Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, who was formerly part of a group trying to return the NBA to Seattle, appeared on The Vertical podcast with JJ Reddick this morning. Among other things, Ballmer was fairly candid about his attempts to not only save, but bring back, the Seattle SuperSonics.
It seems that, like most of the rest of us, Ballmer never expected that then-owner Howard Schultz or the NBA would actually allow the team to leave.
“When the team arena issues came up, I guess I never really figured it would come to a point where the team would move. Then the team gets sold, and I was part of a group that threw a Hail Mary to try get an arena built so that the team could stay.”
Ballmer then went on to talk about joining Chris Hansen and the Nordstroms in at attempt to bring a new team back.
“This fella Chris Hansen’s a Seattleite who lives in the bay area and he says ‘we’re gonna get a basketball team and I think we can get the Sacramento Kings. They need a new arena, this would be the time. Let’s get after it. Are you in?’ And a few of us got in, yes, and we had a plan now to build a new arena. He talked the Maloofs, or the owners of the Kings, into selling the thing. And then we didn’t get approval by the league! We thought we made a great pitch. The league basically, at that stage, came in and said ‘despite what happened with the Sonics, we really do want to make it really hard to move teams because, in a way, it’s very hard on fan bases. You build a fan base and then all of a sudden you up and move, that should be a hard thing to do.’ So I was disappointed, to say the least, that that didn’t work out. I even expressed my disappointment a little bit to the league.”
Shortly after that, Ballmer retired from Microsoft and decided to focus his attention on acquiring an NBA team for Seattle. However, he was repeatedly told that the NBA is no longer interested in letting teams leave their current markets.
“Within one to two weeks of retiring, I went to see Adam Silver. [...] I say okay, you’re new, I’m really in, I’d like to buy a team, get it to Seattle. And he said ‘we really are trying not to move teams.’ and I was kind of like ‘wow, really? But what about this team that might be near the end of its lease, or what about this team?’ And he said ‘no, we really don’t want to move teams.’ And I had passed on looking at the Milwaukee Bucks right before I retired, and I said I better go look at the Milwaukee Bucks because teams don’t sell that often.”
As has been reported, Ballmer did in fact attempt to buy the Bucks, but was more or less denied before he even made an offer.
“I did try to buy the thing, or at least try to have a discussion. [...] I was late in the process and nobody really wanted me in it because everyone assumed i would try to move the team later on, because I tried to move one team.”
He did not specify if he did, in fact, intend to move the Bucks to Seattle or keep them where they are. By this point, it sounds like, Ballmer just wanted to own an NBA team, regardless of location. Of course, the Bucks were ultimately sold to Marc Lasry and Wes Edens and are building a new arena in Milwaukee. Ballmer went on to say that he asked about “every team on the west coast,” as well as the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, before the Clippers situation presented itself.
You can listen to the full interview below. The Seattle discussion starts at the 16:26 mark.