Former Microsoft (MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer, who’s owned the Los Angeles Clippers since 2014, spoke at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Tech dinner in San Francisco on Wednesday about his experiences with the NBA.
During the night, Ballmer talked to Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky about working with the NBA during the highly publicized $2 billion deal with former owner Donald Sterling. “I like basketball and I’ve liked basketball for a long time,” he said. “When I retired [in 2013 from Microsoft], within a week, I visited the commissioner of the NBA and the commissioner of the NFL—two sports I was interested in.”
Although Ballmer admitted “nothing much ever came out of football,” he added it’s “probably okay.” Why? “There are a lot of tough challenges from the football world despite the fact that football is doing very well from a business perspective.”
When he inquired about bringing a basketball team to Seattle, he was told it would be difficult since the NBA has made a push to keep teams in their cities and not move them elsewhere. “I said, ‘Shoot I better go to Milwaukee because it was the only team for sale at the time,” Ballmer explained. “So, I got on a plane, flew to Milwaukee, drove around the city, and went to a game.”
But Ballmer was late to the bidding process and wasn’t able to secure a deal. That’s when he learned about Sterling selling the team. He jumped at the opportunity to get the L.A. franchise. “I knew about what I was willing to pay,” he explained, “the only problem was to figure out who the heck was really going to be selling the team.”
“It wasn’t done with what I call traditional investment banker stuff,” said Ballmer, causing the audience to erupt in laughter. “The investment banker came into the process in about the last week.”
Ballmer also shared what he’s learned from being an NBA franchise owner. “It is really exciting to own a basketball team,” he said. “It’s not like trading basketball cards. It doesn’t work like that.”
“I’ll say it in tech speak—there’s a major product wave once a year…you do all product development,” he added. “Basically to the end of the season.”