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Ballmer buys LA team: A seismic dropping of NW jaws

Don't Californians come up here to buy our properties on the cheap? Well, this could set up a great rivalry.
Steve Ballmer tears up during his Microsoft farewll address.

Steve Ballmer tears up during his Microsoft farewll address. Credit: Microsoft

Imagine that — a Seattle guy buying a California pro sports team.

For years, the sun-kissed business monarchs came north with their millions to amuse themselves with the moss-covered fishermen and lumberjacks. Sam Schulman, Danny Kaye, George Argyros, Ken Behring, Joe Roth: They couldn't buy into the sports action in the home state, so they went rogue in a place that defined wealth in clams dug instead of clams banked.

Seattle sports fans often seemed at the mercy of guys whose priority diversions were tee times at Riviera Country Club and jet-set "safaris" with women who had to sign non-disclosure agreements.

But now, Steve Ballmer, Detroit-born but Seattle-monetized, outspent California's barons for the NBA Los Angeles Clippers. The most misbegotten pro sports franchise in America, suddenly a free agent after its owner was illegally and preposterously exposed for being himself, was even more preposterously worth $2 billion. The agreement to purchase was first reported by the Los Angeles Times Thursday afternoon.

Think about it: Every owner in the NBA, which includes Seahawks owner and Seattle guy Paul Allen, will be significantly wealthier in equity because Donald Sterling, a man who sat among them for more than 30 years, was too stupid to know it was a bad idea to be a bigot.

These people will be enriched because a Seattle guy, who in 2008 and 2013 tried to make the NBA work here, got so fed up with his hometown he took his billions to Los Angeles, where he blew up the entire sports world's sense of financial value by exploiting Sterling's absence of humanity.

This story could get more astonishing, but only if Jack Nicholson becomes the Clippers coach.

For Seattle sports fans eager for a return of the Sonics, there is no joy in seeing one of their own out-dilettante SoCal's Botoxed gentry. Ballmer was Seattle's muscle when it came to getting the NBA back to town. He partnered with Seattle native Chris Hansen to seek an arena in SoDo and relocate the Kings from Sacramento, a futile 15-month saga that previously led the Can You Top This? list of implausible sports-business stories.

When Sacramento, led by Kevin Johnson, an ex-NBA star turned Sactown mayor and forever the pet of former commissioner David Stern, found the money and the arena plan one year ago to keep the Kings, it was the beginning of the end for Ballmer's Seattle ambitions.

For years under criticism from shareholders, employees and the tech industry for his leadership at Microsoft, Ballmer reluctantly announced in August he would be retiring. The stock price shot up 10 percent on the news. By February, the shove out the door was complete, with remarkably little ceremony, all of it dry-eyed, given his 14-year tenure at the helm.

After Hansen came under fire of his own for foolishly allowing some of his money to be used in an anti-arena campaign in Sacramento — he was fined $50,000 by state election officials — the arena project was further slowed by the inevitable Seattle process (an environmental impact statement) as well as smarter opposition. Then he lost his biggest political proponent, Mayor Mike McGinn, who was defeated in his re-election bid.

Somewhere last summer, Ballmer pulled away from the Hansen project. During the winter, he put in a serious bid for the only other NBA team known to be for sale, the Milwaukee Bucks. He lost that one too, when a couple of New York guys paid $550 million to buy the team, plus another $100 million toward a new arena. That was the record price for a franchise, until Thursday.

In April, the Sterling storm hit the NBA, a league that took great pride in its progressive actions on diversity, inclusion and globalization. Suddenly the owners found among them a Confederacy general still fighting the Civil War — even though anyone who dealt with Sterling over 30 years was surprised at nothing on the recording made public by his archivist/lover/arm-candy/model/whatever.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, May 30, 7:06 a.m. Inappropriate

So if he can afford $2 billion to buy the team, why can't he afford to just build an arena himself or with other investors instead of monkeying around with trying to get taxpayer subsidies and support? You don't involve the city government if you want to get things done, and you certainly don't come up with complex funding mechanisms that give any impression that the taxpayers are on the hook.

talisker

Posted Fri, May 30, 10:44 p.m. Inappropriate

In this case, it wasn't about money. It was about time. When Ballmer partnered with Hansen, he had a day job and his passion for hoops was secondary. But when the Clippers opportunity fell in his lap, he was unemployed and had $20B in his pocket. He bought a good team in a big market and was seen as a savior in a crisis.

If he'd stuck with Seattle, there's zero guarantee the arena will be built and a team will be found. Instead he found a team for sale and pounced. No mystery.

