Clippers Steve Ballmer has a winning debut too

Owner Steve Ballmer celebrates as the Clippers hold on for a 93-90 victory over the Thunder.
Owner Steve Ballmer celebrates as the Clippers hold on for a 93-90 victory over the Thunder.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

It was 2 1/2 hours before tipoff Thursday night and new Clippers owner Steve Ballmer couldn’t seem to keep still, his excitement evident ahead of his team’s game against Oklahoma City.

It was Ballmer’s first regular-season game since he spent $2 billion to buy the Clippers from Donald Sterling, who was forced by the NBA to sell the team because of racially insensitive comments.

After the Clippers escaped with a 93-90 victory over the Thunder at Staples Center, a tense game that came down to the final seconds, Ballmer signed autographs for fans.


Chris Paul (22 points) had a chance to give the Clippers a three-point lead, but he missed two free throws with 13.8 seconds left and Los Angeles holding an 89-88 lead.

But after Sebastian Telfair missed on a chance to take the lead, Blake Griffin (23 points) made two free throws with 5.8 seconds left for a three-point Clippers lead that stood only after Serge Ibaka missed a potential game-tying three-point shot as time expired.

Before the game, Ballmer stood near the Clippers’ tunnel, taking in the scene inside a mostly empty arena, looking over the entire place.

Then he walked to center court and shook hands with Fergie, the eight-time Grammy Award winner who was warming up to sing the national anthem.

Ballmer returned to the stands and began signing autographs for fans, pacing the entire time.

After Fergie finished singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Ballmer leaned back and yelled from his baseline seat adjacent to the Clippers’ bench.


Earlier in the day, Ballmer and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke to Clippers employees.

“He just came and he was really relaxed,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said about Ballmer.

Then Rivers paused and smiled.

“Well, there’s a difference,” Rivers said, laughing. “There’s a Ballmer relax, you know? But he was great.”

Ballmer was mostly quiet for much of the first quarter.

But when Jamal Crawford made a three-pointer in the second quarter, Ballmer threw his hands in the air.

Ballmer had to watch his team struggle to get past an injury-depleted Thunder team that opened the night with All-Star and NBA most valuable player Kevin Durant out because of a broken right foot.

Then Thunder All-Star guard Russell Westbrook injured his right hand in the second quarter and didn’t return.

The Thunder also was without point guard Reggie Jackson (right ankle), swingman Jeremy Lamb (lower back), swingman Anthony Morrow (left knee), rookie Mitch McGary (left foot) and forward Grant Jerrett (left ankle).

But after the Clippers closed the third quarter with a 70-62 lead, Ballmer got out of his seat and raced over to Fergie to embrace her.

He now was a happier man because his team had started to play better basketball.

Twitter: @BA_Turner