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Ex-Microsoft CEO Ballmer buys Clippers for $2 billion

by Ronald Grover and Eric Kelsey, Reuters

May 29, 2014 | 4:26 pm

<em>Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer on Nov. 19, 2013. Photo by Jason Redmond/Reuters</em>

Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer on Nov. 19, 2013. Photo by Jason Redmond/Reuters

Former Microsoft Corp CEO Steve Ballmer has purchased the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers franchise for $2 billion, a record for a professional basketball team, sole trustee Shelly Sterling announced on Friday.

In a news release from Greenberg Glusker, Sterling's counsel, she said she had signed a binding contract to sell the team to Ballmer on behalf of the The Sterling Family Trust, which owns the club.

"I am delighted that we are selling the team to Steve, who will be a terrific owner. We have worked for 33 years to build the Clippers into a premiere NBA franchise. I am confident that Steve will take the team to new levels of success."

Ballmer, the son of a Jewish mother, was significantly involved in Microsoft's operations in Israel. According to the Jerusalem Post, he flew in to launch a new R&D center in Herzliya in 2008, declaring, "Microsoft is as much an Israeli company as an American company." (He was referring to the proportion of company employees per capita in each country.)

The agreement will need to be approved by the National Basketball Association's Board of Governors before it is finalized. The NBA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

"I will be honored to have my name submitted to the NBA Board of Governors for approval as the next owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. I love basketball," Ballmer said in a statement. "And I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that the Clippers continue to win - and win big - in Los Angeles."

On Thursday, Ballmer outbid two groups, one led by media mogul David Geffen that offered $1.6 billion and included TV talk show maven Oprah Winfrey and Oracle Corp CEO Larry Ellison, a source close to the process told Reuters. A group of Los Angeles investors also bid $1.2 billion for the team.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch acted as the financial advisor in the deal, Sterling's statement said.

The Clippers came up for sale after the NBA banned owner Donald Sterling for life because of racist remarks he made in a recorded conversation that was leaked last month to entertainment news website TMZ.com.

Donald Sterling's attorney, Maxwell Blecher, told The New York Times earlier that he would have to approve the sale. Blecher did not immediately respond to request for comment on Friday.

Ballmer's winning bid was raised from an initial $1.8 billion offer made earlier on Thursday, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. If approved, the deal would be second only to the $2.15 billion paid in 2012 for baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers.

"It's no wonder the prices are so high," said sports consultant Ed Desser, a former president of NBA Television and New Media Ventures. "There just aren't enough teams for all the billionaires who want them."

Sterling, a Los Angeles-area real estate developer, paid $12.5 million in 1981 for the Clippers, which were then located in San Diego.

Ballmer, 58, who retired as Microsoft CEO in February, remains on the board and still owns about 4 percent of the Redmond, Washington-based software giant, worth $13.4 billion.

Last year, he joined a group that unsuccessfully bid on the Sacramento Kings basketball team. A long-time basketball fan, until a few years ago he played a regular pickup game with other Microsoft colleagues at a public gym near the Microsoft campus.

It is unclear how the team's potential sale will affect a June 3 hearing the NBA scheduled at which Donald Sterling can address the accusations against him. At that meeting, the owners could force him to sell the team on a vote by 23 of the remaining 29 owners, the NBA has said.

Maxwell Blecher, Sterling's lawyer, said in an interview with CNN that his client is prepared to file suit to fight the charges, but that he intended to wait for communication from the NBA before deciding when and whether to do so.

Additional reporting by Bill Rigby in Seattle, writing by Curtis Skinner,; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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