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Ballmer Reaches Deal To Buy Clippers For $2 Billion, Won't Move Them To Seattle

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Elaine Thompson
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AP Photo
FILE - In this Jan. 25, 2014, photo, then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, left, shakes hands with former NBA players Bill Russell, right, and "Downtown" Freddie Brown as Omar Lee looks on during an NCAA college basketball game.

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has reportedly reached a deal to buy the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion. Sources told ESPN and other media that the agreement was signed Thursday night by the family trust of embattled owner Donald Sterling and has been sent to the NBA for final approval.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says it’s not good news for Seattle.

'A Seismic Dropping Of Jaws'

Art says he can't believe the price tag on this deal.

"Amazing. This is what happens when you have unemployed people on the street with $20 billion in their pocket! They do silly things spend $2 billion on one professional sports team," he said.

If the deal goes through, it would be the largest sum paid for an NBA franchise. Last month, the Milwaukee Bucks sold for $550 million. Ballmer had made a bid for the Bucks after a failed attempt last summer with Seattle arena investor Chris Hansen to purchase the Sacramento Kings and move them to Seattle. The Kings ultimately sold for $535 million.

"This is just unbelievable by anybody's standards to pay this much money for what was, for many years, the most woebegone franchise in all of North American professional sports," Art said. "The Clippers were terrible. Donald Sterling's ownership was mocked and denigrated.

"And then he blew himself up with the (racist) remarks that were recorded by his model, archivist, lover, girlfriend — whatever, and sent public. And now, the ultimate reward. He gets paid $2 billion for being a moron."

NBA Had No Choice

Art says the NBA was "stuck" after Sterling's racist remarks were made public.

"They had no choice because sponsors were pulling out and there was going to be a player boycott if he continued to own the Clippers during the playoffs," he said. "It was a monumental embarrassment. They are desperate to find an owner to get rid of the Sterlings."

And he says there was no one more qualified than Steve Ballmer.

"He was a man on his own. He didn't need partners. He didn't need banks. He didn't need anybody to give him permission to write a check for $2 billion so that the NBA could turn it around without any court fight, without any public tussle."

'No Intention' To Move Team To Seattle

Ballmer told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month that he wouldn't move the Clippers out of L.A., calling it "value destructive" to do so. The team draws crowds and has a long-term lease with the Staples Center.

"He has no intention of moving it to Seattle. This is basically his goodbye," Art said. "I think there's a real resentment about what's happened here in Seattle when he lost the CEO job at Microsoft.

"He called it a retirement but clearly there were a lot of people who'd been unhappy with Steve Ballmer for a number of years who worked at Microsoft, in the tech industry. And obviously the shareholders were unhappy.

"Ballmer told the Wall Street Journal 'if I find another team outside of Seattle, so be it. I want to be an NBA owner.' And he did it in the biggest way possible."

What Does This Mean For Seattle?

Art says it's a "big blow but not necessarily a fatal blow" to the proposed arena project and the effort to bring the NBA back to Seattle, adding there are plenty of rich folks who'd like to be a part of the NBA's return to the city (after the Sonics were moved to Oklahoma City in 2008 and renamed the Thunder).

But Art says arena investor Chris Hansen has no momentum right now. And his project is still in the middle of an environmental review that's expected to be the subject of controversy once it comes out in the fall.

Hansen has lost his biggest financial muscle in Ballmer after losing his biggest political muscle in proponent Mike McGinn, who lost his re-election bid for Seattle mayor.

"It's really a tough spot for Hansen," Art said. "Not impossible to get out, but it's really going to be tough sledding without Ballmer's billions behind him."

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

Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
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 historylink.org and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.
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