Steve Ballmer may now own an NBA franchise in Los Angeles, but he’s going to do everything in his power to help bring back professional hoops to Seattle.
The former Microsoft CEO made the pledge during a fantastic hour-long interview on Thursday with KJR’s Mitch Levy, during which the former Microsoft CEO detailed his path to becoming the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I’m an owner in L.A. and we’re not moving that team,” Ballmer said. “I know there’s people who are disappointed and I’m sorry, but I will be my best voice for [bringing the NBA to Seattle], whether that’s through expansion or relocation. This is a first rate city — look at the Seahawks!”
Here are a few other highlights from the radio segment:
- Ballmer talked about how a former Microsoft colleague inspired him to purchase an NBA franchise — Paul Allen, to be specific. He watched the Microsoft co-founder buy the Portland Trail Blazers in the late ’80s and then swoop up the Seahawks in 1997. “He was always chatting it up and it always seemed kind of weird, mysterious and remote,” Ballmer said. “It’s the kind of thing you’re not permitted to dream about because it never happens.”
- Levy asked Ballmer why he didn’t purchase the Sonics back in 2006 when Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz eventually sold the team to Clay Bennett, who moved the franchise to Oklahoma City two years later. “Remember, I had a full-time job running Microsoft,” he said. “Bill Gates was departing completely, and in a sense that was the first time I was really fully in charge of Microsoft. I felt that was a big responsibility — lots of people depend on you for your leadership, for their job, their livelihood. I knew a basketball team was in play but whoever bought it was going to have to commit to building a building. I had no time.”
- Ballmer gave tons of praise to Bay Area hedge fund manager Chris Hansen, whom he joined in an investor group that nearly brought the Sacramento Kings to Seattle in 2013. He noted Hansen’s level of preparation and amount of study — “he played each piece very well and very smart, for everybody’s sake,” Ballmer said of Hansen. “My confidence in the situation — the complexity of the Kings and the arena — grew and grew. … I thought we had a real shot. I got the feeling that it was going to happen.”
- But that eventually did not happen, as Sacramento came up with a last-second plan to keep the team in California and left Ballmer steaming. “I will say I think what I should have done, was to engage much more before [Schultz] sold the first time,” Ballmer admitted.
After the Kings deal fell apart in mid-2013, Ballmer realized that to become an NBA owner, he’d have to think about buying a team not in Seattle. The Milwaukee Bucks were for sale and Ballmer made a trip to Wisconsin, but ultimately wasn’t a serious contender. “It’s kind of like software,” Ballmer said. “Version 1 was the failed attempt at keeping the Sonics, version 2 was the Kings, version 3 was the Bucks.”
- Version 4, of course, was Ballmer trying to buy the Clippers. Just hours after former Clippers owner Donald Sterling had his racist comments surface online in April, Ballmer’s son Peter called his father. “Dad, this thing is going to sell,” Peter told his pops. “You have to be on this.”
- As a self-proclaimed “numbers guy” — Ballmer aced the math section of the SAT — the former CEO built spreadsheets to estimate what kind of money he could make by becoming the Clippers owner. Based on the team’s rising value and the huge amounts of money flowing in from local broadcast deals, Ballmer was convinced that this was a good investment — even if he overpaid for the Clippers. He compared the situation to investing in a public tech companies like Amazon or Twitter that do not make profit. “You pay $150 billion for that, and it’s a lot of risk,” Ballmer explained. “You might never make any money. The Clippers make money, and they’re going to make more money. As a multiple of earnings, you’re paying less than you are for almost every tech stock. You have very limited downside because there will never be more than two teams in Los Angeles.”
Levy wondered that if Ballmer had $2 billion to pay for the Clippers, perhaps the Seattle investment group could have put up more money to acquire the Kings last year. “Maybe that would have got it done,” Ballmer said. “But the one thing you have to remember is, at least as an owner in Los Angeles, I have no capital expenditure. I don’t have to put up any money to build a building. … By the time you add the cost of building a building, plus the cost of buying a team or an expansion, the numbers look pretty good in L.A. compared to anything that would have been in [Seattle].”
- Ballmer said he was updating Hansen from the very moment he pursued the Clippers. “He understood why it fit with my life plan,” Ballmer said of his conversation with Hansen after he bought the Clippers. “And remember, Chris is committed to bringing basketball back to Seattle. If I hadn’t been interested the first round, he had other ideas of guys he could bring in. He’s going to stay after it. I told him I’m going to help him anyway I can with the land, where we’re partners and where I can stay invested. And of course, we all agree: Seattle is a city that should have an NBA franchise.”
Listen to the whole interview below, or at this link: