Steve Ballmer Won’t Move The Clippers To Seattle … Until He Moves The Clippers To Seattle

When the news came through that former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was buying the Los Angeles Clippers off pariah owner Donald Sterling, a cry of joy went up across the land. But might Ballmer be planning to move the Clippers and bring the NBA back to Seattle? No, he’s not. Unless, of course, he is.

The announcement of an initial deal to sell the Clippers to Ballmer for $2.5 billion had some thinking that the NBA might be able to move past the distraction of Sterling’s racist comments just in time for the Finals to start. That, of course, was before the Clippers owner’s attorney announced that Sterling plans to sue the NBA for $1 billion. Even after that lawsuit inevitably fizzles, the NBA might have yet another Clippers controversy, as speculation is running high that Ballmer might move the franchise up to Seattle.

Over at Fox News, the reasoning is that Ballmer has a ton of motive for a Seattle move. Chief among these is that Ballmer joined an investment group interested in building a new arena and using the facility to attract an NBA team. If Ballmer does succeed in buying the Clippers, he’ll have to divest himself of interest in that pro-Seattle basketball group, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t move the squad away up the Pacific coast.

The reasoning goes thusly: Moving the Clippers to Seattle would get them out of the shadow of the Los Angeles Lakers – who are currently dealing with their own issues – and plant them in a metropolitan area that is as thirsty for NBA basketball as it is for Starbucks coffee… Sorry, we don’t really know much more about Seattle than Starbucks and Space Needle and Greatly Exaggerated Interest in an NBA Team.

That latter bit snarks at a salient point: Seattle already had a team, and it couldn’t hold onto it. The Oklahoma City Thunder used to be the Seattle Supersonics. Those halcyon days saw great basketball action courtesy of All-Stars like Gary “The Glove” Payton and Sean Kemp’s Coke Habit.

No, Mr. Kemp, I expect you to score.
Former Seattle Supersonic greats Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, with part-time Bond Villain and Sonics coach George Karl in the background. Image via The Kevin Burke Project.

By the late 2000s, though, fan support in Seattle was waning, dropping from an average game attendance of 17,000 in 1998 to just 13,000 in 2008. The franchise soon relocated to Oklahoma City, where the Thunder enjoy consistent sell-out arenas and a rabid, dedicated fan base. Because Oklahoma.

For his part, Ballmer says he’s not going to move the Clippers up to Seattle:

“€œI love basketball. And I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that the Clippers continue to win —€” and win big — in Los Angeles,”€ Ballmer said in a press release from Shelly Sterling’s firm early Friday morning. “€œLA is one of the world’€™s great cities — a city that embraces inclusiveness, in exactly the same way that the NBA and I embrace inclusiveness.”

Speaking with The Wall Street Journal earlier this month, Ballmer seemed to be of a similar mindset, saying that it would be “value destructive” for him to move the squad to Seattle. Then again, the Clippers are apparently worth $2 billion even with current owner on tape doing his best Marge Schott impersonation.

Yep… dated ourselves again there.

If Seattle basketball fans still want to hold out hope for a potential Clippers relocation, though, they can take solace in the fact that this is just the sort of thing franchise buyers say to placate fans ahead of a purchase. Typically, everybody involved in a franchise purchase with the possibility of a relocation says all the right things ahead of the buy. We can actually look to – funny enough – Seattle for evidence of prior art.

“I think it’s presumptuous to assume that Clay Bennett and his ownership group won’t own that Seattle team for a long, long time in Seattle or somewhere else. It’s presumptuous to assume they’re going to move that franchise to Oklahoma City,” Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said ahead of Bennett’s purchase of the Supersonics. “I understand that people are going to say that seems to be a likely scenario, but that’s just speculation.”

Soon after, Bennett’s group relocated the team to Oklahoma City.

So, you see, we can totally take Ballmer at his word that the Los Angeles Clippers will not become the Seattle Clippers. Up until we can’t, that is.

Lead image via Variety.