Steve Ballmer’s dream of owning an NBA franchise was realized in 2014 when he took over the Los Angeles Clippers. At Wednesday’s GeekWire Sports Tech Summit, he addressed Seattle’s dream of getting a team back.
‘I think it’s important to keep wanting that,” Ballmer said. “I don’t think its likely to happen in next year, two years. It’s just not likely to happen.”
Wearing a red Clippers polo shirt, the former Microsoft CEO said there has been no discussion of expansion since he’s been involved with the league, so he doesn’t think that route will happen for Sonics fans.
“The league has moved to really favor teams staying in their current market,” Ballmer said. “So you have to find a team that’s at the end of the lease, where it looks hard to build an arena, you tried really hard to build an arena and you have to show that an arena can be built in Seattle.”
Before he purchased the Clippers for a whopping $2 billion, Ballmer had a previous history with the NBA. He was part of an ownership group that tried to keep the Sonics in Seattle in 2008. He then became a part of hedge fund manager Chris Hansen’s team that is trying to build an arena in Sodo.
When Ballmer was still running Microsoft he never fully pursued owning a team. That’s why he joined up with Hansen and let him drive the process. But when he retired from Microsoft in 2013, Ballmer’s NBA ownership dreams became the top priority.
He met with NBA commissioner Adam Silver and told him Seattle and L.A. would be his preferred markets. The Milwaukee Bucks were available at the time, so Ballmer gave that team a look, but a deal never materialized.
He waited for an opportunity to arise, and then in 2014, Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned from the league for life due to racist comments he made to a mistress. The league forced him to sell and Ballmer’s sky high offer won out.
“Unlike Oklahoma City who built an arena before they had a team, I don’t think an arena’s gonna get built [in Seattle] before a team comes here unless it gets done in the context of hockey,” Ballmer said. “Over time will that happen? Yes, I somehow believe it will happen.”
Ballmer said that at 60 years old he wasn’t prepared to wait five or 10 years and the Clippers were an amazing opportunity.
“I like L.A. It’s not a bad place to go spend some time in the winter,” Ballmer said. “So we’ll keep our home here, we’re commuting down. The Clippers are not going anywhere, ever. I will die owning the L.A. Clippers in Los Angeles.”
Wearing a Kevin Durant Sonics shirt, GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop couldn’t help but speak for all Sonics and Seattle NBA fans by reacting to Ballmer’s declaration.
“Props to you as an owner for making that commitment, it would be nice if everybody did that,” Bishop said.
For anyone holding out hope that hockey might be the avenue toward getting an arena built and capturing Ballmer’s interest, again, don’t hold out hope.
“Since 1975 or 6 I had not attended a hockey game until the week it was announced I was buying the Clippers.,” Ballmer recalled. “Our landlord also owns the Kings and they invited me to come to a Kings game. So I’ve been to one hockey game in about 40 years.
“I think hockey’s a perfectly great sport, it’s just not my sport, so I think if somebody wanted to do that I think that’d be great.”