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Former Microsoft Exec $2B Offer Wins Bid for L.A. Clippers

Steve Ballmer

Donald Sterling’s approval wasn’t needed as his wife completed the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer.

Shelly Sterling signed a binding contract for the sale of the Clippers to Ballmer, according to a PR Newswire statement today. She was acting under her authority as the sole trustee of The Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers.

The sale was agreed upon five days before a vote by National Basketball Association team owners on whether to force a franchise sale.

Ballmer, 58, outbid at least four other suitors. Each of the bids shattered the previous record sale price for an NBA team of $550 million paid in April for the Milwaukee Bucks.

“Ballmer made a tremendous, tremendous buy, he got a bargain,” former Sacramento Kings owner Joe Maloof said in a telephone interview. “There’s nothing like sports franchises in the big cities. Steve did the right thing, even if he overpaid in the short term. Long term, it’s a smart play.”

Music executive David Geffen said in an e-mail that his bidding group — which included fellow billionaires Larry Ellison and Oprah Winfrey, as well as executives from Guggenheim Partners, owners of baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers — had dropped out of the process.

The agreement with Ballmer could provide relief for a franchise and league that have undergone intense scrutiny since audio of Donald Sterling making racist remarks was released in April. Sponsors deserted the Clippers, and NBA players threatened to boycott.

39th-Richest Person

Ballmer, with a fortune of $18.9 billion, is the 39th- richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He stepped down as Microsoft CEO in February, having joined the company as employee No. 30 in 1980.

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Ballmer was part of a group that last year tried to buy the Kings for $650 million from the Maloof family and move the franchise to Seattle. NBA owners rejected the bid, accepting a $525 million offer from a group that included Tibco Software Inc. founder Vivek Ranadive and agreed to keep the team in Sacramento.

“If I get interested in the Clippers, it would be for Los Angeles,” Ballmer said in a May 15 interview with the Wall Street Journal. “I don’t work anymore, so I have more geographic flexibility than I did a year, year-and-a half ago. Moving them anywhere else would be value destructive.”

Pickup Games

Ballmer is an avid sports fan who served as team manager for the Harvard University football team while an undergraduate. For years, he played in a Wednesday morning pickup basketball game along with some other Microsoft managers at the health club where the company gave employees memberships.

Hall of Fame player Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the target of some of Donald Sterling’s racist remarks and at one point considered a candidate to bid for the Clippers, welcomed the sale.

“Steve Ballmer owning the Clippers is a big win for the City of LA and all the people who live in the City of Angels!” Johnson said in Twitter messages. “Steve Ballmer loves basketball, is smart businessman & he’ll probably shake every fans hand outside the arena on opening night!”

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