Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft.
Photo: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg
By Benjamin Snyder
May 30, 2014

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer appears on track to buy the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team for $2 billion following the forced sale by owner Donald Sterling, whose racist comments earned him an expulsion from the NBA, the Los Angeles Times reported.

If the deal is finalized, it will be the most ever paid for an NBA team. The highest previous price was $550 million earlier this month for the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s also the second-largest sum paid for any sports team in North America, trailing the L.A. Dodgers sale in 2012 for $2.1 billion.

Shelley Sterling, Donald’s estranged wife, issued a statement Thursday night saying she was “delighted that we are selling the team to Steve, who will be a terrific owner,” and that she and her family “have worked for 33 years to build the Clippers into a premiere [sic] NBA franchise. I am confident that Steve will take the team to new levels of success,” according to an ESPN report.

There have been some questions in recent days about whether Shelley Sterling has the authority to sell the team. Donald Sterling reportedly signed over the entire franchise to her last week, but reports subsequently said he was trying to reverse that decision, or that he wasn’t even allowed to pass the team to her under NBA bylaws. Those problems were solved this week when Donald Sterling was found by experts to be mentally incapacitated, and therefore unable to manage according to ESPN, although just what is meant by mentally incapacitated is not clear.

Representatives for Donald Sterling have said that there can be no deal without his approval, and that there has been no sale.

Ballmer’s bid beat out another for $1.6 billion by a group that included entertainment moguls David Geffen and Oprah Winfrey, along with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, according to Reuters. Another group of Los Angeles area investors had offered $1.2 billion.

Ballmer, who led Microsoft (MSFT) for 14 years and has an estimated net worth of over $20 billion, recently stepped down from Microsoft. He had recently discussed the possibility of buying the California-based franchise despite living in Seattle. In an interview earlier this month with the Wall Street Journal, Ballmer expressed interest in the L.A. Clippers.

“I love basketball, and I’d love to participate at some point in the NBA,” he said. “If the opportunity is outside of Seattle, so be it. I will learn about any team that comes up for sale at this point.”

He continued: “If I get interested in the Clippers, it would be for Los Angeles. I don’t work anymore, so I have more geographic flexibility than I did a year, year-and-a half ago. Moving them anywhere else would be value destructive.”

The price tag is $200 million more than reports earlier on Thursday had suggested he’d pay. Now, the tentative deal must pass through Sterling as well as the approval of the other 29 franchise owners.

(Story and headline were updated with new information.)


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