SBD/August 13, 2014/Franchises

Steve Ballmer Begins New Era, Describes Vision As Clippers Sale Officially Closes

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Ballmer said he is rooting for Seattle to get a team, but the Clippers are staying in L.A.
Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer yesterday closed on his purchase of the Clippers, bringing "an apparent end to the circus-like atmosphere surrounding the franchise," according to a front-page piece by Fenno & Rainey of the L.A. TIMES. Ballmer in an e-mail to fans "described a 'new era' for the Clippers and unfolded a vision of a franchise that plays an active role in the community." Ballmer "plans to attend a Monday rally at Staples Center" with coach Doc Rivers and players. As part of the sale, former co-Owner Shelly Sterling "receives two courtside seats for each Clippers game at Staples Center, six parking spaces and three championship rings if the Clippers win an NBA title." She also "gets the titles of 'Clippers Number One Fan' and 'Owner Emeritus' for the rest of her life." A provision of the agreement "would have allowed Shelly Sterling to retain up to 10% of the franchise through a foundation bearing her name," but that "won't be exercised because [Donald Sterling] didn't consent to the sale." Ballmer said, "You don't have it until the money has transferred to the sellers' accounts. When that happened, I said, 'Darn, I guess we are done'" (L.A. TIMES, 8/13). In L.A., Jack Wang in a front-page piece notes a "lucrative bidding war is expected for the media rights to the Clippers," whose current deal with FS Prime Ticket expires after the '15-16 season. Shelly Sterling said of Ballmer, "I hate losing the team, but it's going to a wonderful person who's going to make us all proud" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 8/13). Clippers interim CEO Dick Parsons said of the team's front office structure under Ballmer, "Steve doesn't really have his team together yet. ... He's asked if I would kind of hang in there for a couple of weeks along with a guy named Payne Brown, who's been my chief of staff, just to make sure the transition goes smoothly. So we'll do that. After that, I'm going back to being a retired grandfather" ("Street Smart," Bloomberg TV, 8/12). 

RIVERS RUNS THROUGH IT: In Boston, Gary Washburn notes Rivers yesterday "took a deep breath ... knowing the nightmare that was the Donald Sterling ownership era is officially over." Rivers said, "We get a chance to play basketball. ... Now we can go back to doing our jobs and I think that’s really important for us.” He added, "I didn’t want to (resign), but with what was going on, you had to have that as a possibility. But I didn’t give it a lot of thought. I had so much faith in [NBA Commissioner Adam Silver] that I never once thought that it wouldn’t go this way" (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/13). YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski cited sources as saying that contract extension talks between the Clippers and Rivers are "expected to commence soon." Ballmer and Rivers have been "eager to form a long-term relationship." Rivers "has two years left" on his original three-year, $21M contract. He is already "one of the highest-paid executives and coaches in professional sports, and his prominence and pay could grow" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/12).

ALL ABOUT STEVE: Ballmer said of the sale, "It's very, very exciting. I'm a basketball nut. I've got time. I love Los Angeles. I love Seattle, too, which is where we have our home. But the notion of spending a lot of time in Los Angeles has been exciting to me for years. The community down there is great." ESPN L.A.'s Ramona Shelburne noted Ballmer "acknowledged there were some frustrating moments." Ballmer: "My job has been to complete the deal and there were a lot of people, including me, working on it for a long time. Was I kind of itchy? Sure. But I knew the only thing I could do or should do was complete the final deal, and we were able to do that this morning." Ballmer said of the $2B he paid for the club, "There's real earnings in this business. There's real upside opportunity. So compared to the things I looked at in tech, this was a reasonable purchase" (ESPNLA.com, 8/12). USA TODAY's Sam Amick writes Ballmer is "surely relieved to have reached a finish line that seemed to keep moving" (USA TODAY, 8/13). In N.Y., Billy Witz writes the record $2B purchase price "seems to have also come with plenty of good will from those who were happy to be rid of Donald Sterling, beginning with the players." Clippers C DeAndre Jordan tweeted, "Thank You! And welcome" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/13). In California, Dan Woike notes Clippers G Jamal Crawford is a "friend of Ballmer’s thanks to deep ties in Seattle." Crawford said that Ballmer "won’t spare expenses for what the team needs" and he "knows how basketball-crazy the team’s new owner is" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 8/13).

