BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 08/20/2014

Thiel: Now 2 Seattle rich guys out of NBA here

Ballmer’s purchase of the Clippers puts him in the NBA with Blazers owner Paul Allen, two of Seattle’s three richest citizens who couldn’t make the NBA happen again here. Huh?

Steve Ballmer: The new face of the Clippers. / Wiki Commons

You may have heard that Steve Ballmer Monday blew the doors off Staples Center in Los Angeles with weapons-grade bombast. Many a current and former Microsoft employee smirked and shook their heads as their former boss and new owner of the NBA Clippers set off all the ooga horns at his introduction to fans.

“We’re going to be hard core! Hard core! Hard core!” he yelled. “We’re going to keep coming and coming and coming and coming and coming!”

“Nothing gets in our way! Nothing gets in our way!”

“Boom! Keep coming! The hard-core Clippers, that’s us.”

Those fans who didn’t dive under the seats at the sight of the one-man rampage delighted at the antics. So did Microsoft shareholders, who are quietly counting their dubloons after the stock price soared 43 percent since the announcement that he was retiring as strongman after 14 years.

They remember similar lava flows surrounding Ballmer’s 2007 claim that, “No chance that Apple iPhone is going to get any significant market share.”

Beware, Clippers fans, of Ballmer forecasts.

Then again, this is sports, where bombast is coin of the realm. Today’s prediction is tomorrow’s skit on the “Tonight Show” and the world moves on.

Since almost no one has more coin or more bombast than Ballmer, his stewardship is going to be fun to watch, especially for the most misbegotten franchise in modern American sports. It took former commissioner David Stern manipulating the trade of Chris Paul to pull the Clips from the sub-basement of the outhouse. Then they fell back in, temporarily, thanks to human sludge Donald Sterling.

But Ballmer’s petty cash fund of $2 billion rescued the Clips, LA and the NBA from further slime, and raised the equity value of just about every major pro sports franchise a little bit. But in Seattle, the NBA wound opened a little wider.

If there were to be another team in Seattle, Ballmer is the guy the NBA wanted, for all the obvious reasons, some of which were visible in the mist of flying spittle and sweat at Staples Monday. In his brief partnership with Chris Hansen in an attempt to relocate the Kings, Timberwolves and Bucks, Ballmer would have been the face of the franchise that would have replaced the Sonics.

That doesn’t mean Hansen can’t do it with other partners, but the hard road became harder. Hansen did himself no favors within the NBA when he was caught attempting to manipulate a potential vote in Sacramento by giving funds to an anti-arena enterprise. It wasn’t that they were offended by Hansen’s ploy — they probably admired the chutzpah — but they were torqued that he was caught publicly, admitted the misdeed and paid a fine.

In the cutthroat world of pro sports ownership, that was pure amateurism.

But when Sterling’s racist bleats lowered the bar to a shameful new low for owners, they struck quickly via commissioner Adam Silver, banning Sterling for life. Ballmer, with some experience at the hostile takeover, cut his ties with Hansen and swooped in with predatory swiftness.

The $2 billion move astonished the sports world globally, on multiple levels. But here in Seattle, there was historical irony — the two richest guys in town who like sports can’t do anything to bring back the Sonics because they own NBA teams elsewhere.

Another with a basketball jones, Paul Allen, in the 1980s had the same fervor as Ballmer, absent the histronics. But he wasn’t wealthy in 1983, when billboard baron Barry Ackerley bought the Sonics from Sam Schulman. Sometime after Microsoft went public in 1986, Allen was plenty wealthy. But his offer to purchase the team was rejected by Ackerley, who took it as an insult and moved Allen’s season-ticket seats off the Coliseum’s front row.

Allen in 1988 took his millions south and spent 70 of them, then an NBA record, to buy the Portland Trail Blazers from Larry Weinberg. Allen has held them for 25 often-tumultuous years. He came to ultimate success with his 1997 purchase of the Seahawks, but remains unfulfilled in his deepest sports passion.

So next season when the Blazers play the Clippers, there will be more at stake than a win or a loss. It will be a clash of the titans borne of the little software shop in Redmond. Shards of ego will fly so intensely that public safety will be threatened. Allen and Ballmer are reportedly friendly, but this is sports, where both set the standard, a quarter-century apart, for extravagant pursuit of a passion.

Seattle, chin in palm as Hansen tries to get a shovel in SoDo dirt before his children have children, gets to watch. And somewhere, Jay Gatsby is chuckling.


  • RadioGuy

    More bad news: With Ballmer having to cover Blake Griffith’s and Chris Paul’s salaries in LA, the Lakeside basketball slush fund may drop next season.

    • art thiel

      He’s not even getting his stipend as a Microsoft board member. Lakeside may have to lean on one of the alums who actually graduated, Bill Gates.

  • 3 Lions

    Maybe things happen for a reason? Do we really want an omnipresent, heavily ‘involved’ owner? The Mark Cuban, Jerry Jones model is more trouble than it’s worth. The more successful franchises have great people in top management & the owner lets them run it. (Seahawks, Patriots, Spurs) It’s fine w me if the Nordstrom’s take the lead in the pursuit of an NBA franchise & then we would have a reason for a rivalry w the Clippers.

    • art thiel

      I’ve never believed in cosmic reasons for changes in fate.

      Ballmer isn’t the only bombastic guy who could partner with Hansen. And Steinbrenner managed to win a few rings with his style. So did Jones.

  • Big

    Ballmer the Baller. He got’s game. Game of Kings. Will he succeed? The man has scruples, honor and the golden touch. Lakeside prep is an example of his hard core.

    • art thiel

      He didn’t do for Lakeside anything that parents haven’t done for Bellevue HS, Mercer Island HS and O’Dea HS. And for lots of other schools. Been that way in many sports for many years.

      • Big

        True, and it’s called cheating or shady at best. Just Play Fair.

        However, I have coached kids who received scholarships to a private HS and became true student athletes which I’m very proud of for these kids who got an excellent education and got to compete at a high level.

  • jafabian

    If anyone’s seen Ballmer’s sales meetings at Microsoft his press conference was a lot like those.

    • art thiel

      Can’t say Ballmer is putting on any airs because of his new station in Hollywood. But I’ll believe his charm works when Nicholson shows up courtside when the Lakers aren’t hosting.

      • RadioGuy

        He might have to settle for B-listers like Richard Dean Anderson or R. Lee Ermey. The Clips are still the Clips.

  • I Got This

    Laker fans got it right: The only difference between Steve Ballmer and Matt Foley is Baller doesn’t live in a van down by the lake.

  • mike

    NBA will not return to Seattle , because thats the NBAs leverage to exstort other teams