Steve Ballmer: NBA owner in search of a miracle

He sits in a conspicuous baseline seat, where he cheers like nobody’s watching.

The large balding man in long sleeves roars with every splashed basket, gestures with every scintillating pass, face reddening, arms flailing, celebrating so hard he once ripped a hole in his dress shirt.

He could be any die-hard Clippers fan, with one exception.

He owns the team.

Steve Ballmer is the perfect symbol of the power of Hollywood hope, the strength of California dreaming and the resilience of those who come here searching for a miracle.

Ranking eighth on the Forbes 500 list with an estimated net worth north of $120 billion, Ballmer could afford to buy any sports team in any league.

He chose to buy the Clippers, spending $2 billion in 2014 for a perennial loser and one of five teams to never reach the NBA Finals.

“A team comes up for sale in a city I love that’s near me?” said Ballmer, 68, a former Microsoft executive who lives in Washington state. “You say, ‘OK, but it’s the Clippers,’ and my theory is, you can do anything if you put your mind to it.”

As the richest owner in North American professional sports, he had the wealth and influence to move the bedraggled franchise to a city far away from the big brother Lakers, perhaps even into his adopted hometown of Seattle.

Yet he doubled down and not only kept the Clippers in town but spent another $2 billion to build his own arena: the glitzy Intuit Dome, which is scheduled to open in October in Inglewood.

“It was clear to me, we had to have our own home, our own identity,” Ballmer said.

Cynics would describe his ownership of the Clippers as charity work, but his real philanthropy has had an even larger impact in the region, with his Ballmer Group investing hundreds of millions of dollars in everything from inner-city businesses to the renovation of 500 Clipper Community Courts in diverse pockets of the city.

“Impacting kids is the kind of thing that pulls at my heart,” Ballmer said. “A fan will tell me that he drove past a Clipper court and I’ll think, that’s really, really, really cool.”

Ballmer is accessible, generous and, most of all, the head cheerleader for a drowned-out swath of a Lakers-owned city.

“I love our die-hard fans,” he said. “I love the culture of c’mon, we have a chip on our shoulder, we’ve got something to prove, we’ve never done it before, c’mon!”

It is a Thursday afternoon early in the 2023-24 NBA season and Steve Ballmer is shouting into the phone, because of course he is, the sound of undying faith, the voice of a true believer, c’mon!

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