Steve Ballmer on buying the Clippers: ‘This was probably the best path for me to take’
Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer spoke to reporters before a charity round of celebrity golf ahead of this month’s Boeing Classic. He expressed regret at leaving the group fronted by Chris Hansen, but said the opportunity to buy the Los Angeles Clippers was too big to pass up.
Seattle Times staff reporter
SNOQUALMIE — Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says he hopes Seattle lands an NBA franchise but figures it’s still a few years away.
Ballmer spoke to reporters Monday before teeing off in a “Snoqualmie Showdown” charity round of celebrity golf with Fred Couples, Rick Neuheisel and Sports Radio KJR morning radio host Mitch Levy ahead of the Boeing Classic later this month at Snoqualmie Ridge.
He expressed regret at leaving the group fronted by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen that is trying to bring the NBA back to Seattle, but said the opportunity to buy the Los Angeles Clippers was too big to pass up.
“It was my dream to have a team in Seattle,” said Ballmer, speaking locally for the first time since his $2 billion offer in May to buy the Clippers, which is held up in a court battle between the league and outgoing owner Donald Sterling. “I spent some time on that and worked on it and I wish that had worked. I don’t know when that will happen. With luck, maybe it happens in the next few years, but if it takes a few more than that, I decided that this was probably the best path for me to take.”
Ballmer added: “It is really unfortunate that the greatest city in America doesn’t have a professional basketball team. And so, I still hope that happens.”
California Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas last week issued a tentative decision that Shelly Sterling has sole authority to sell the Clippers to Ballmer. She’d already taken control of family assets away from her husband of 58 years, saying doctors had declared him mentally incapacitated.
The deal must close by Aug. 15.
But Ballmer reiterated, as he has several times since making the bid, there’s no chance he’ll eventually move the Clippers to Seattle. He said the NBA would never allow it and he paid the price he did because the Clippers are a Los Angeles-based team.
“Probably most people will tell you I paid an L.A. beachfront price, not a Seattle beachfront price for the team,” he said. “I’m not crazy.”
Ballmer said he’ll miss working with his “friends” and “neighbors” in the Hansen group, though he’s still part-owner of the land in the group’s Sodo arena proposal.
That arena process is awaiting an environmental assessment that city and county officials say Hansen has yet to submit final documentation on.
Once that documentation — related to traffic in the area — is forwarded, the review could be finalized within four months.
Ballmer said his own experiences with failed efforts to land the Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks made him realize there’s only “a narrow window” to get an NBA team and that’s why he moved on the Clippers. And while he said Hansen remains optimistic he’ll get an arena deal and eventually land a team, he wouldn’t guess on the time frame.
“It’s one of these chicken-and-the-egg things,” he said. “If you have a team, it’s easier to get an arena. If you have an arena, it’s easier to get a team. That’s an unfortunate fact. And when you drop out of both, it’s kind of a restart.
“I think that so far — and it could change — local government has been supportive of this plan. I think the tricky thing now is to understand when and how the NBA will either support expansion someday — which is not on the table the best that I understand — or, there will be a relocation.
“But clearly, the NBA has made it expressly clear that they’d prefer teams to stay put if they can, which is kind of what happened with Sacramento. So, it’s a complex formula. Chris (Hansen) is working hard at it and certainly I hope that works out.”
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.