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FILE - Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer speaks at a Microsoft event in San Francisco, Wednesday, June 26, 2013. Ballmer, who helped build Microsoft into a technology empire and then struggled to prevent it from crumbling under his own leadership, will retire within the next 12 months. The world’s biggest software company did not name a successor. Microsoft Corp.’s stock shot up 9 percent in premarket trading following the news. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
Monson: Steve Ballmer has good reason to drop $2 billion on Clippers
First Published May 31 2014 03:28 pm • Last Updated May 31 2014 10:49 pm

Steve Ballmer is a crazy man.

A ridiculously smart, wealthy crazy man, but a crazy man, nonetheless.

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A ridiculously smart, wealthy crazy man with passion and vision and a mathematical and business acumen that’s off the charts, but a man cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, nonetheless.

What other kind of man, other than a complete whack-job, loads up $2 billion for a basketball team like … the Clip Joint? Who does that? That’s almost four times more than the previous record for the most cash spent on an NBA team. Donald Sterling bought the Clippers for $12 million and now they’re worth in excess of 166 times that? What? Who else would pay more for that historically abysmal dump of a franchise than any other amount paid for any other franchise in any league ever in North America, except for one: the L.A. Dodgers?

The Clippers have never belonged in the same sentence with the Dodgers.

Until now.

If somebody had told me in the 1980s that the Clippers would one day be sold for that kind of cake, I would have guessed that a fool with more money than brains overpaid by about $1.9 billion. In those days, the Clips were a sad group, a club that was a punch line, a team that couldn’t win, not because it didn’t have decent players, rather because it had no steady competitive commitment.

A comedian once told a joke about the Clippers, noting that the team, in an attempt to get guns off the streets of L.A., was offering tickets in exchange for the guns. "The only problem with that," he said, "is that after you watch the Clippers play, you need a gun to kill yourself."

Not exactly politically correct, but, when we’re talking about Donald Sterling and the Clippers, well … you know.

Back then, when it came to the hardwood, the Lakers ruled Southern California. They were Page 1. The Clippers were a skid mark. They were Page 15.

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From 1985 to 1990, L.A.’s second NBA team won 143 games and lost 349. Over that same span, the Lakers won 371 and lost 121, not including playoff games. Of course, there were no playoff games for the Clippers.

In the 44-year history of the Clips, stemming back to the old Buffalo Braves, then to the Clippers in San Diego and Los Angeles, their cumulative winning percentage rests at 38 percent. Their overall record is 1,360-2,200. They’ve made the playoffs just 10 times, three in Buffalo and three over the past three seasons, getting bounced in the first round four times. In between, there was mostly a whole lot of ineptitude. The Clippers have never made it to the Western Conference finals.


Owning the Clippers seemed to be Sterling’s foothold/entryway to hosting parties in Beverly Hills that drew in Hollywood’s rich and famous. The club made money because of the L.A. market, but it never did anything of note on the court.


A few years ago, when the Jazz were facing the Lakers in the playoffs, they worked out at the Clips’ new practice facility on Centinela Avenue in Playa Vista. It was a beautiful structure, with sparkling gyms and posh rooms to train and lounge. Near the entry, there was a huge trophy case built into the wall. It was empty.

That shouts about as loud as anything the legacy of the franchise.

The $2 billion franchise.

When other NBA owners heard that number, they probably did a dance. It’s like somebody in your neighborhood selling his house for three or four times what was expected. If the Clippers are worth that, what are the Lakers or the Celtics or the Knicks or the Heat worth? Most teams don’t have that enormous L.A. market, but many of them have more storied histories.

What Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft who has tried to buy teams in the past, needs now is a vote of approval from the NBA Board of Governors. If he gets it, which he will, he’s in.

"I love basketball and I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that the Clippers continue to win — and win big — in Los Angeles," he said.

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