LEAGUE DID ITS JOB: CBSSPORTS.com's Ken Berger wrote the Clippers ordeal was "a test of Silver's leadership, and also a test" of Donald Sterling's resolve. Sterling's "only recourse at this point is monetary damages -- which, in essence, would be paid by the Sterling Family Trust based on Shelly Sterling's indemnification agreement" (CBSSPORTS.com, 8/12). FS1's Bill Reiter said of the NBA allowing Shelly Sterling to remain tied to the club, "I think everybody wanted a clean break, but to take down someone like Donald Sterling sometimes you need an inside man or an inside woman and sometimes you have to pay those people to do those things. I think they’ll take it since he is gone” (“America’s Pregame,” FS1, 8/12). In L.A., Vincent Bonsignore writes by "completing construction of the remarkable bridge that delivers the Clippers from the incompetence of Sterling to the brilliance of ... Ballmer, the NBA didn't just remove a hideous stain." It "turned its weakest link into one of its strongest." With Ballmer as the "new sheriff in town, a new day might be dawning across the NBA" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 8/13). Parsons said, "In the scheme of things, I think this went about as quickly as it could. ... I think there's sort of three heroes to the piece. One was Adam Silver, who sort of called a halt to the foolishness when a halt needed to be called. One was Shelly Sterling, who stepped up. ... And then one was Steve, who came in and was aggressive and hung in there through the controversy" ("Street Smart," Bloomberg TV, 8/12). Sports On Earth's Will Leitch said Shelly Sterling still being a part of the Clippers even after the sale is "like a tattoo that you got in college from a very difficult time that reminds you of where you come from and where you're going" ("Fox Sports Live," FS1, 8/12).

RALLYING CRY: ESPN L.A.'s Arash Markazi wrote next Monday will "serve not only as the first-ever Clippers rally at Staples Center, but as the greatest day in Clippers history." It is a "history not only void of postseason success, but worse yet, saddled with the burden of Donald Sterling's ownership for the past 33 years." It is "only right that Sterling will be tucked away in one of his many palatial estates dotting Los Angeles on Monday, out of sight and out of mind, while the rest of the city celebrates the Clippers' new owner" (ESPNLA.com, 8/12). In L.A., Bill Plaschke writes a "new Clippers era is here." Ballmer and "all that energy from his days as Microsoft boss are here." Ballmer said, "I want the Clippers to be the best Clippers ever. I want us to be hard-core, determined, every player, every member of the front office, every day." Plaschke writes in "going from Sterling to Ballmer, the Clippers are going from doddering to dynamic, from entitled to empowered, from punch line to prideful." Ballmer added of the future of the Clippers in Southern California, "I'm keeping them in Los Angeles; we can realize our full potential in Los Angeles. I'm rooting for Seattle to get a team, but the Clippers are not it. ... Staples Center, great arena, I've toured it, it's awesome, I've got a long-term lease. I'm all in at Staples" (L.A. TIMES, 8/13).

BACK TO BUSINESS: CBSSPORTS.com's Berger wrote under the header, "Clippers Sale Lifts Burden From Those Who Didn't Deserve It." The "best part of all this is that ... everyone else in the employ of the Clippers' new owner can now go about doing what they were hired to do -- without having to answer for someone else's sins." And they can "do it in ways that will represent the business and social interests of the NBA in the manner intended and expected of those lucky enough to be in their positions" (CBSSPORTS.com, 8/12). In DC, Michael Lee writes at "no other point has the team been filled with such promise and opportunity." Undoing "years of failure, years of second-tier treatment, years of Donald Sterling -- that could be Ballmer’s legacy." The Clippers are "finally at the forefront, prepared to leave behind a less-than-glorious past while Sterling has been reduced to background noise" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/13). In L.A., Jill Painter wonders, "Will Ballmer change the Clippers name and overhaul the look and feel of the club that was mired in mediocrity for so long?" Those questions "will be answered, but the biggest step happened Tuesday" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 8/13).

CHANGE IN BALANCE OF POWER? ESPN's Jason Whitlock said L.A. is a "hardcore Lakers town and the Clippers' stench is so long and it's been such a laughingstock for so long. If they win eight, nine titles like the old-school Boston Celtics, yes, you can flip this town. But short of that, I think it's going to be very hard to get over the laughingstock image." But ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, "We live in a different time now. It doesn't take 30, 40 years to build a brand and build a reputation." Wilbon noted the Clippers "have star power in L.A. which you know is a primary need, that's a prerequisite" ("PTI," ESPN, 8/12).

COURT REPORT: The L.A. DAILY NEWS' Wang reported in "response to an antitrust suit filed" by Donald Sterling in May seeking $1B in damages, the NBA on Monday "filed a counterclaim lawsuit against Sterling" in U.S. District Court. The suit alleges Sterling’s actions “caused devastating and incalculable harm to the NBA and its teams as well as sparked an intensely adverse public reaction.” The NBA’s lawsuit "seeks to recover the costs of the league’s investigation of the Sterling recording in which he made racist remarks and their legal bills, and asks for damages." Sterling yesterday also "petitioned a court of appeals to block wife Shelly Sterling’s sale of the Clippers to Ballmer, alleging errors on the part" of L.A. Superior Court judge Michael Levanas (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 8/13).
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