Art Thiel

Posted Fri, May 30, 12:49 p.m. Inappropriate

Such an inviting target. Surprised so few comments -- proof positive of Crosscut's unassailable nerdiness. So here goes:

1. Going onstage right after Donald Sterling is Steve Ballmer's best shot at ever being loved. That's gotta be worth a billion right there.

2. Watching Ballmer get fleeced by Sterling's semi-estranged wife makes you appreciate how financially solid Microsoft must have been to survive 14 years of Ballmer at the helm.

3. Now the NBA has two franchises owned by Seattle Microsoft billionaires -- one in LA and one in Portland. So which one do we root for? Isn't this sort of like being a New Yorker having the Giants and Jets with both playing in New Jersey?

woofer

Posted Fri, May 30, 10:50 p.m. Inappropriate

1. Exactly. Ballmer is a hero in the NBA. He removed a blight, raised the equity value of all teams and got away from Seattle so the NBA can ignore those icky I-91 people.
2. Ballmer's shareholders of his $20B consist of one (1) person. How many people did you annoy with your mid-life crisis?
3. One of them also owns the Seahawks. That's enough hometown rooting.

Art Thiel

Posted Mon, Jun 2, 9:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Barron's reported on Friday that Ballmer's MSFT shares appreciated $2B since he left. So he bought the Clippers with "house money" as they said.

oldgaloot

Posted Fri, May 30, 2:49 p.m. Inappropriate

Ballmer and Los Angeles should do fine together. Hope he stays there. Starting a migration south would be even better. Please take Bill and Paul with you.

Posted Fri, May 30, 10:52 p.m. Inappropriate

What? And leave us Bezos? Gah!

Art Thiel

Posted Fri, May 30, 10:05 p.m. Inappropriate

I LOVE THAT MAN. I love you man. You're my hero.\read on:
Corporate giant Costco fails as a marketing model in terms of transportation. A single Costco induces
10x the fuel combustion compared to neighborhood stores or district shopping centers, while putting these out of business. Amazon and Boeing similarly fall short in these terms of transportation costs and impacts.
A progressive carbon tax would bankrupt these (low-cost?) corporate giants.

Meanwhile, Wsdot consistently constructs absurdly substandard highways. Seattle transit agencies fall short of national standards, nevermind world standards. BNSF plans to dedicate its rails to fossil fuel transport through the Pacific Northwest. Seattle's economy is more dependent upon diesel-spewing global trade than any US port. Yeah, we could address global warming, but the subject of transport is too far down the list of concerns Seattlers hold dearly, never f'kn mind competent discussion among peers. So says this Oregonian.

Our ODOT was finished with your Wsdot boys in 2008. Your guys also misled our Port authorities about the oval track and Spagetti ramp hazards on Hayden Island. Washingtonian advice in transportation matters is no longer accepted south of thee Columbia River.
Bertha must not proceed, period, end of story.
Drill-Fill Sea Fence? Not a good idea, period.
MercerWest QueenAnne Truck Route? How f'n dare you?

Check out the WsDOT angle for retaining Battery Street Tunnel. YOU WILL LIKE IT, honest, trust me.
BOX CUT-COVER/SEAWALL? Do not reject/neglect its study.
Study it or shut up.

In your languaguification experientialness, duh...
Are you listening to me!? Seatuhlers ?? Well!?
I'm talking about Michael Patrick McGinn being so right.

Wells

Posted Sat, May 31, 3:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Wells is making sense to me. This is concerning. Maybe I need to be getting more sleep or something.

(Except the last paragraph, whew. Also kinda off topic.)

spock

Posted Sat, May 31, 8:37 p.m. Inappropriate

I haven't watched more than a minute of an NBA game since the Sonics left town, and haven't missed it one bit. Even if they do come back, I doubt I will. I now follow UW volleyball and softball - no need there to subsidize millionaire players and billionaire owners from the public coffers, plus tickets are a bargain ($4, with the senior discount).

There is only one thing more inflated than the price Balmer is paying - his ego.

Posted Sun, Jun 1, 7:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Why, Art? I don't get it why jaws are dropping (implying some amazing surprise). You have not a single quote from any source to support your opinion, whatever it is.

Does the Balmer bid mean that the Seattle prospective NBA owners cannot find the cash? Chris Hansen says the other investors can cover it, and you have neither interviewed him nor produced evidence to the contrary.

Does Balmer (and Allen) as NBA owners mean that Seattle is WORSE off as a potential location? It would seem the contrary, but you provide no analysis or any comments from those parties.

Since the Clippers lease was just extended and an unlikely franchise to relocate to Seattle anyway, why is the Balmer bid a negative impact on Seattle?

Just want some analysis here….

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