On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Clippers officially transferred ownership from Donald and Shelly Sterling (against the former's wishes, of course) to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Under normal circumstances, the sale would have won headlines for the record $2 billion purchase price. Instead, the focus is mostly on the fact that Sterling, finally an NBA pariah after years of mismanagement and bad behavior, has been removed from ownership following the racist comments that surfaced this April. Months of court cases and vague agreements are now over — the Clippers, at long last, have a new owner.
The mood of the day is understandably one of relief. Soon, however, Ballmer will have to distinguish himself for something other than his non-Sterlingness and set a new course and tone for the franchise. To that end, he and the franchise sent an email to fans on Tuesday announcing the beginning of a new era. Take a look at the full message below:
To the Clippers Family -
You may now have heard that this morning I officially became the owner of your Los Angeles Clippers. So as my first official communication, let me say thank you for continuing to support the Clipper organization. We are now looking forward to an exciting new season and I can't wait to experience the opening tip off with you.
Today marks the beginning of a new era in the life of our franchise. It also is the culmination of a dream that I have harbored for many years. To Coach Rivers, to our fantastic players, and most importantly to you, the dedicated fans that make this all possible, I pledge this: I will be hard core in my commitment to give the team the support it needs to be its best on and off the court. And I will do whatever is necessary to provide you, your family and friends with the best game-night experience in the NBA.
The Clippers franchise is a true public trust, and my goal is that the Clippers will play an ever-increasing role in the life of our community. We will achieve this goal the same way we will succeed on the court: By waking up every day and figuring out how we can be better - how we can do more - how we can ensure that the Clippers organization is not only winning on the court but also making a real difference in the community.
That is the challenge I set not only for myself but the entire Clippers organization.
Please join me for our Fan Festival, on Monday, August 18th at the STAPLES Center at 12:30 p.m. to celebrate what promises to be a bright future!
Steve A. Ballmer
In many ways, this message is a fairly standard reach-out to fans, even if announcing a Monday afternoon fan fest with six days notice could only have been dreamed up by a retired multibillionaire. The difference, of course, is that Ballmer's situation is pretty much unprecedented. On an obvious level, he must inspire faith in the franchise's management after a years of disreputable ownership and more recent controversy. Additionally, most new owners don't take over contending teams. It would make little sense for Ballmer to announce his commitment to building a winning team, because the Clippers already have that squad in place. Instead, he makes it clear that he will turn the Clippers into an organization worth supporting, not just the employer of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. In Ballmer's eyes, he will not have succeeded if the franchise does not represent the community in a respectable fashion.
The final verdict on that goal will come in several years, but there's already reason to suspect that achieving it will be difficult. As part of the sale agreement, the Clippers have afforded Mrs. Sterling a number of amenities and luxuries, including two courtside tickets for every home game, "owner emeritus" status and an official designation as "Clippers No. 1 Fan." Aside from the fact that the Sterling-owned Clippers tried to cut ties with the man who was actually their No. 1 fan, the fact is that keeping Mrs. Sterling close to the franchise does little to suggest that the team has turned an ethical corner. While the last few months have cast Shelly Sterling as an acceptable party if only because she was sane enough to want to sell the franchise, she has her own deplorable history of racial discrimination and has enough remaining ties to her husband to raise questions about the suitability of having her sit courtside for any game she chooses. It's nearly certain that Sterling would not have agreed to sell to Ballmer without these concessions, but it's a shame that she has kept any association with the franchise.
It's possible that Ballmer himself sees Sterling's involvement as a necessary evil and will create an environment so toxic to her presence that even this notoriously shameless family wouldn't dare show up. Yet the mere existence of this issue indicates just how much work Ballmer has to do to win the public trust. The Sterlings have done enough damage that merely replacing them won't be enough — Ballmer can't expect a hero's welcome just because he's the new guy. As his email says, there's a lot of work to do to make the Clippers a respectable part of the community. We must wait to find out if Ballmer will make the hard decisions required to make that happen.
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