Los Angeles Clippers: Who Is Steve Ballmer?

Aug 18, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers (left) and owner Steve Ballmer at press conference at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 18, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers (left) and owner Steve Ballmer at press conference at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

If you had a few billion dollars to spare, buying an NBA franchise over the last decade was an incredible investment. Since 2000, 11 different NBA teams have changed ownership.

Those teams are the Denver Nuggets (2000), Memphis Grizzlies (2000), Boston Celtics (2002), Phoenix Suns (2004), Atlanta Hawks (2004), Oklahoma City Thunder (2006),  Golden State Warriors (2010), New Orleans Pelicans (2010), Washington Wizards (2010),  Sacramento Kings (2013), Milwaukee Bucks (2014) and Los Angeles Clippers (2014). Discounting the Clippers for a moment, the other 10 teams were sold for an average price of $438.84 million when adjusted to inflation.

More from LA Clippers

Today, the average value of a franchise according to Forbes is

$634 million

, a remarkable 44 percent uptick from just the average sales, making an NBA team one of the most profitable large investments on the planet. Those numbers are expected to skyrocket when the new TV deal kicks in 2016.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the NBA is seeking to double its TV revenues, which would raise the salary cap enough for LeBron James to command $30 million in the first year of his max deal, instead of his current $20.6 million.

Steve Ballmer’s purchase of the Clippers is unique in even the crazy and rapidly changing environment of NBA ownership. Ballmer ponied up a record-setting $2 billion for the Clippers, a sum more than three times of any previous NBA team sale.

The circumstances of the Clippers’ sale were unique also, as Donald Sterling was forced to sell his team in an unprecedented fashion.

The Clippers were held hostage for more than three decades by a deranged villain, and are looking to change their standing from the laughingstock among NBA teams to a marquee franchise. A process which started with the drafting of Blake Griffin in 2010.

Ballmer was born in Detroit on March 24, 1956, and worked as the CEO of Microsoft from 2000 until February.  His estimated net worth is $18 billion, ranking him 21st among the Forbes 400 wealthiest people in the United States.

Ballmer graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College with a A.B. in applied mathematics and economics.

At college, Ballmer participated in the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, and scored extremely well, higher in fact than his dorm-mate at the time and founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates.

And of course like most famous tech billionaires, in 1980 he dropped out of graduate school at Stanford to join Microsoft as their 30th employee, receiving an annual salary of $50,000 a year, along with a percentage of the company (turns out that was a good idea). In 2010, Ballmer owned his largest percentage of stake at Microsoft at 12 percent, before selling down to 4.2 percent.

So he’s rich. And smart.

Ballmer has been attempting to purchase an NBA franchise since 2008, when he attempted to purchase a majority stake in the Seattle SuperSonics and keep them in Seattle. He failed that initiative and the SuperSonics were moved in the dead of night to Oklahoma City by former Commissioner David Stern.

In 2013, Ballmer was one of a group of investors trying to acquire the Sacramento Kings for the Maloof family and move the team to Seattle. The deal was very close to coming to fruition, as the group of investors had already promised the NBA a new arena in Seattle and were willing to pay $650 million for the Kings.

On Aug. 12, Ballmer finally got his wish of owning an NBA team when he bought the Clippers. In an interview with ESPN, Ballmer said, “I got a call from one of my sons …, ‘You’ve been looking for a team and love L.A. You maybe want to pay attention to this,'” as the Sterling scandal was unraveling.

Ballmer doesn’t enjoy instant recognition like many of his wealthy peers in the tech industry.  In fact, most people who don’t follow the tech world had probably never even heard of him before the Sterling scandal.

But Ballmer  has been a big part of the most recognizable software company in the world. Although he admits to very little technical knowledge, his strength has always been in finding talent and recruiting them to Microsoft.

He’s known to have a keen sense of the current market, trends and innovation, and as a tireless worker in building Microsoft.

Ballmer’s personality is what makes him stand out. He’s known as a pretty outspoken guy, unlike most people in the tech industry, and has made bold claims about his competitors over the years.

I can’t post my favorite quote of his about Google, but I would suggest reading it on his Wikipedia article (net very PG-13). Ballmer does deny these quotes and calls them a “gross exaggeration.”

Ballmer’s outspokenness can be seen in the keynotes he has given. There’s no doubt he can be a bit eccentric, considering he’s been called “a part nightmarish leprechaun, part psychotic beast” in the Microsoft world.

Of course, Ballmer took it as a compliment.

It seems like Ballmer has already found a pretty nice rapport with head coach Doc Rivers, and it’ll be fun to see if he’ll be yelling and screaming on the sidelines like we’ve gotten use to seeing him at tech conferences.

In any case there’s no doubt that Ballmer should be a pretty fantastic owner and the Clippers are moving toward a new direction. Who knows, they might even eclipse the Lakers some day.