LOS ANGELES -- The NBA and its fans should welcome with open arms Steve Ballmer’s reportedly $2 billion agreement with the Sterling family trust to purchase the Los Angeles Clippers.
But not because Ballmer has pledged to keep the team in Los Angeles. The league should embrace the Ballmer bid because of what is surely his preference to relocate the Clippers to Seattle.
Yes, Ballmer told The Wall Street Journal earlier this month that if he succeeded in purchasing the Clippers he would not seek to move the team to Seattle, where he has ties due to his long tenure as CEO of Microsoft.
Let’s dispense with that first: The man is a billionaire, a place you don’t ascend to without a healthy amount of moxie, guts, smarts and ruthlessness. Is it possible Ballmer really wants to keep the Clippers in Los Angeles – that the team’s incredible brand, prime location, string of sellouts, 10-year lease and universal goodwill after the Sterling ugliness would keep him committed to Southern California?
Sure it is.
It’s also possible that a man this bright – who surely understands that to bring a team to your hometown you must steal it from another city, just as Clay Bennett stole Seattle’s and brought it to Oklahoma City – has decided to use his money and play the long game.
That, too, is a staple of becoming a billionaire: the ability to play the long game and win it.
And that, too, is a fact of life for any location, from Anaheim to Kansas City to Vegas to Virginia to Seattle, that craves an NBA franchise of its own: It’s Ownership Darwinism, folks. Only the strong, the brutal, the brave, the lucky and those willing to win at the expense of others are going to survive.
None of this should be an issue. The fact is, Seattle had its team robbed from it, and on this I’m of two minds. I love that the Thunder are in Oklahoma City, a smaller, Midwestern market that has embraced Kevin Durant & Co. with great joy. But I also want to see Seattle get back what it deserves, and that ultimately means one team being taken from another city to make it so.
What do you prefer? Robbing Milwaukee of the Bucks, Memphis of the Grizzlies, New Orleans of Pelicans, or some other small market of one of its most cherished public institutions? I lived in Kansas City for a very long time, and to that town and those like it, a professional team is more than a billionaire’s toy. It’s part of the fabric of the community, something, as sports tend to be, that makes the place more than it otherwise might be.
Los Angeles has a team. The Lakers are one of the two most storied franchises in the NBA, along with the Celtics, and they are beloved here. There are DMV offices and other public institutions that are shrines to the purple and gold. It’s bizarre to move here and come to terms with it. This is a Lakers town, and they have a vast monopoly on the hearts and minds of this city’s NBA fans. That isn’t going to change for a long time, if ever.
Los Angeles doesn’t need another professional basketball team. Seattle does.
And if the Clippers did move – if Ballmer, when the time was right or, wisely, the league and its owners allowed it – the Clippers name could finally disappear into the past. Let it. Allow it to go. Banish it. Sterling owned the Clippers for more than two decades despite what was well known about him.
Why not let that name and its reminder of how long the league and the rest of us tolerated Sterling’s awfulness be put in history books and left behind?
I’m all for erasing every vestige of his tenure and time in the league, and that includes the team name. Especially if the upshot is a deserving city like Seattle gets a team from a market that won’t really suffer – and I’m talking fans here – when it leaves.
Surely the Lakers would embrace such a move, if quietly. Surely the Staples Center would be just fine minus one of its major tenants. And do we really doubt, now or later, that a billionaire like Ballmer who took the gloves off to try to buy the Sacramento Kings last year and move them north would love the idea of bringing a team back to Seattle?
Yes, let’s celebrate the Ballmer bid. Then let’s root for it to lead to the return of the Seattle SuperSonics.
Bill Reiter is a national columnist for FOXSports.com, a national radio host at Fox Sports Radio and regularly appears on FOX Sports 1. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.