New Clippers owner Steve Ballmer prizes team tested by adversity


After Steve Ballmer plunked down $2 billion for the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers, fans might expect the former Microsoft chief executive to be hitting the reset button on a team that has been through a nasty public fight over racism.

Don't bet on it. That experience, Ballmer knows, makes his team unique, and it will be part of the story he tells to earn one thing that was not guaranteed by the record price tag: a fan base that will sustain the team for years to come.

“I think people understand we are a different kind of team,” Ballmer told Reuters on Wednesday, sitting on the Clippers practice court.

“We are born in a funny way, and the guys have all had to live through something not only on the court but off the court together that requires a deeper kind of commitment.”

What they endured was former owner Donald Sterling's published racist comments and his refusal to sell the team after being banned for life by the NBA. With Ballmer securing the team through a deal with Sterling's estranged wife, the Clippers now open their next season on Oct. 30.

Ballmer says he is pleased with the basketball side of his new venture, his first after 34 years working at Microsoft Corp , from the very beginning with friend and co-founder Bill Gates. He has signed Coach Doc Rivers for another five years, and has star players Chris Paul and Blake Griffin anchoring one of the league's strongest teams.

But the man who helped sell personal computing to the masses knows he has to sell a team that has long been overlooked and overshadowed by its more famous L.A. rival, the Lakers.

Ballmer, 58, is a renowned salesman, carrying intense kinetic energy in his hulking frame as he strides across the court. He relentlessly talks about “the fan experience” and says he's not competing against the Lakers, but against the 29 other NBA teams.

“Engaged fans actually help the team, team gets better, fan experience gets better, fans get more enthusiastic,” he said. “It's like voom, a perpetual motion machine.”

DITCH THE IPADS

Ballmer promises that whether the fan comes to the arena, or cheers from the couch, or follows on a smartphone or tablet “you are going to have the best experience and that is not just the best in L.A.”

The mobile experience is something Ballmer knows intimately and he acknowledges that under his leadership at Microsoft it was something he did not get right. Competitors such as Apple Inc and Google Inc seized the mobile revolution and put pressure on Ballmer to innovate. He stepped down as CEO in February after 14 years.

“And do I wish a higher percentage of today's mobile devices were ours and we had birthed that category?,” he mused. “Yes, of course I do.”

Ballmer left the board of Microsoft last month but is still the largest individual shareholder, with about 4 percent of the company worth $15.7 billion.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Clippers will be a Microsoft organization. The son of a Ford Motor Co manager, he's always been a company and product loyalist, banning his own family from using Apple's iPhones.

“Most of the Clippers are on Windows, some of the players and coaches are not,” Ballmer said.

“And Doc kind of knows that's a project. It's one of the first things he said to me: 'We are probably going to get rid of these iPads, aren't we?' And I said, 'Yeah, we probably are.' But I promised we would do it during the off season.”

Editing by Ken Wills

NBA moves on Clippers sale, Sterling sues for $1 billion


The National Basketball Association said on Friday that it has reached an agreement with the estranged wife of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell the team, opening a new chapter for the franchise after 33 years under Sterling.

Sterling, 80, was banned for life by the NBA for racist remarks in a private conversation that were recorded secretly and leaked to the media while the Clippers were playing in the NBA playoffs. The news brought shame on the league, sponsors cut ties with the team and players considered a boycott.

Also on Friday, Sterling sued the NBA and league Commissioner Adam Silver in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles for at least $1 billion.

As a result of the settlement, the league canceled its Tuesday hearing to terminate Sterling's ownership, avoiding a vote by NBA owners to consider removing one of their own.

In his lawsuit, Sterling says he was unaware he was being recorded and was caught in a jealous quarrel with a “lover.” He alleges Silver and the NBA forced him to sell the Clippers using a recording illegal under California law as evidence.

Sterling also says in the suit the NBA did not respond to his query on Friday if the hearing had been canceled following the sale of the Clippers.

NBA executive vice president and general counsel Rick Buchanan called Sterling's lawsuit baseless and said Sterling did not have any recourse since his wife had sold the team.

“There was no 'forced sale' of his team by the NBA – which means his antitrust and conversion claims are completely invalid,” Buchanan said in a statement.

Sterling's attorney, Maxwell Blecher, said he had no comment on the NBA's move to tentatively approve the $2 billion sale of the Clippers by Shelly Sterling to former Microsoft Corp chief executive officer Steve Ballmer.

“I have big dreams for the team. I'd love to win a championship. I'd love the Clippers to be the most dynamic, vibrant team and name in professional sports, but I've got a lot to learn,” Ballmer said in an interview published by The Los Angeles Times on Friday.

