Steve Ballmer Buys the L.A. Clippers for a Staggering $2 Billion

Hoops-loving ex-Microsoft CEO replaces Donald Sterling.

Two years ago Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, was unsuccessful in his effort to buy the Sacramento Kings and move them to Seattle to replace his beloved Sonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder). This time around he left little to chance in making an extraordinary lone-wolf bid to take over the Clippers and rid the NBA of its glaring sore thumb, Donald Sterling.

In the handful of days since Sterling’s estranged wife, Rochelle (or “Shelly”), became the sole trustee of the Clippers and put the team on the market, reports had the franchise valued at $1 to $1.2 billion, and indeed offers were made in that range. Then last night Ballmer swooped in and blew the other bidders out of the water. He delivered his $2 billion bid not on behalf of a group of investors and ex-athletes but on his own, with no partners, the way only a man with a net worth of $20 billion can do.

Certainly Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA are pleased with this development, which should bring an end to the whole unsavory episode that began last month with Donald Sterling’s taped racist rants. No more daily PR nightmare distracting from the NBA playoffs, no more worries about the threat of player boycott.

Still, when the smoke clears, the affair may leave a bittersweet taste. Sure, the NBA was successful in forcing the Sterlings’ hand to sell the team without push coming to shove, and we should be rid of the Sterling circus. But Donald Sterling, who bought the Clippers in 1981 for $31 million and oversaw what was until the past few years the NBA’s most consistently lousy team—including 27 losing seasons in 33 years,  seven with fewer than 20 wins—walks away the beneficiary of a unprecedentedly huge sale. (The most previously paid for an NBA team was $550 million, for the Milwaukee Bucks.)

We wonder if Sterling and his lawyers will still bother to fight that $2.5 million fine the NBA levied against him, which suddenly seems like a parking ticket.

Photos by Ted S. Warren / AP