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How Sterling Scandal Could Get Seattle's Ballmer Inside The NBA

Ringo H.W. Chiu
Sam Wright protests against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, outside Staples Center before Game 5 of the Clippers' opening-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, April 29, 2014, in Los Angeles.

Now that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been banned for life from the NBA and fined $2.5 million for racist comments that were made public, basketball fans in Seattle are wondering whether the Clippers might be sold and moved to the city.

"Almost zero chance. I don't see that happening," said KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel. But he says there may be a chance for retired Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to get his foot in the door of the NBA.

A Good Thing Going

Sterling is expected to do whatever he can to keep the team. And if it is sold, Art says it's doubtful it would be moved out of Los Angeles.

"The L.A. Clippers and the L.A. Lakers share Staples Center very, very successfully," he said. "Both teams are sell outs; both are televised. There is no economic reason to want to move the Clippers from Los Angeles.

"The bigger point is that if Steve Ballmer and his partner Chris Hansen could not extricate the Kings from Sacramentowhere it was a very shaky situation, they're not about to pull the Clippers out of L.A."

Ballmer Can Get 'Inside' NBA

But Art said there may be a silver lining for Sonics fans.

"If Steve Ballmer wanted to be a minority partner in the successors to Sterling — and we don't know the club is going to be sold or sold to somebody outside of Sterling's family — but if he wanted to be a part of the NBA's future, one way to get into that is to be a minority partner," Art said. "Then you're on the inside. And it's been a proven path to full ownership in the NBA."

A good example (or bad, if you're a Sonics fan) is Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett. "Bennett was a former minority owner of the San Antonio Spurs," Art points out. "He did the NBA a favor and allowed the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) to play in Oklahoma City after (Hurricane) Katrina."

Then in 2006 he purchased the Seattle SuperSonics and eventually moved them to Oklahoma City, where they became the Thunder.

"Ballmer as a minority owner would be in a good spot but it's not a spot that's going to bring any team to Seattle any time soon," Art said.


You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and

Related stories:

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announces ban and fine against Donald Sterling

Audio of Donald Sterling's comments

From NPR: What About Donald Sterling's Right To Privacy?

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.