News Column

Is Steve Ballmer in the Mix to Buy L.A. Clippers?

May 26, 2014

By Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times

Steve Ballmer is among the potential buyers for the Los Angeles Clippers.
Steve Ballmer is among the potential buyers for the Los Angeles Clippers.

A report Sunday that Steve Ballmer was in Los Angeles for a meeting to discuss buying the Clippers is a big deal for Seattle basketball fans.

No, not because Ballmer is going to move the Clippers to Seattle. Ballmer himself has already stated, as would most semi-competent businessmen, that he'd keep the Clippers in the City of Angels.

There's no way Ballmer would risk harming the value of a moneymaking Clippers franchise so recklessly by moving them here, given the $1 billion price tag he'd likely pay to get the team. Nor much chance the NBA would allow Ballmer to pull a Clay Bennett out of the nation's second-biggest market.

Still, this is a big deal for Seattle, if only in what it means for Chris Hansen and his efforts to build a Sodo arena and revive the NBA here. Up until now, those efforts have been with Ballmer and his billions at Hansen's side.

If Ballmer heads for Los Angeles as a Clippers owner, it effectively ends any NBA role he'd play here and deals a serious blow to Hansen's plan.

"It would knock the lights out of it,'' a veteran Seattle politico said Sunday. "There are deep pockets and there are small pockets. It doesn't take much work to figure out who has the deep pockets and who has the small ones in that partnership.''

Now, it isn't automatically a death blow. After all, Hansen first launched his Sodo project well before Ballmer climbed aboard. But there's a reason Hansen took Ballmer on as his biggest partner in the first place: money talks in pro sports.

And it's fair to wonder whether Hansen has enough of his own money to go at it without Ballmer. Or whether he'll again be out working the wealthy side of the street for help.

Hansen could not immediately be reached for comment through his spokesman, Rollin Fatland.

Ballmer's spokesman, Mark Rising, said he's not authorized to disclose the former Microsoft CEO's whereabouts, nor confirm a TMZ report that said Ballmer was meeting Sunday with Shelly Sterling in Los Angeles to discuss a Clippers purchase.

Sterling's estranged husband, Donald, is facing pressure from the NBA to step down as Clippers owner after audio recordings surfaced containing racist remarks made by him. Reports have indicated Shelly Sterling has assumed control of the team and is negotiating with the NBA to sell to an outside group on her terms.

The Sodo project remains in limbo pending results of an environmental impact study to be released later this year. City officials say the release has been delayed until the fall and they are awaiting additional documentation from Hansen on traffic in the area.

Local politicians have been buzzing all month about what Ballmer's next move means for the Sodo project after his very public appearances at Clippers playoff games and open courting of NBA commissioner Adam Silver in recent weeks. Silver told me last month in New York he'd be intrigued by Ballmer as an owner, because of his net worth and what his Microsoft background could bring a league looking at better employing technological innovation.

But the idea Ballmer's NBA future is tied to Seattle no longer resonates as strongly.

Ballmer stepping down from Microsoft this year has freed up his schedule. Ballmer also has family ties to California as his eldest son just graduated from USC while another begins attending Stanford this fall. Finally, his passion to flat-out own any NBA team could trump a desire to wait out the longer haul here, in the same community where -- according to various reports -- he was actually forced out of his Microsoft job.

In other words, there's little stopping Ballmer from hanging with Hollywood stars in his post-Microsoft life, while still maintaining his Seattle-area residences. As for what Hansen's life post-Ballmer would look like, he can take solace in all the rival bidders standing in Ballmer's way when it comes to buying the Clippers.

After all, the interest expressed by Oprah Winfrey, Floyd Mayweather, Magic Johnson and David Geffen merely means the NBA ownership landscape is filled with plenty of deep-pocketed suitors.

And if Ballmer walks, Hansen will have to find another one of those in a hurry.

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @gbakermariners.



Source: (c)2014 The Seattle Times Visit The Seattle Times at www.seattletimes.com Distributed by MCT Information Services


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