NBA owners still must approve the sale, but the vote is believed to be a formality because Ballmer was vetted by the NBA last year as a suitor for the Sacramento Kings.

As part of the deal between Shelly Sterling, the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers, and the NBA, she agreed not to sue the league.

Donald Sterling has listed the Sterling Family Trust as a plaintiff in his suit against the NBA which alleges breach of contract and antitrust violations among other damages.

A source with knowledge of the situation told Reuters that Shelly Sterling is now sole trustee of the family trust that controls the Clippers after physicians this month deemed that her husband has Alzheimer's disease.

Blecher did not respond to phone calls or emails seeking comment on Donald Sterling's health. But in a statement to CNN, he said Sterling was had a “modest mental impairment” diagnosis.

In addition to damages, Sterling has asked the court to re-install his top lieutenant Andy Roesler as Clippers CEO and eliminate his $2.5 million fine. Roesler has been placed on indefinite leave and replaced by the NBA with former Time Warner chairman Richard Parsons on an interim basis.

Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner, Editing by Mary Milliken, Bernadette Baum, Jonathan Oatis, David Gregorio and Matt Driskill

Cartoon: Yom Clippur


Sterling: Upholding the Los Angeles cultural status quo


Late in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction, Marsellus Wallace—a criminal boss played by Ving Rhames—banishes prizefighter Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) from Southern California. “You lost all your L.A. privileges,” Rhames says with lethal menace, and Willis quickly leaves the Southland on his motorcycle.

If only it were that easy to kick Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling out of L.A. But, alas, Tarantino’s film is pure fantasy. There is simply no person, institution, or network in today’s Los Angeles with the clout to force powerful Angelenos to repent their sins—much less drive them out of town.

The racism heard on the leaked tape may have been news around the country, but Sterling’s discrimination against renters in his apartment buildings, and his anti-black, anti-Mexican, and misogynist views, were well-known facts of Los Angeles life for 30 years. Over those decades, no one in L.A.  sought to dislodge Sterling from his role as owner of a major sports franchise. And now, with his bigotry a national news event, Sterling has become an outrageous example of the inability of L.A. to police itself, and its elite.

Even after the public release of an audio tape of Sterling demanding his girlfriend stop associating with black people, no Southern Californian was able to pull a Marsellus Wallace and kick him out of L.A. The consequences he has faced so far – and will face in the future – are all coming from the outside: from the commissioner of the National Basketball Association (who suspended him for life on Tuesday), from Sterling’s fellow team owners (who could force him to sell), and from corporations that sponsor pro basketball (and have disassociated themselves from the Clippers).

Thank goodness for those punishments, because who here would have had the juice to force him to sell the team? Prominent business leaders? L.A.’s rich corporate types are more engaged nationally and globally than locally, and they don’t have the public profile, or leverage, to threaten Sterling or his team. City political leaders? L.A.’s charter keeps mayors and city council members from having too much power. Ironically, the mayor of Sacramento, former pro basketball star Kevin Johnson, has had more of a role than L.A.’s own mayor since Johnson was retained by the players’ union for advice on dealing with Sterling. The town’s newspapers or TV stations? They’re mostly shrinking in ambition and staff.  

In L.A., accountability almost always requires outside intervention. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca had mismanaged the jail for years, but only resigned earlier this year after the federal government began investigating. When Dodgers owner Frank McCourt was sabotaging the team, it took the commissioner of baseball, in Milwaukee, to force the team’s sale. In the past generation, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s special education program, and the Los Angeles Police Department all have required forms of federal receivership.

Outside intervention, of course, is no panacea. But the alternative is unchecked defiance, the best current example being Brian D’Arcy, head of the biggest union of L.A. Department of Water and Power (DWP) employees. For months, he has refused demands from city leaders, the courts, and the media that he turn over financial documents on two nonprofits that received $40 million from ratepayers. Even as he stonewalled, D’Arcy served on the Los Angeles 2020 Commission, a group of distinguished L.A. citizens, as they issued a report complaining about a lack of accountability in city government. Did I mention that defiance is a close cousin of shamelessness?

In Sterling’s case, it’s unclear whether other powerful Angelenos would have moved against him—even if they could have. For one thing, he’s got the kind of hallowed, homegrown personal narrative—poor kid from the Eastside (Boyle Heights) who becomes a Westside titan (real estate) —that buys plenty of second chances here. And Sterling bought social status by becoming a major player in the phony, philanthropic Beverly Hills hotel chicken dinners that always make rich people look charitable and sometimes raise money for a good cause.

