Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has reached an agreement to buy the Los Angeles Clippers NBA franchise for a record $2 billion from owner Donald Sterling, who was banned for life by the association at the end of April for making racist comments.
Last year Ballmer, worth an estimated $20 billion according to the latest Forbes report, led a group trying to buy the Sacramento Kings and relocate the franchise to Seattle, but lost out fellow West Coast technology chief executive Vivek Ranadive. Tibco CEO Ranadive led his own consortium, buying the majority stake in the Kings for a record $534 million and keeping the team in California. At the time Ranadive had to sell his stake in the San Francisco-based Golden State Warriors, and had support from Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs to buy the Kings.
The Clippers has been up for sale after National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver banned owner Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers or the NBA. Sterling had been recorded telling a female friend V Stiviano not to bring black players to watch the Clippers, while criticising Stiviano for posting a photo of herself with US basketball legend Magic Johnson on Instagram and "broadcasting her association with black people".
Silver also announced in April that he will urge the NBA's Board of Governors to force a sale of the team. However, Sterling's lawyers have said the 80-year-old, also the subject of the largest housing discrimination case in the US for not letting apartments to black or hispanic people, would not be selling.
Ballmer, who retired in February from Microsoft after 14 years, as noted above has been interested in owning an NBA franchise for a while. He beat other bidders that included Los Angeles-based investors Tony Ressler and Steve Karsh and a group that included David Geffen, Oprah Winfrey, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and executives from the Guggenheim Group, the Chicago-based owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The former Microsoft executive seems unlikely to move the LA Clippers to Seattle, Washington after acquiring the franchise. "If I get interested in the Clippers, it would be for Los Angeles," Ballmer said earlier this month. "Moving them anywhere else would be value destructive."
The NBA Board of Governors must still approve the sale, according to reports. There is some debate, however, whether Sterling has to sign off on the deal or has given his wife the authority to sell the team.
Additional reporting by John Ribeiro of the IDG News Service. Top image; Clippers players Chris Paul and Blake Griffin facing the Tibco CEO Vivek Ranadive-owned Sacramento Kings