The Los Angeles Clippers probably won a lot of new fans this offseason with their savvy moves. Their biggest fan, however, might be their owner, Steve Ballmer. Let’s take a closer look at what the Clippers were before Steve Ballmer bought the team, what he’s brought to the franchise, and how they look for this upcoming season.
The Los Angeles Clippers before the Steve Ballmer era
Before Steve Ballmer purchased the Clippers, Donald Sterling owned the team for 33 years. Sterling made his riches on the California real estate market. The team was located in San Diego when he purchased them; he moved them to LA in 1984.
While Sterling owned the Clippers, they were generally thought of as the laughingstock of the NBA. Sterling did not put much money back into the team, refusing to sign high-priced free agents or grant his best players with deserved contract extensions.
How bad were the Clippers under Sterling’s regime? In 2014, the website Rappler provided a summary of the depths to which the team had sunk:
The Clippers went 19 of their first 20 seasons in Los Angeles with only one winning season, reaching a low of 12-70 in the 1986-87 campaign. After going 45-37 in the 1991-92 season for their first winning season since 1979 – they however lost in the first round of the playoffs – the Clippers did not manage another winning season until 2005-06. In 2000, Sports Illustrated did a cover story on Sterling and the Clippers featuring fans wearing Clippers’ attire with bags on their heads upon which were written “S.O.S.” and “Just Shoot Me.”
The nadir came in 2014 when Sterling’s girlfriend revealed an audio recording of the Clippers owner making heinously racist statements. This threw the franchise into an absolute tailspin. Head coach and executive Doc Rivers essentially assumed control of the franchise while he, his players, and pretty much everyone around the league was disgusted by Sterling’s comments.
New NBA commissioner Adam Silver referred to the comments as “truly offensive and disturbing” and quickly banned Sterling from the NBA for life, forcing him to sell the team.
How Steve Ballmer bought the Clippers
Following Sterling’s ban, Ballmer stepped up to buy the team for $2 billion. The former Microsoft executive couldn’t have been more different than Sterling. Whereas Sterling was lethargic and not a major presence in day-to-day team activities, Ballmer was energetic, positive, and upbeat. He took an active role in the team’s management without micromanaging or being overbearing.
Why did Ballmer, a savvy investor, and shrewd businessman, fork over one of the largest sums of money a sports team had ever been sold for? He simply saw it as a good investment:
“I feel like I paid a price I’m excited about. It obviously was a price that was negotiated and I feel very good about it. It’s not a cheap price, but when you’re used to looking at tech companies with huge risk, no earnings and huge multiples, this doesn’t look like the craziest thing I’ve ever acquired…There’s much less risk. There’s real earnings in this business. There’s real upside opportunity.”
Steve Ballmer is now a constant presence around the Clippers, seen as a force for good – though according to the laidback Kawhi Leonard, he may have too much energy.
The Clippers are title contenders
The 2019-2020 Los Angeles Clippers may contend for the NBA championship. The franchise shocked the world when they not only signed the superstar free agent Leonard in the offseason but also traded for superstar Paul George as well.
It represented quite a sacrifice for the Clips – they gave Leonard a hefty deal and traded multiple first-round draft picks for George – but if they win it all, it will be worth it.
This offseason feels like the culmination of the team’s transition from Sterling to Ballmer. It’s almost impossible to imagine Sterling okaying the team to sign Leonard and give up so many assets for George. With Ballmer, all it took was some convincing from Rivers that it was the best basketball move. It puts the team as one of the top threats in the Western Conference to go all the way.
And if they do? There’s little doubt that Ballmer, as their biggest fan, will be leading the cheers.