The LA Times is reporting that Steve Ballmer has won the bidding war for the Los Angeles Clippers and will pay a record $2 Billion (with a B) to become the team's new owner. Ballmer -- the now retired former CEO of Microsoft -- can afford it, with an estimated net worth of $20 Billion.
To say that this is the highest sale price for an NBA franchise doesn't really do it justice. It seems like every sale lately set a new record, whether it was for the Warriors or the Kings or the Bucks -- the latter two being among the least valuable franchises from a market standpoint.
The Clippers don't have a winning tradition, but they do have a ton of a talent, a high profile head coach, and an incredibly valuable market, both in terms of attendance and media. Baked into the sale price is the realization that the TV contract for the team is up in two seasons, and a slew of cable sports entities new and old will get into their own bidding war for the right to broadcast Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
Ballmer may have a lower profile than Bill Gates or Paul Allen (who owns the Trail Blazers and the Seahawks) but he's the "other" Microsoft billionaire. In fact, according to Forbes, his net worth is actually higher than Allen's, making him the wealthiest owner in the NBA. That's correct -- this guy has more money than Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorev.
Paranoid types will immediately assume that the Seattle-based Ballmer will want to move the Clippers to the Northwest. He was, after all, a part of the Chris Hansen group that tried to purchase the Kings and move them to Seattle. There's only two problems with this idea: (1) the NBA won't allow him to move the Clippers to Seattle, just as they didn't allow the Hansen group to move the Kings and (2) Ballmer would be an idiot to pay $2B for a team in LA (where that valuation might make sense) and then move them to Seattle (where that valuation is completely insane). That local TV deal he's going to sign with Fox Sports or Time Warner or cable entity to be named? Yeah, that only applies if the team is in the LA metropolitan area of 18M people (over four times the size of the Seattle area).
Still, it won't stop people from fretting. Already, Steve Mason has tweeted:
Of course, this is the same guy who in 2011 said that there was a "zero percent chance" that the Clippers would not screw up the resigning of Blake Griffin and who a couple of weeks ago referred to Loller's Law in a tweet -- so yeah, he seems really credible on Clipper-related matters.
As for Clips Nation, I'm throwing down the gauntlet right now -- Ballmer is NOT moving the Clippers to Seattle, it's not worth discussing, it's a ludicrous suggestion, and we're not wasting our time on the discussion. You can of course discuss what you want -- but I'd prefer that you stick to real possibilities please. Ballmer moving the Clippers to Seattle is the equivalent of a bigfoot sighting in terms of credibility, just so you know.
The fact that Steve Ballmer bid $2B and that Shelly Sterling has chosen his bid does not mean that the Clippers have been sold of course. The NBA has to approve the sale -- as they do with any sale. Having said that, if this report is accurate, it's difficult to see how the NBA could turn it down. They aren't likely to have any objections to Ballmer, a deep-pocketed and highly respected potential owner (though they will probably make him sign something stipulating that he will not move the team, a discussion they've already had with him). A quick sale will also make the process of ousting Donald Sterling significantly less messy. It's possible that Donald will still try to make life difficult for his perceived enemies, but he granted Shelly Sterling the authority to sell the team, and if this transaction is in place before the June 3rd hearing which is the next step in forcing Sterling out, it makes a nasty situation more or less go away. After all, the NBA doesn't have to force Donald Sterling to sell if the team is already sold, and DTS wouldn't even be able to blame the NBA for the situation, since he granted Shelly the authority to negotiate the sale.
Stay tuned. The next step will be to see what the NBA has to say about Ballmer's bid.