Legends Of Sport hosts Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer for its 100th episode. Steve shares his lifelong enthusiasm for sports, his vision for the future of the franchise, the philanthropic mission of the Ballmer Group and his thoughts about contemporary social justice issues.
In addition to being a sports fan, Ballmer is an innovative businessman who helped develop the .NET Framework for Microsoft. Ballmer served as President of Microsoft from July 1998 to February 2001 and, thanks to his and Bill Gates’ celebratory dance at the Windows 95 launch, also became a meme.
“I remember when we launched Windows 95, which was really the version of Windows that put the PC on the map. I remember running around visiting computer stores, watching the customers buying it. That was exciting for me. In all the time you’re in business, you’ll get a few of these, but they’re celebrations,” Ballmer said. “When you go to a basketball game, you never know the outcome when you get there. It’s a different deal…in sports, every 24 seconds, every 48 minutes, you know where you stand and you can’t fool yourself. You can do better going forward. But there’s no kind of erasing what has already happened.”
Ballmer purchased the Clippers for $2 billion in 2014. When he came on board the Clippers franchise was in chaos and plagued by racism after comments made by the then-owner Donald Sterling.
“Obviously, my predecessor was a bad guy; it was so blatant. It was so clear that you can learn, hey, I don’t want to be like that guy. I never want to behave like that guy, I don’t want to create an environment like that guy. I don’t want our players or our staff or coaches or anyone else to ever fear that kind of environment again,” Ballmer said. “And so the question for now is, how do I, as a white person in America, help me make a difference, and yet not get carried away in a way that’s either false or in a way that pretends that everything can be solved overnight.”
“You talk about the power of listening, especially in this situation, that especially as a white person, just listen and understand and get as much knowledge as possible,” Andy said. “I find myself in that same situation. I’ve been working around black athletes my entire career and did I ever really, like understand or listen, and it’s unfortunate that the crisis is kind of causing that to happen but I’m sort of grateful that I’m evolving.”
In the 2020 season, the NBA has used its platform to promote social justice issues, shown support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and encouraged players to speak their minds about current events.
As part of the many changes Ballmer is making to the Clippers organization, Ballmer recounts working with NBA legend Jerry West, who has served as a consultant for the Clippers since 2017.
“Jerry is Jerry. He was one of the greatest basketball players in history. One of the greatest general managers in history, I would say is one of the greatest people in history. He’s got so much perspective. He’s the logo and I knew he knows a ton about basketball. But he’s a wise and well-read person in addition, which means a lot to me, in terms of our team,” Ballmer said. “Believe me, when we made our blockbuster trade for Paul George and signed Kawhi [Leonard] last summer, it was great to have Jerry’s perspective on that.”
Ballmer has a vision for elevating the Clippers beyond the borders of Los Angeles. He looks forward to the Clippers’ new arena, the Inglewood Basketball & Entertainment Center (IBEC). Construction will begin on the IBEC in 2021 and it will become the new home of the LA Clippers for the 2024-25 season.
“I want the Clippers to be recognized as an absolute first class sports franchise, certainly in Los Angeles, but hopefully more broadly throughout the world. I think there’s a few important elements. One, we’re in this weird place called Los Angeles. Weird in the sense it has two teams,” Ballmer said. “We have to stand for something and we’ve got to mean it. It’s got to reflect in our culture, it’s got to reflect in the kind of guys we get on our teams. We’ll be a little grittier, a little scrappier, we have to have an image that our fans can relate to, we need to have our own fan base in L.A., that sense of personality is very important.”
In addition to his basketball-related ambitions, Ballmer and his wife Connie, are focused on giving back through the Ballmer Group. Founded in 2015, the Ballmer Group is dedicated to civic engagement and economic mobility in California, Washington State, Detroit and across the U.S.
“We’re more focused on this notion that everybody deserves a chance to achieve what they want to achieve to improve their situation economically from that in which they were born, that sense of opportunity for all families and ability to move up economically,” Ballmer said. “That’s where we decided we would revert our attention. You could say that is very broad, or you could say it’s very narrow…we’ve been blessed with a lot of resources and are able to take that lateral view.”
Listen to the full Legends Of Sport podcast here. Watch the video of the podcast on the @legendsofsport YouTube channel.