August 17, 2014 in Sports

Bill Plaschke: Steve Ballmer won’t waste time taking Clippers to the next level

Bill Plaschke Los Angeles Times

(Full-size photo)

It was only fitting that Steve Ballmer officially became the new owner of the Clippers while in Montana preparing to go white-water rafting.

He’s going from one screaming, bouncing thrill ride to another.

Ballmer was vacationing when it was announced that his $2 billion purchase had closed after an email from a California court confirmed Shelly Sterling’s authority to sell the team. Although the news was expected, it was no less exhilarating for those who had spent the last three months watching Donald Sterling pathetically cling to a franchise he had embarrassed for most of the last 30 years.

This should finally be it. This should finally be the end. Sterling, who was banned from the NBA for life in April after making racist remarks, is now also gone from the Clippers’ front offices forever.

A new Clippers era is here. Steve Ballmer and all that energy from his days as Microsoft boss are here. Put on your helmet, pick up your paddle, and good luck staying dry.

“I want us to be hard-core, determined, every player, every member of the front office, every day,” said Ballmer.

In going from Sterling to Ballmer, the Clippers are going from doddering to dynamic, from entitled to empowered, from punch line to prideful. In Ballmer’s first act as owner, he is throwing the fans a free party. The last time Clippers fans gathered in the offseason? It was several years ago in a small and sad parade that attempted to woo LeBron James. The last time more than a handful of folks were seen wearing Clippers gear downtown in August? Maybe never.

“I’ve received a lot of email at my old Microsoft address from people saying that they are thrilled and proud to be Clipper fans,” Ballmer said. “I want to get down to L.A. and support those people.”

The new ownership, of course, comes with questions. But, in a change from the shrouded reign of Donald Sterling, Ballmer was open to answering all of them, and the answers were all good.

The Seattle guy said he is going to keep the Clippers in Los Angeles.

“Absolutely, 100 percent, I’m keeping them in Los Angeles; we can realize our full potential in Los Angeles,” he said. “I’m rooting for Seattle to get a team, but the Clippers are not it.”

Ballmer has heard about the past offers to move the team to Orange County, but he’s going to keep them at Staples Center.

“Staples Center, great arena, I’ve toured it, it’s awesome, I’ve got a long-term lease,” he said. “I’m all in at Staples.”

Although the Clippers franchise has always seemed to view itself in relation to the Lakers, Ballmer wants his organization to celebrate that they are the Clippers.

“I want the Clippers to be the Clippers,” he said. “Honestly, we are competing with ourselves, we are setting the bar for ourselves, we are a good team, but we can be a better team, we can be hard-core and dogged and tenacious every day. If we do that, we will win a whole lot of ballgames, and that’s what matters.”

Of course, no surprise here, Ballmer is arriving with a high opinion of basketball boss Doc Rivers, which could smartly lead to an extension of Rivers’ contract beyond its remaining two years.

“I’ve had two or three meetings with him socially and the guy is amazing,” Ballmer said. “We are so fortunate to have him.”

Finally, in response to the oft-repeated phrase, “You paid $2 billion for the Clippers?” Ballmer just laughed.

“You don’t offer things you don’t want to offer; isn’t that the way the world works?” he said. “I’m so thrilled and delighted to have this team, and how much of that comes from financial reasons, or basketball enthusiast reasons, or retired-guy-looking-for- something-to-do reasons, I don’t know. But it’s a win-win deal for everyone.”

There you have it, a win-win deal, a perfect start for a team reborn, the Clippers now playing basket-Ballmer. Climb in and hang on.

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