Steve Ballmer promises 'hardcore' basketball in debut as Clippers owner

New Los Angeles Clippers owner and ex-Microsoft CEO gives rousing speech at fan rally, vowing optimism in post-Sterling era

Steve Ballmer’s informal introduction as the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers was a rousing success, or, at the very least, rousing. A week after the finalization of his $2bn purchase, the gregarious Ballmer hosted a fan rally in LA’s Staples Center on Monday, where he delivered something of a basketball-centric sequel to the infamous, out-of-control “Developers” speech he made back when he was the CEO of Microsoft.

Emerging to the strains of Eminem’s Lose Yourself, a nod to his reputation as an animated speaker, Ballmer spent much of his speech promising fans that the Clippers would move on from the tumultuous reign of widely reviled former owner Donald Sterling. It was a ridiculous performance by the new owner, who, in the afternoon’s most ridiculous moment, attempted some on-the-spot rebranding by declaring that Clippers basketball should be “hardcore”.

In the more subdued sections of his introductory speech, Ballmer emphasized his love for Los Angeles, despite the fact that he lived and made a name for himself in Seattle. Early on in the speech, Ballmer quickly dismissed speculation that he planned to move the team to Seattle and made it clear that the team would be keeping the Clippers name.

Steve Ballmer: if he didn’t exist, YouTube would have to invent him.

The most overt idea behind the fan rally was to illustrate how much more open and fan-friendly the Clippers would be under new ownership. At one point while pumping up the crowd, Ballmer even made it a point to give out his email address, (it’s, if you’re interested), before reading an email from a diehard fan which included a shot at the team’s previous owner, whose name was barely mentioned during the 14-minute speech.

This was likely intentional. Ballmer knows that most of his new customer base longs for the day they will never hear Donald Sterling’s name again, a day which may be coming closer. This hope was bolstered by a clip posted earlier Monday morning by TMZ, the entertainment news website that began the process that led to Sterling’s ouster when they released audio tapes of him making racist comments to a female companion. TMZ’s new footage featured an exhausted Sterling telling a cameraman “I’m finished. I’m over.”

He could just be saying he’s ‘finished’ and ‘done’ with this interview, true, but a fanbase can dream, can’t it?

The clip seems to suggest that Sterling’s fruitless, quixotic attempt at somehow invalidating the Clippers sale, which was set about by his estranged wife Shelly after doctors claimed he was no longer mentally capable of running the team, could finally be ending. Now, of course he has said such things in the past before changing his mind, but the sound of the man admitting defeat provided the perfect prologue to Ballmer’s high spirited performance later that day.

As entertaining as Ballmer’s rah-rah persona and over-the-top antics were, they all served a clear purpose. In the midst of the chanting, call-and-response and self-deprecating jokes, he touched upon the afternoon rally’s true theme when he repeated a mantra he borrowed from Colin Powell: “Optimism is a force modifier.”

Optimism is certainly what this franchise, which has never won a NBA championship since it began as the Buffalo Braves back in 1970, has long needed. This team has lacked the quality even during these last few years, as they collected talented players like dynamic point guard Chris Paul and force of nature power forward Blake Griffin, while stealing away head coach/president of operations Doc Rivers from the Boston Celtics. Dark clouds of pessimism have hovered around the Clippers most of the Sterling era.

Ballmer’s speech was designed to break those clouds. As intentionally goofy as it was, it was meant to go viral, to secretly spread optimism not just among the clearly on-board diehards in the Staples crowd but all throughout the basketball world. In it, Ballmer is selling us the idea that even if Shelly Sterling is hanging around to remind us of her husband, and even if the Clippers remain LA’s second team while the Lakers fall below them in the standings, that things will be getting better under his watch.

Considering who Ballmer has replaced, well, it’s quite an easy sell.


Hunter Felt

The GuardianTramp

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