An ebullient Steve Ballmer welcomed on Tuesday word that he is officially the next owner of the Clippers, saying the team will be “all about the coach and the players and my job will be to set them free to do their jobs.”
“The next wave of Clipperdom, hopefully, has arrived,” Ballmer said via phone from Montana, adding a belly laugh. The former chief executive of Microsoft said he planned to return soon to his Seattle home and to fly on to Los Angeles in anticipation of a Monday rally at Staples Center with fans, players and coaches, including head Coach Doc Rivers.
“We will be thanking the fans and giving them a chance to get to know me and to hear from Doc and some of the players,” Ballmer said, minutes after the NBA released a statement, saying the transaction was completed after a court order confirmed previous co-owner Shelly Sterling’s $2-billion sale. NBA owners voted via email last week to OK Ballmer as successor to Donald Sterling, who controlled the team for 33 years.
Shelly Sterling went to a Los Angeles probate court to obtain the order validating the sale after her husband objected and said he would take every avenue possible to restore himself as principal owner.
Donald Sterling had been ousted from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million following his statements in April to a companion that he did not want to see her at Clippers games with African Americans. Shelly Sterling subsequently hired two doctors, who found that her husband was no longer mentally capable of handling his affairs, including ownership of the team. Ballmer then won a frenetic bidding war for the Clippers, paying nearly four times what had previously been paid for an NBA team.
Ballmer said he had not spoken to Donald Sterling since the NBA’s Tuesday morning announcement. He acknowledged there was more than a little uncertainty about whether the deal would be finalized. “You don’t have it until the money has transferred to the sellers’ accounts. When that happened, I said ‘Darn, I guess we are done,’ ” Ballmer said with a chuckle.
Ballmer said he was excited to be taking over a “first class” team that includes not only stars such as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin but newcomers such as Spencer Hawes, a newly acquired free agent who he said he had watched as a high school player in Seattle. “I am really enthusiastic about the way we are going,” he said.
Asked about his philosophy, Ballmer took up a theme he raised in a speech to MBA graduates recently at USC. “I told them to be hard core — to be persistent, to stay at it, to grind, grind, grind. I know the team will do that and I want the team to know that everyone behind them is going to support them in the same way.”
Details of Monday’s event at Staples Center have not been released.