It won't feel like Christmas anymore without Franklin Mieuli. For just before Christmas, with the timing of Santa Claus, Mieuli would make his annual delivery by mail — a CD of popular yuletide songs.

That was perfectly Franklin to the very end, which came Sunday with his death by natural causes at 89. Out of the public eye for some time, he made sure he wasn't forgotten, even if it took Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas."

But there's no way Mieuli, the consummate salesman, could ever be forgotten, for he definitely was one of a kind — a sports owner who was unpredictable, unpretentious, charismatic, colorblind and, above everything else, eccentric.

Mieuli compressed an ocean's worth of living — he loved to sail, too — into one man's existence, starting from his boyhood in San Jose as the son of an Italian immigrant nursery owner to his retirement years in Berkeley.

He is best known for owning the National Basketball Association's Warriors franchise, which he bought in San Francisco in 1962, moved to Oakland in 1971, and then sold to Jim Fitzgerald and Dan Finnane in 1986.

In between, Mieuli won an NBA championship in 1975, the Warriors' only league title on the West Coast since relocating from Philadelphia 48 years ago.

That was a golden time for sports in Oakland. The A's wrapped up their third consecutive World Series championship in 1974, the Warriors won it all in '75, and the Raiders won their first Super Bowl during the 1976 season.

And not only was Oakland the City of Champions, it also led the country in colorful owners. There was Charles O. Finley, with his mustachioed A's players and his mule, Al Davis, with his Elvis-like garish pantsuits and halfway-house team rosters, and Mieuli with his elderly hippie clothing and deerstalker caps.

Of the three, perhaps Mieuli stood out the loudest because he dressed the same all the time — he seemed to sleep in that deerstalker cap. And to think, at one time, he was preppy — clean-shaven, crew cut, business suit and tie.

"I try to do what I want to do," he said in 1975 of his relaxed appearance. "If I want to wear a beard, drive an old broken-down truck, and live in the hills of Berkeley, that's what I want to do.

"I know there are people that ridicule me for not looking like I should look for a guy in my position. It bothers me, but not enough for me not to do it. I'm not an eccentric or a nut. Freedom is important to me. That's all."

Not a nut, of course — Mieuli was smart enough to become that rare breed of sportsman to have ownership pieces of three teams — the Warriors, 49ers and Giants. And if not eccentric, he surely was a free spirit, an aging flower child.

He knew only one way to own a team — by caring. Some critics felt he cared too deeply.

"I believe for anyone to do well in pro basketball," he said, "you can't operate a club like you would an IBM machine or a conglomerate. At least, I can't run it that way. You've got to run it with your heart. You've got to believe."

He believed so strongly that his biggest superstar, Rick Barry, wouldn't jump leagues. But Mieuli was in Europe buying chandeliers when Barry left the Warriors to sign with the Oakland Oaks of the American Basketball Association in 1967.

Mieuli sued the Oaks for $4.5 million, the Oaks sued back for $1 million. The Oaks won the ABA title in 1969 without an injured Barry, then moved to Washington, D.C. Barry eventually rejoined the Warriors to make history in '75.

"In my mind, Rick is like a son who has run away from home," Mieuli said. "You expect him to come back."

But immediately after sweeping the Washington Bullets in the championship, Mieuli missed the trophy presentation. He headed for the Warriors dressing room and mistakenly went down the wrong hallway; he found himself at the men's room.

Mieuli's biggest achievement as Warriors owner wasn't winning the title, but convincing his defensive demon, guard Alvin "The Destroyer" Attles, to become the team's head coach in 1969.

At the time, African-American players were in the minority in the NBA, and there had been only one black head coach — Bill Russell in Boston — before Attles took control of the Warriors.

Thus Attles became Mieuli's true legacy as Attles has gone on to serve the franchise admirably in various capacities for 50 years — remarkable longevity in a professional sport.

Mieuli thought as Martin Luther King Jr. did, that the content of character was more important than the color of a man's skin. That's why when Attles came to Mieuli, in a time of NBA roster quotas, and told him that he wanted to keep more black players than whites, Mieuli felt insulted. Why did Attles even have to ask? Keep the best players, he was told.

Mieuli made player trades that soared (Bill Bridges, Clifford Ray), and trades where the dealt-for players (Zelmo Beaty, Lee Shaffer) never showed up. Some No. 1 draft picks became Hall of Famers (Barry, Nate Thurmond), while some No. 1 picks bombed (Barry Kramer, David Lattin, Bob Portman, Cyril Baptiste).

But Mieuli was bigger than most of his players. After serving in World War II and graduating from the University of Oregon, he started at $200 a week as an advertising executive with Burgermeister Beer. He bought into the 49ers in 1954, helped run a successful Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley in 1960, by which time he had started his own radio-television production company.

He then got the rights to 49ers and Giants broadcasts, bought the Warriors, and was on his way as an entrepreneur — long before the Sherlock Holmes look.

It's going to be a blue, blue Christmas from now on without Franklin.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Contact Dave Newhouse at 510-208-6466 or dnewhouse@bayareanewsgroup.com.