perform over the course of the evening.

Even with all of the preparation, Yamaguchi said things can still go wrong. His most vivid memory of when things went sideways was during the national anthem. “Around 12 to 13 years ago, we had a performer singing the national anthem who forgot the words mid-performance,” Yamaguchi recalled. “And then the crowd started getting on her, and the performer started chastising the crowd. It was bad.” Although he smiled while nostalgically describing the incident, Yamaguchi remembered, “It wasn’t fun going into our President’s office the next day to explain what happened. She (the performer) did fine during the sound check, but I guess when she got under the bright lights she forgot the words.”

Despite the occasional hiccups, Yamaguchi said the pressure of performing during Warriors games doesn’t get to him. In fact, he said that his job has changed for the better when compared to previous seasons when the team lost a lot more games than it won. During the losing years, Yamaguchi had to do more preparation with giveaways, mascot routines, and elaborate entertainment during timeouts just to keep the crowd in the game. But given the team’s success over the past few seasons, he was quick and happy to defer the focus on to the players.

For Yamaguchi, his deference to having the players define the entertainment doesn’t just seem to stem from his professionalism. Growing up in Fremont, Calif. attending Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward, and staying in the Bay Area to attend California State University, East Bay, Yamaguchi literally grew up watching the Warriors. His favorite Warrior of all time is Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame forward Chris Mullin, especially during the “Run TMC” days of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Mullin from 1989-91.

Yamaguchi said that sports always had a big role in his family. One of his sisters, Kristi, even became an Olympic gold medalist in figure skating. Brett, himself, played basketball in the Mission Valley League and varsity basketball for Moreau High School.

When asked about whether growing up with the Warriors influenced his desire to play professionally, Yamaguchi replied, “Those dreams died pretty quickly when I was in high school. I didn’t see a lot of 5-foot-10 point guards in the NBA.”

Even with an Olympic gold medalist in the family, Yamaguchi said his parents never pressured any of them, even Kristi, about performing on the court (or on the ice rink). The former point guard remembered, “We just really enjoyed sports as a family and my parents juggled everything to make sure the kids had time for it.”

Now in his 19th season with the defending NBA champions, Yamaguchi plays a key role in making sure Warriors basketball plays a big role for fans all over the Bay Area. But when things go right, as they so often have for the Warriors this season, Yamaguchi reminded, “The main attraction is on the court.”

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