After 33 years under Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers have a new owner. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has agreed to purchase the franchise for $2 billion.
There had been reports that Sterling would fight to stay on as the owner, but the sale of the team was inevitable. The NBA Board of Governors was likely going to get the 75 percent of votes needed to force Sterling out of the league, and there were rumors that some players might refuse to play if Sterling remained as the owner.
Even before Sterling became engulfed in the most recent controversy, he was considered one of the worst owners in the NBA. With Ballmer at the helm, the Clippers could have a much brighter future.
During his tenure as the Clippers’ owner, Sterling was notorious for spending as little money as possible on the team. For much of their existence, the team had among the lowest payrolls in the league, which led to a string of losing seasons.
Failing to reach the playoffs for much of the 1980s and 1990s gave L.A. a number of high draft picks. However, the team was mismanaged and most of those selections did not pan out. The Clippers were unable to make up for these mistakes, because of Sterling’s unwillingness to spend money.
"Cash is the root of all evil, and Sterling likes to hold on to his," former Clippers’ guard Ron Harper told Sports Illustrated in 2000. "He won't hand it out to a player unless he thinks the player has earned it. Well, that's not how things work in today's NBA. Like it or not, an owner has to overcompensate his players."
Sterling’s frugal ways went beyond not wanting to pay players. He reportedly proposed to cut medical expenses and asked former head coach Paul Silas if having a team trainer was necessary. His reputation has kept most top-flight free agents away from the Clippers. With Ballmer in charge, that is likely to change.
It’s unknown what kind of owner Ballmer will be, but evidence suggests that he’ll have no problem spending money. He bought the Clippers for $2 billion, which appears to be far more than the team's market value. Earlier in the year, Forbes estimated their worth to be $575 million. Ballmer is reportedly worth $20 billion and looks ready to do whatever it takes to win.
A change in ownership doesn’t mean the Clippers will win a title in the next year or two. Sterling has put more money into the team in recent seasons, giving Los Angeles the sixth-highest payroll in 2014. Ten years ago, the Clippers ranked 28th among 29 teams, paying players a total of just over $38 million. In this year’s 57-win season, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan combined to make more than $46 million.
"The truth of the thing is Sterling, when I was there my first few, four to six years, he was tight with everything," said Chris Kaman in December 2012, who spent his first eight seasons with the Clippers. "He didn't want to spend the money. I think as he's getting older, he's realizing, 'Hey, I don't know how much time I have left' -- or whatever it is -- 'I'm older.' You can't win in the grave.”
Sterling may have improved as an owner, but he hasn’t had a history of prolonged success. It will be hard for Ballmer to do a worse job than someone deemed the most hated man in America.