By handing out money to many different people and organizations across all lines of geography, cause, and ethnicity, Sterling incentivized much of Los Angeles to ignore his racism. Among those who looked the other way for years was the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP, which was about to give him a second lifetime achievement award when the recent news broke. It didn’t hurt Sterling that he advertised his charitable exploits in the L.A. Times, a paper that has portrayed him more as creepy uncle than as unrepentant racist.

This particular moment has exposed the underbelly of Southern California’s open culture. Weak institutions and weak leadership free people here to do as they please and be who they are. But when someone powerful does real damage to Los Angeles and its reputation, there’s no one able and willing to protect us.

Sterling’s conversation with his girlfriend—who, as a 30-year-old multiracial gold digger, was the perfect companion for the wealthy 80-year-old Los Angeles racist—was offensive and nonsensical.  But Sterling did say one thing that hit close to home. When his girlfriend asked why he wouldn’t stand against racism in the world, Sterling said on the tape: “We don’t evaluate what’s right and wrong. We live in a society. We live in a culture. We have to live within that culture.”

For all the criticism of Sterling that you hear from Angelenos now, he is decidedly the product of Los Angeles culture. He thrived here. Now, he defines us.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zocalo Public Square.

 

Calendar November 30-December 6


SUN | DEC 1

CLIPPERS JEWISH HERITAGE DAY 

A Chanukah miracle couldn’t hurt as the Clippers face off against the top-ranked Indiana Pacers. Stephen S. Wise Temple’s Cantor Nathan Lam opens the game with the singing of the national anthem. There will also be a menorah lighting, a Q-and-A session with rabbis and a special halftime performance by the Body Poets. Add in kosher food and a free T-shirt, and this Chanukah celebration is bound to be a slam-dunk. Sun. 10:30 a.m. (pre-game warm-ups), 12:30 p.m. (game time).  $20-$62. Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., downtown. (213) 742-7503. ” target=”_blank”>chabadofthevalley.com


MON | DEC 2

“LISTENING TO THE OTHER”

Monday marks the beginning of a weeklong look at Middle East musical dialogues. There will be public performances, master classes, panel discussions and, of course, music. Some of the significant names sprinkled throughout the week are: Thaer Bader, Mohammed Fairouz, David Krakauer, David Lefkowitz and Betty Olivero. All have made a contribution to the unique conversation of Arab-Israeli fusion. Mon. Various times. Through Dec. 8. $30-$60 (general), $15 (UCLA Students). Various locations in UCLA area. (818) 716-6211. TUE | DEC 3

“A PATCHWORK OF CULTURES: THE SEPHARDIC-LATINO CONNECTION”

Shalom and ¡Hola! The L.A. Jewish Symphony Educational Outreach Program is hosting a concert that explores the music and historical cultures of our Spanish ancestors. Led by Cantor Marcelo Gindlin, there will be song, dance and a celebration of Sephardic and Latino music pieces. Student-created artwork will also be exhibited to contribute to an already creative atmosphere. Reservations required. Tue. 11 a.m. Free. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 436-5260. ” target=”_blank”>tioh.org.

“BROTHERS AND STRANGERS II: ISRAELIS ARE FROM MARS, AMERICAN JEWS ARE FROM VENUS”

Like any pair of siblings, American Jews and Israelis don’t always have a seamless relationship. But unlike you and your brother or sister, it is crucial to the future of Judaism that we understand the tensions, connections and in-betweens of the two largest Jewish populations in the world. American Jewish University hosts a panel discussion that illuminates how we can strengthen a sometimes-weakening bond. Panelists include Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) Jewish social policy professor Steven M. Cohen, Middlebury College international studies professor Theodore Sasson, HUC-JIR contemporary Jewish studies professor Sarah Bunin Benor and Gil Ribak, director of the Institute on American Jewish-Israeli Relations. Tue. 7:30 p.m. $10. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 476-9777. THU | DEC 5

“LIGHT UP THE NIGHT”

East Side Jews is going global. Join your favorite irreverent collection of Jews as they shoo away the darkness with a dreidel tournament, drinks and nosh, and stories you wont want to miss from Justine Barron, Matthew Irving Epstein, Josh Feldman, Jessie Kahnweiler and Raimy Rosenduft. For those of you interested in human rights, the evening will also feature Guatemalan human rights activist Claudia Samayoa. Thu. 7:30 p.m. $18. Pico Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles. ” target=”_blank”>themintla.com.


