Ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer becomes the LA Clippers' slam-dunking knight in shining armour

The former tech chief gets to save NBA basketball's reputation, after the team's owner Donald Sterling was banned from the sport for life for racism.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 30 May 2014

Retired billionaire chief execs might wonder what to do with themselves when a whole load of time and money lands in their laps (like take up dance classes?). Microsoft founder Bill Gates went off to save the world, but we hadn’t heard from his successor Steve Ballmer since he swapped computers for carpet slippers in February.

Gates is clearly a pretty hard act to follow, what with all his do-gooding, but Ballmer seems to have landed himself a pretty neat new role: saving the reputation of NBA basketball.

The 58-year-old is buying the Los Angeles Clippers for $2.1bn, pending approval by the NBA’s board of governors, beating a $1.6bn offer from group including music mogul David Geffen, Ophrah Winfrey and Oracle chief exec Larry Ellison. That massively outstrips the $550m paid for fellow NBA team Milwaukee Bucks in April.

The team’s probable sale comes after a recording of the team’s current owner Donald Sterling asking his girlfriend not to publish photos of herself with black people was leaked. The NBA reacted almost instantly, banning Sterling from the sport for life. However, the damage had been done: sponsors pulled LA Clippers deals and the US engaged in national hand-wringing over the relationship between basketball’s black stars and teams’ mainly white owners.

Sterling had previously vowed to fight a probable forced sale of the Clippers (that would have been voted on by three quarters of the other teams’ owners), but looks to have backed down ahead of a hearing next Tuesday on his ban.

Ballmer, who still owns a 4%, $13.4bn stake in Microsoft, is a life-long basketball fan and apparently used to play games with colleagues on the company campus. After putting all those billions to work, he’ll probably be allowed on court to shoot a basket or two for real.

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