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Steve Ballmer, you've got to be kidding

By Mike Downey
updated 2:11 PM EDT, Sat May 31, 2014
Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, appears set to buy the L.A. Clippers. Ballmer, seen here at a NBA playoff game on April 29, is not one to hide his emotions. Rather, he is known for his exuberant persona at tech events. Here's a look at some of his many mugs: Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, appears set to buy the L.A. Clippers. Ballmer, seen here at a NBA playoff game on April 29, is not one to hide his emotions. Rather, he is known for his exuberant persona at tech events. Here's a look at some of his many mugs:
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The many faces of Steve Ballmer
The many faces of Steve Ballmer
The many faces of Steve Ballmer
The many faces of Steve Ballmer
The many faces of Steve Ballmer
The many faces of Steve Ballmer
The many faces of Steve Ballmer
The many faces of Steve Ballmer
The many faces of Steve Ballmer
The many faces of Steve Ballmer
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer offered $2 billion to buy the Clippers
  • Mike Downey says it's hard to imagine how the team could be worth that much
  • Despite recent uptick in team's quality, it has long history of woeful play, he says
  • Downey: Owner Donald Sterling's racist remarks have further tarnished the franchise

Editor's note: Mike Downey is a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times and a frequent contributor to CNN. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely his.

(CNN) -- Two billion dollars to buy the Los Angeles Clippers???

Come on, now.

You might pay two billion to buy a Picasso but not to buy Dogs Playing Poker.

You might pay two billion to buy a yacht but not the USS Minnow.

You might pay two billion to buy the Los Angeles DODGERS -- and somebody not long ago did -- but not to buy Hollywood's basketball-playing comedy club.

Mike Downey
Mike Downey

Would you?

Uh, well, if your name is Steve Ballmer, and you've got money to burn, and the next goal on your bucket list is to own a basketball team, and you're the kind of guy who loves this game so much that you've even got "Ball" in your surname, $2 billion is the price you're prepared to pay, even if it means buying the Worst Franchise in the History of Professional Basketball.

S-Ball, are you SURE about this?

You want to bounce these numbers off your banker? Two billion ... with a B?

Yep, apparently the hoop-happy Mr. Ballmer, who made much of his money by being one of the big brains at Microsoft, was in earnest when he told Shelly Sterling, semi-estranged wife of the 100% strange Donald Sterling, he would give her $2 billion for her National Basketball Association team, assuming it's for sale.

Sterling's right to sell vs. NBA's rights
Clippers sold to Steve Ballmer for $2B

Oh, and assuming it's hers to sell.

Not so fast, says Mr. Sterling to Mrs. Sterling through his attorney, Maxwell Blecher, giving every indication that he intends to cling to his ownership of the Clippers by any means necessary, even if it means filing a lawsuit against the NBA for a not-exactly-peanuts ONE billion dollars.

Disgraced, disgusted, dysfunctional (delusional?) Donald is deadly serious. OK, so I said some bad stuff. OK, so my "girlfriend" got me on tape, blithering and blathering about black people and do I want her to bring them to my team's basketball games and all? OK, so I had to give up that nice NAACP award they were going to give me, and that comedian Conan O'Brien went on TV and said, "Instead, they're giving him the 'Reason We Still Need an NAACP Award.' "

LZ Granderson: The hypocrisy of L.A. NAACP

That doesn't mean I, Don, am giving up my Clipper ship without a fight.

OK, so Steve Ballmer, the ex-CEO of that Microsoft computer business, is making a whopping offer of $2 billion for my basketball guys? Well, I may not know a laptop from a lap dance, but I do not intend to bail on my Clippers just quite yet, NBA fans!

You can't miss me if I don't go away!

A couple billion dollars for a basketball team might not be such a shocker if that team were, say, the Los Angeles Lakers or the Boston Celtics, organizations with a long history of success, a loyal fan base and a general reputation for integrity and respectability. They are the Bentleys and Rolls-Royces of this particular market, whereas the Clippers are the Ford Pintos, the flops, the lemons, the clunkers that catch fire.

Number of NBA championships for the Clippers? Zero.

Number of appearances in the NBA Finals for the Clippers? Zero.

Number of people you have met who said they want to see just one Clipper championship before they die? Zero.

Oh, maybe Billy Crystal said something like that in his life, because (a) he is a comedian and a very funny guy, and (b) he happens to be one of the few people from Planet Hollywood who has been true-blue to the Clippers since practically the beginning, through one dog of a season after another, through thin and thin. 700 Sundays? Was that the name of Billy's hit Broadway show? Well, this poor fellow has probably sat through 700 Clipper Days, which makes him one of the most magnificent (or most masochistic) sports fans in history in my book.

Some of their season records since the Clippers have been playing in L.A.:

31-51, 32-50, 12-70, 17-65, 21-61, 30-52, 31-51 ...

Brief pause for a slightly better season or two, followed by:

27-55, 17-65, 29-53, 36-46, 17-75, 9-41, 15-67 ...

You get the idea.

It is true, amazingly, that the Clippers of late have become a much better team. They make the playoffs. They have Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. They do not trip over their own shoelaces as often as before. But $2 billion worth? No way.

Opinion: Cuban is no Sterling

I used to go to Clipper games once in a while, just to break the monotony of going to Laker games all the time and seeing how GOOD basketball is played. I used to go to garden parties at Donald and Shelly Sterling's home in Beverly Hills, where we would eat and drink and have a laugh about the Bad Old Days being behind this team forever because the Clippers were about to get some newer, better players and become, you know, what's that word they like to use about other teams? Oh, yeah: Winners!

And did they win? Nahhhhh.

I remember the season of 1994. The Clippers lost their first 16 games. I mean, when your team's record in the standings is 0-16, you could make a case that any five tall people with tickets in the stands could beat you. Loy Vaught, one of the Clip players at that time, said one day, "I have this picture in my head of a big headline screaming, 'Worst Team Ever,' and then they have a picture of our team underneath it, and we're all sitting there smiling."

You wouldn't have given two HUNDRED dollars for that team.

Sterling bought them in San Diego for the nice 1982 price of $12 million and moved them to Los Angeles, where they established themselves immediately as the slowest guns in the West. I mean, some sports fans think of bad teams like the Cubs as lovable losers, but the Clippers weren't lovable, just laughable. They were regulars in Johnny Carson's and Jay Leno's monologues. They were punchlines.

And still are, more because of their owner than their play on the court.

Craig Ferguson, another of the late-night TV comedians, said after word of Ballmer's $2 billion offer for the Clippers got out, "Donald Sterling paid only $12 million to buy the Clippers. This deal is very uncomfortable for the former owner because it puts him in the black."

Race-related jokes abound while racially insensitive remarks by the man himself got Sterling in this fix in the first place.

The NBA wants him to sell the team. His own players want him to sell the team. His own wife wants him to sell the team. Just about everybody except Donald Sterling wants Donald Sterling to sell the team. This guy has all the popularity of a termite in a lumber camp.

Will he sell it? Will he give in and go away?

That remains to be seen, because what Sterling says and Sterling does are not the kinds of things ordinary people say and do.

Offering $2 billion for a middling sports team is also something a normal person doesn't normally do. So, really, what would somebody like a Ballmer offer if, say, the New York Yankees baseball team ever did come up for sale? A trillion? OK, a trillion-one, but not a penny more.

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