But he’s also been working the angles on buying the Los Angeles Clippers, the disgraced NBA franchise whose owner Donald Sterling may be forced to sell after uttering racist remarks. A report today from Forbes indicates that Ballmer has offered $1.8 billion for the team, a price tag that would make it the second biggest sports acquisition in the U.S. UPDATE: The LA Times reports that Ballmer has agreed to purchase the Clippers for $2 billion.
Ballmer is certainly at a crossroads in his life. His kids are getting older, and even though he is Microsoft’s largest shareholder, his time as an executive at the Redmond company is in the rearview mirror.
And now — given the interest in the Clippers — I have to wonder whether Ballmer’s future even includes Seattle.
I keep coming back to a comment Ballmer made to The Wall Street Journal earlier this month.
“I don’t work anymore, so I have more geographic flexibility than I did a year, year-and-a half ago. Moving them anywhere else would be value destructive.”
Of course, the quote was directly tied to Ballmer’s interest in the Clippers. But the part that keeps nagging at me is the first sentence about “geographic flexibility,” in which he hints at a possible move himself.
Many people assumed when the bombastic tech exec left Microsoft that he’d be sticking around Seattle, playing a part in the community via philanthropy or — as many in the startup community hoped — angel investing. (See: Seattle entrepreneur starts petition asking Steve Ballmer to create $500M startup fund).
But there’s another possibility too. The 58-year-old Detroit native could simply leave, starting the next chapter of his life somewhere else altogether.
Maybe L.A., where there happens to be a basketball team for sale. Or Detroit, which could use a fresh injection of capital and hope. Or somewhere else.
Billionaires, of course, don’t need to be rooted to one place. And they can own homes in multiple locations, buzzing around on private jets to wherever they want to go. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen hosts parties on his super yacht in Cannes, and Bill Gates routinely travels to Africa and Asia to check on the progress of his multi-billion dollar foundation.
But both Allen and Gates grew up here, and there’s no question that Seattle is their hometown. (Just look at Allen’s ownership of the Seahawks, and his redevelopment of South Lake Union; and Gates’ investment in the headquarters of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation across from Seattle Center).
Ballmer, with an estimated net worth of $20 billion, is different in that way.
Many have already written about the blow that Ballmer’s ownership of the Clippers would have on the chances of a NBA franchise coming to Seattle.
But there’s much more at stake here. Think about Seattle without Steve Ballmer.
Forget about resurrecting our Sonics for a moment. Ballmer’s decision is even more critical, in a much bigger way, for the broader community we call home.