FRI | DEC 6

THE LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC IN THE SANCTUARY

The world-renowned orchestra is making a house call (sort of). Leaving its home base downtown, the L.A. Phil is migrating West. Playing in the beautiful and newly remodeled sanctuary, the evening features a special performance of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak. So whether you are interested in Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 or you are simply sick of Disney Hall, it will be an intimate and unforgettable evening of music. Fri. 8 p.m. $50-$150. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Erika J. Glazer Family Campus, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 835-2198.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Dec. 8-14, 2012


SAT DEC 8

Dana Berger and Dan Toren

Singer-songwriter Berger is likened to an Israeli Joni Mitchell. Toren is an acclaimed songwriter behind some of Israel’s biggest pop hits. The two appear together for an acoustic performance at The Mint. Sat. 9:30 p.m. $45 (presale), $50 (door). The Mint, 6010 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (408) 318-7143. broshproductions.com.


SUN DEC 9 

Kugl Kukh-Off

Calling all kugel aficionados! Whether it’s sweet or savory, the kugel is the ultimate in Jewish-American culinary creativity when it comes to the holiday or family gathering. Today, bring your best kugel (or your favorite tasting fork) to Yiddishkayt’s third quadrennial Kugl Kukh-Off. Part of the Silverlake Independent JCC’s annual Festival of Lights, which features live entertainment and fun for the entire family. Kugel drop-off and registration starts at 11 a.m. and tasting begins at noon. Sun. noon-3 p.m. Kugl Kukh-Off: $2 (all the kugel you can eat and judge). Festival of Lights: free (adults), $15 (children). Silverlake Independent JCC, 1110 Bates Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 389-8880. yiddishkayt.org.

 

L.A. Clippers Jewish Heritage Day

Celebrate Chanukah with the Clippers as they square off against the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center. Pregame warm-ups include a menorah lighting and a Q-and-A with rabbis. The Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble performs at halftime. Your Chanukah gift from the Clippers: a free T-shirt. Sun. 10:30 a.m. (pre-game), 12:30 p.m. (game time). $20-$62. Staples Center, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 742-7503. lajewishchamber.com.

 

A Holiday Celebration of Jewish Stories

Veteran actors Robert Lesser, Richard Fancy, Orson Bean and others bring to life stories by Saul Bellow, Sholem Aleichem, Grace Paley and Bernard Malamud, tracing the modern history of the Jews through fiction. The program includes Bellow’s “A Wen,” Aleichem’s “She Must Marry a Doctor,” Paley’s “The Loudest Voice” and Malamud’s “The Jewbird.” Directed and compiled by Matt Gottlieb. Sun. 2 p.m.; Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m. $20. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. (310) 822-8392. pacificresidenttheatre.com.


MON DEC 10 

Wabash Saxons

Made up of former residents of Boyle Heights and Theodore Roosevelt High School alumni, this social club meets today for its 60th semi-annual luncheon. Former L.A. District Attorney Gil Garcetti appears as guest speaker. Mon. Noon. Free (lunch not included). Taix French Restaurant, 1911 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. RSVP to (310) 459-3620.


TUE DEC 11

Ronna & Beverly 

Ronna Glickman (Jessica Chaffin) and Beverly Ginsburg (Jamie Denbo) are America’s favorite 50-something Jewish mothers. Between them they have seven marriages, three children, some step-kids they never talk about and a best-selling book, “You’ll Do a Little Better Next Time: A Guide to Marriage and Re-marriage for Jewish Singles.” Tue. 8 p.m. $10. Upright Citizens Brigade, 5919 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 908-8702. losangeles.ucbtheatre.com.


THU DEC 13

Zubin Mehta 50th Anniversary Concert

Celebrating 50 years since he was named music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, world-renowned maestro Mehta conducts the L.A. Phil in a performance of Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni, Hindemith’s Symphony: Mathis der Maler and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director for life, Mehta has demonstrated solidarity with the Jewish state throughout his celebrated career. Through Dec. 16. Thu. 8 p.m. $54.50-$187. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown. (323) 850-2000. laphil.com.


FRI DEC 14

Harry Shearer and Judith Owen

Actor-satirist Shearer (KCRW’s “Le Show,” “The Simpsons”) and his singer-songwriter wife, Owen, host “An Evening of Holiday Music and Mirth,” which began as an annual gathering for family and friends but soon grew too large to host at the couple’s home. Mixing traditional and nontraditional holiday music, the public performances have drawn such celebrity guests as Jane Lynch (“Glee”), Weird Al Yankovic and Shearer collaborator Christopher Guest. Who knows who will turn up this year? Fri. 8 p.m. $50. Largo at the Coronet, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 855-0350. largo-la.com.

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