Ballin' like Ballmer: 9 other tech luminaries who could buy an NBA team
It seems that newly retired Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is trading in Clippy for the Los Angeles Clippers.
Ballmer is in line to buy the Los Angeles Clippers in a deal rumored to be worth around $2 billion. That sounds like a lot of money to spend on the second most popular professional basketball team to play at the Staples Center, but then again, Ballmer is the man who once touted the merits of the Zune over the iPod. The National Basketball Association still needs to OK the purchase, but considering that Ballmer would be paying more than four times the largest amount ever spent on buying an NBA team, it’s unlikely that anyone’s going to tell him that his money’s no good here.
Because the deal is pending, Ballmer hasn’t disclosed what his plans are as Clippers owner. Anyone who spends $2 billion on something is likely going to want to make some changes, which could even include changing the team’s name. I have a pretty good guess as to which nickname Ballmer would suggest.
If the idea of the Los Angeles Developers is too hard of a sell, at least there’s a ready-made logo should Ballmer opt to keep the Clippers moniker.
But the real question isn’t what Steve Ballmer plans to do as the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers; it’s whether any high-tech heavyweights will follow him into the glamorous world of professional basketball ownership. Let’s face it: The technology industry is rife with copycats, so it’s likely other Silicon Valley visionaries are reading about Ballmer’s spending spree and wondering, “Why not me?” Here’s a round-up of the tech movers and shakers who might be looking to add “team owner” to their already impressive resumes.
Microsoft’s Bill Gates: With Ballmer in line to buy the Clippers and Paul Allen already owning the Portland Trail Blazers, that leaves the world’s richest person as the odd man out among Microsoft co-founders who also own sports franchises. Surely, Gates could dip into the kitty and do what Steve Ballmer tried and failed to do—buy the Sacramento Kings and move them to Seattle. The team would need a new nickname, of course—give it up for your 2014 Seattle Surfaces. Think of the marketing opportunities, as the team’s announcers celebrate every successful shot from three-point range as “another Surface Pro 3!” Why, sales of Microsoft’s tablet would spike up by the dozens.
Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel: Sure, Spiegel may have reportedly turned down a $3 billion offer for his secret messaging company—that’s 1.5 Clippers!—but who’s to say he couldn’t round up the scratch to buy an NBA team? The Cleveland Cavaliers would seem to offer the relative anonymity that Snapchat prizes, especially in the post-LeBron James era. The one potential hitch in such a purchase: Spiegel’s insistence that all box scores be erased seconds after each game is over would likely cause record-keeping headaches for NBA statisticians.
Apple’s Tim Cook: Now that Apple’s started flashing some of its cash on hand with $3 billion impulse buys, dropping some coin on an NBA team seems perfectly within its newfound m.o. The CEO of the flashiest tech company should buy one of the NBA’s flashiest franchises—the Miami Heat—and rename it the Miami Beats by Dre for a little cross-branding magic. (Besides, Mark Cuban is unlikely to sell the Mavericks to the makers of OS X.) Get Jonny Ive to change that boring old flaming basketball logo into a set of distinctive-looking headphones and who cares about how many consecutive championships you win. Synergy is its own Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Samsung’s Oh-Hyun Kwon: As soon as Apple buys its NBA team, look for Samsung to follow suit. It will purchase the Orlando Magic, move the team to Miami, and change the uniforms to look a lot like the ones worn by Apple’s team, only much more plasticky.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg: Frankly, it’s shocking that the Facebook founder hasn’t bought a sports team yet, since fans filling the seats at stadiums and arenas aren’t so much individuals coming together as one to cheer on the home side as they are treasure troves of lucrative data. Buy the San Antonio Spurs, say, and you can turn the ticket-buying process into a harmless collection of interesting information about spectators’ likes and interests. It would all be kept private, of course, except for maybe a targeted ad here and there. “Boy, I sure could go for a refreshing beverage at the concession stand,” Tim Duncan could say on the arena’s Jumbotron during a break in the action. “The guy in Section 142, Row 5, Seat 8 knows what I’m talking about.”
The management team of MySpace: Buying an NBA team is likely outside of their budget. But I’m pretty sure they could cobble together the funds to sponsor a local parks-and-rec team. I mean, if they Kickstarted it or something.
Google’s Sergey Brin: If Steve Ballmer is going to spend $2 billion on the Clippers, then Google’s co-founder might as well one-up him by dropping even more money to acquire L.A.’s other team. Sure, the Los Angeles Lakers are down on their luck now, but that only makes it easier for Brin to impose some sweeping and badly needed changes: Turn over the head-coaching duties to Google Now. Make the Lakers’ team bus self-driving. Lure Laker great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out of retirement, but replace those iconic goggles of his with a more modern piece of eyewear.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: The founder of Amazon loves two things above all else—disrupting established businesses and drones. No NBA team is more established than the Boston Celtics. And no offense is harder to defend against than an airborne army mercilessly raining down basketballs from on high. Look for Bezos to snap up the Celtics, fire all the players, and replace them with a roster of flying drones. You can’t defend something hovering 20 feet above you, after all.
BlackBerry’s John Chen: He’s the CEO of a once-mighty company now slouching its way toward irrelevance and oblivion as he struggles to stop the rot.
So the New York Knicks seem like the perfect fit.