The fate of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers is still up in the air, but a new report claims that none other than Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, was scheduled to meet with Shelly Sterling, the wife of Clippers owner Donald Sterling, this weekend to discuss buying the team.
Following the league's decision to oust Donald Sterling over racially charged remarks revealed in an audio recording, a number of names have cropped up as possible candidates to take over the team. But Ballmer, reportedly worth $20 billion, may come as a surprise to some.
According to a report from TMZ, Ballmer's meeting with Shelly Sterling was scheduled for Sunday afternoon at her Malibu, Calif. mansion.
Several reports claim that rather than fighting his ouster Donald Sterling has opted to hand over control of the team to his wife so she can negotiate its sale. However, according to NBA rules, such an ownership transfer can be denied by the league. In a report on the NBA's website, the rule is laid out in clear terms:
Article 14a of the NBA's constitution, which deals with the consequences of termination of ownership, allows the interest of a terminated owner to be placed under the management and control of the commissioner.
Still, the notion of Ballmer as the new owner of the Clippers, whether it comes through conversations with Shelly Sterling or directly through the NBA, is intriguing on a number of levels.
Los Angeles or Seattle?
The first question that will immediately come to mind for many is whether or not a Clippers team controlled by Ballmer might eventually end up in Seattle, Ballmer's home and the former home of the Seattle Supersonics (now known as the Oklahoma City Thunder). Since the team moved to Oklahoma City, there have been numerous calls to bring an NBA team back to the city's passionate fan base. As his second act, granting the wishes of Seattle's sports fans would make Ballmer a local hero.
But Seattle fans shouldn't get too excited. In a recent Wall Street Journal interview discussing a possible purchase of the Clippers, Ballmer indicated that he would not move the team. "If I get interested in the Clippers, it would be for Los Angeles," said Ballmer. "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."
Rebranding the Clippers
There's also the possibility of Ballmer leveraging his technology ties to further push the Clippers — long one of the league's worst and most underexposed teams — further into the spotlight using all the tech tools at his disposal. The fact that the Clippers share an arena with the Los Angeles Lakers could complicate some aspects of the team's wholesale revitalization, but Ballmer's well known aggressive business approach could trump even that potential hurdle.
Another Tech-Powered Franchise
Finally, Ballmer buying the Clippers would make him the second Microsoft alum to own an NBA team, the first being Paul Allen, the owner of the Portland Trailblazers. Since Allen took over, the team's overall profile has risen, along with the city's reputation as an attractive destination for players. Mark Cuban, another technology mogul, managed to do the same as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, bringing the franchise its first championship in 2011. Given his corporate pedigree, it's not inconceivable that Ballmer could provide a similar boost to the Clippers.
Other names seriously raised as possible new owners of the Clippers have included Oprah Winfrey, David Geffen and Larry Ellison (as a group), an investment group led by former NBA player Grant Hill (a former Clipper) and a Chinese investment group led by former NBA player Yao Ming.
Further adding to the intrigue is the fact that Ballmer was spotted (see photo above) just two weeks ago seated next to NBA commissioner Adam Silver during a Clippers playoff game.
But before anyone can buy the team the rest of the league's team owners must first vote to approve the team being taken away from Donald Sterling. That vote is scheduled to be held on June 3.
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