Since Steve Ballmer bought the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014, there’s no question that they’ve been the city’s better basketball team compared to the Lakers.
The Clippers have been among the top four teams in the Western Conference by wins/losses under Ballmer’s ownership while the Lakers have been among the bottom two. In reality, they’ve been the better team over the past five years, even before Ballmer bought them.
And yet, L.A. is still considered the Lakers’ town. The fan base for the Lakers runs deep. Its stars are legends: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and, of course, Kobe Bryant.
Business Insider recently met with Ballmer and asked him how he feels about this second-fiddle status in the town, even though he has the better team.
And his answer was surprisingly pragmatic.
“So look. I’ll say two things. No. 1, we’ve been kicking the Lakers’ a– the last several years. Let’s just face it. We don’t have the championships that the Lakers do. We don’t have any of that. But in the world of sports it’s, ‘What did you do this season?’ And all we can control is how we do this season, next game, next game, and I’m proud of what we’re doing.
“Ok, yeah, we didn’t have a championship 15 years ago but we’re doing well.
“But our ultimate goal isn’t to to beat one other team. It’s to beat 29 other teams. If you tell me you were the top team in LA, but the 28th team in the league, I say to heck with that.
“So in a sense, the best way to beat the Lakers is also to be the No. 1 team in the world and that’s what we’re aspiring to do.”
To be fair, the Lakers won their last championship seven years ago in 2010 (not 15 years ago) and, despite how crummy they’ve been of late, they are still among the top two most winning teams of all time. So their fans aren’t exactly crazy to be both loyal and proud.
We also tried to get Ballmer to give us a clue as to what the Clippers’ 2017-18 lineup will be, given that three of his top four stars are all free agents, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and JJ Redick. Despite great regular-season success together, they haven’t made it past the second round of the playoffs.
Ballmer, who spent his previous career as the CEO of Microsoft until he retired in 2014, deftly side-stepped our question on how the contract negotiations were going. But he did tell us, “We like our players. We like our team. We’re always trying to get better and we’ll do the things we can in the offseason to get better. Job No. 1 among that is to really be in the right position with our top guys.”
And as for who he’s rooting for in the Finals, he admits he’d rather see the Cleveland Cavaliers win over the Warriors, given that the Warriors are the biggest nemesis in the Clippers’ Pacific division. And, as the guy who led one of the biggest tech companies of Seattle, there’s always been a general rivalry with Silicon Valley on other levels, too. With the Warriors winning Game 1 over the Cavs, though, so far things are not going his way.