Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s pending purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers has been the talk of the sports world for the past week.
Much of the chatter has been focused on the team’s price tag; at $2 billion, the team commanded the second largest purchase price ever for a professional sports team, slightly behind the Los Angeles Dodgers’ $2.1 billion.
Still, sports fans in one particular city are not impressed with the big money and flashy buy; all Seattle knows is that its hopes for a reinstated NBA basketball team just took another big hit.
Before his massive purchase, Ballmer was part of an investment group led by Seattle hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen that tried to buy the Sacramento Kings and relocate them to Seattle. The group had reached an initial agreement with the Kings, but the NBA ultimately stepped in to block the relocation.
Ballmer’s involvement with that Seattle investment group appears to be over for now. He has repeatedly said that he would not move the Clippers out of Los Angeles.
As a result, Seattle basketball fans have lost in a big way here.
David Kahn, former president of the Minnesota Timberwolves, told Bloomberg that Seattle may have a much harder time securing a team now that Ballmer is no longer in the picture.
“They lost their owner, and the price just went way up. The value proposition has changed,” Khan said.
For his part, Hansen’s group has apparently not given up, redoubling their efforts to build a new basketball arena in downtown Seattle in an attempt to attract a different franchise there. Hansen released a statement after learning of Ballmer’s Clippers purchase, giving an update on the state of the project: “The environmental review process for the Seattle arena is nearing completion, and we will soon be in a strong position to attract a franchise back to the Emerald City.”
Brian Robinson, founder of a group of fans called Save Our Sonics, sounded optimistic in the report, saying that Seattle would move on and find a team with or without Ballmer.
“The region’s rabid fans and affluent corporate community are a bigger draw for the NBA than any one owner,” he told Bloomberg.
Still, the situation really is a shame for a city that was devoted to their beloved SuperSonics basketball team for 41 years, before Clay Bennett unexpectedly moved them to Oklahoma City, even after he repeatedly promised not to.
Writing for SportsGrid, Eric Goldschein makes some valid arguments as to why Ballmer should move his new team to Seattle. He argues that, even though Los Angeles is the second-biggest media market in the country, Seattle is actually a strong 14th, ahead of other “marquee” NBA cities like Miami, Denver, and San Antonio. In fact, Oklahoma City ranks 45th, which must hurt that much more for Seattle basketball fans. With the 35th-ranked Milwaukee Bucks commanding $550 million in a recent sale, Goldschein contends there would be plenty of value to be found for the Clippers in Seattle.
However, Seattle fans were not the only ones to lose after Ballmer’s purchase; NBA fans, and Laker fans in particular, lost a historic franchise that bred storied rivalries over the years.
In a Yahoo Sports editorial from last year, written before Chris Hansen’s offer for the Sacramento Kings fell through, Michael C. Jones waxed nostalgic about what it was like to have a serious West Coast rivalry in the NBA, in the good old days of the early 90’s:
If you lived in Southern California during that time when the games between the Lakers and the Sonics were at their peak in the heyday of legends like Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Detlef Schrempf, Cedric Ceballos, James Worthy, Byron Scott, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal, then you know how serious their battles on the court were. When the Lakers went to Key Arena, it was always a marquee event. Even though the Sonics were a middle-of-the-road team in terms of attendance, the building was filled with raging Seattleites when the Lakers visited. Chants of ‘Beat L.A.!’ could be heard all the way across Puget Sound.
So, while Steve Ballmer is about to purchase a valuable, ascendant team in the Clippers (even though some critics think he overpaid), and the NBA has somewhat successfully navigated through the fallout of the Donald Sterling scandal, the rest of the league uttered a collective sigh and shrugged. Seattle fans cursed under their breath. And sports fans lost a chance to see a once-great basketball city reclaim its former glory.