Former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has agreed to pay $2 billion to buy the Los Angeles Clippers from Donald Sterling. As The Washington Post's Cindy Boren reports, the team isn't quite his yet -- the league still has to decide to strip Sterling of ownership, and Sterling and other NBA owners must sign off on the deal. Still, many are sifting through Ballmer's time at Microsoft for clues to what kind of owner he may be for the L.A. basketball team.
It's hard, of course, to make direct comparisons. Tech giants and NBA teams are entirely different animals. But while Ballmer was criticized repeatedly for not pushing Microsoft strongly enough to innovate, he did know how to make money. In fact, he cites making Microsoft money as the greatest success of his 14-year tenure as CEO. He did that by focusing on the big spenders -- companies who use Microsoft software -- and keeping them coming back for more, even if it meant foregoing a chance to chase hot tech trends.
With the Clippers, Ballmer can stick to that philosophy. For example, he can be fairly conservative with his talent spending to avoid the salary cap and instead leverage partnerships with companies to bring folks into Staples Center skyboxes to keep the franchise financially successful.
Not that he, personally, needs any more cash: Ballmer himself is worth an estimated $20 billion, according to Forbes.
While Ballmer has said that he isn't planning to move the Clippers to his NBA-starved hometown of Seattle, there are some things about the team that we could imagine him changing to feel more at home:
Every game will start with Ballmer pumping up the crowd. This is a no-brainer: It's hard not to get excited when Steve Ballmer is excited.
And, besides, the Ballmer performance will distract from the minutes-long load time that now starts whenever the team tries to boot up.
The playbook will receive regularly scheduled updates. In order to meet today's audience needs, the Clippers playbook will now feature regularly scheduled additions -- much like Windows Updates. The changes will sometimes alter long-beloved plays but will otherwise add new bells and whistles until the playbook is far too large to be physically contained and must be moved to the cloud.
Use stack ranking to manage players. While this controversial management practice actually has roots with Jack Welch at GE, Microsoft became infamous for its use of stack ranking -- a system in which managers are forced to rank groups of employees over a bell curve. The highest-ranking employees moved up the ladder or get raises, while the lowest are sometimes shown the door. The set-up meant that managers had to designate some employees as underperformers -- even if everyone on their team was performing pretty well. Former Microsoft employees say that encouraged an unhealthy amount of competition and general disorder on project teams.
While Microsoft did abandon the feature near the end of Ballmer's tenure, maybe he'll get nostalgic for the good ol' days on his new turf: Just imagine him telling the assistant coaches to rank players in small groups and trade away the lowest-ranking players. That wouldn't be good news for the average players who might get stuck in a ranking group with stars like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Bring in players past their prime. Under Ballmer's tenure, Microsoft had trouble keeping up with the competition on the innovation front, which led to some unorthodox and sometimes desperate-seeming tactics. Like getting into the tablet scene a few years too late, or buying Nokia long after the company was in its prime.
Translating this into team management would be sort of like trading for players who used to be really good, and are still decent, but past their prime. Sort of like the Washington Wizards getting Michael Jordan... from 2001 to 2003.
Rename the team "the Developers." Look, we all know exactly how passionate Ballmer is about developers, but here's the video in case you need a refresher course:
If he wants to keep the Clippers name but is on the lookout for a new mascot, this guy is still probably looking for work: