TIME Basketball

Who Is Steve Ballmer, the L.A. Clippers’ Likely New Owner?

Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer, right, reacts as Martell Webster, left, of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, checks the size of Ballmer's bicep, following a charity basketball game, Saturday, July 23, 2011, in Seattle. Ted S. Warren—AP

The man who looks set to take over from Donald Sterling previously led Microsoft and apparently has $2 billion to spare. What else?

Steve Ballmer left his position as CEO of Microsoft on Feb. 4 — and now he’s likely to take over the Clippers, after posting a winning $2 billion bid (the NBA still has to sign off on the deal, however). Here’s a look into who this 58-year-old retired but still powerful businessman is, and what his takeover could mean:

First, the deep background

Ballmer is a Detroit native of Swiss, Jewish and Iranian ancestry. He’s also a numbers whiz, scoring a perfect 800 on the SAT math section. His brains got him into Harvard, from which he graduated in 1977. Three years later, he quit business school to join Microsoft as its 30th employee and first business manager.

So he’s not an innovator, but in all other respects he was a killer CEO

During his 14-year tenure at the helm of Microsoft, Ballmer tripled the company’s net income. The fortune was built on Windows and Office products, but Ballmer also diversified the business, developing highly profitable new arms such as Xbox and the data-centers division. The criticism most often made of him is that he wasn’t open to innovation, allowing once marginal players, like Google and Apple, to overthrow Microsoft’s dominance and force the onetime market leader to play catch-up. That weakness is usually what’s cited in explaining why Ballmer left Microsoft as early as he did.

During that whole time, he nurtured a passion for basketball

Ballmer is a huge basketball fan and self-confessed basketball “gym rat.” While in college, he tracked stats for $12 a game. Ballmer has been trying to buy into the NBA for years. Most of his attempts have focused on keeping or bringing back a basketball team to his longtime home of Seattle, which lost the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in 2008. Last year, he led a group of investors in a bid on the Sacramento Kings, who would have been relocated to the Emerald City.

But he claims he won’t relocate the Clippers

That could be a smart attempt to woo the NBA’s board of directors, who eventually vetoed his Kings move. Ballmer also says there are personal and financial motives. “I don’t work anymore, so I have more geographic flexibility than I did a year, year-and-a half ago,” he told the Wall Street Journal, adding that moving the team to Seattle would also be “value destructive.”

He would become NBA’s wealthiest owner

If Ballmer’s bid on the Clippers is accepted, he will edge out Portland Trail Blazers’ Paul Allen as the richest owner in the NBA. Forbes values Ballmer at $20 billion, which would make him the 35th wealthiest person on the planet.

Basketball fans could be in for a ride

At Microsoft, Ballmer became known for, well, his enthusiasm. Are these scenes we can expect at NBA courts in the future?

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