Steve Ballmer was reported to be meeting Sunday with Shelly Sterling at her Malibu mansion to talk about the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to the former Microsoft CEO, according to TMZ.com.
While Ballmer was active in pursuit of an NBA team for Seattle a year ago, he told the Wall Street Journal last week that he was still interested in being an NBA owner, but if the team wasn’t in Seattle, “so be it.” He said moving Clippers out of Los Angeles would be “value destructive.”
Reports last week said that Donald Sterling, the controlling owner of the Clippers, was planning to let his wife sell the club after the NBA made clear it would force Sterling to divest the team when his racist remarks became public and provoked a lifetime ban from the NBA.
TMZ, which broke the original story on Sterling’s tape-recorded remarks that ignited the furor, reported that Shelly Sterling wants to sell on her terms, rather than a forced sale, and has been in private talks with NBA commissioner Adam to see if the sale can be done voluntarily.
Silver and Ballmer sat next to each other for a Clippers playoff game at Staples Center.
Silver’s predecessor, David Stern, was not shy in his eagerness to have Ballmer join the NBA. But at the time, Ballmer had a day job at Microsoft that kept him busy.
He did partner with Seattle native Chris Hansen in a bid to relocate the Kings from Sacramento to Seattle. The plan was to have the Kings play in KeyArena for two seasons while Hansen built a $500 million basketball/hockey arena in SoDo.
But after the move was rejected a year ago by a vote of NBA, Hansen’s momentum stalled, Ballmer was ousted as Microsoft CEO and Mayor Mike McGinn, Hansen’s chief political ally, lost his bid for re-election. The project’s location has attracted opposition that has challenged the draft environmental review of the project, which will not be completed until September at the earliest.
With no obvious team that might be relocated to Seattle, the hopes for a return of the Sonics seem to rest with expansion. But Silver, since he succeeded Stern Feb. 1, has given no indication of interest in expansion, at least not until a new TV rights-fee deal is negotiated. The current deals expire after the 2015-16 season.
A number of high-profile celebrities have been mentioned as potential purchasers of the Clippers, a woebegone franchise that has finally become competitively respectable. The recent sale of the Milwaukee Bucks fetched $550 million, $15 million more than the Kings were sold for a year ago.
Rumors keep moving up the price of Clippers to nearly $1 billion, and a number of Hollywood celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, are said to be interested. But they have all been part of groups. Ballmer, still Microsoft’s largest shareholder and said by Forbes to be worth $20 billion, might be the only person who could write a check for any amount immediately, and not blink.
The NBA is eager to avoid a publicly protracted fight over removing Sterling. Ballmer could be the quickest — and richest — way out of a problem the NBA wants behind it.
According to a source who is familiar with Ballmer, a Detroit-area native, his desire to remain in Seattle has lessened after his ouster from the company he helped grow into a software colossus. When Ballmer last August said he would retire (read: pushed out) Microsoft shares went up 10 percent.