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Steve Ballmer: ‘We’re not moving the Clippers’ to Seattle

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was part of Chris Hansen's Seattle Arena group before purchasing the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

When billionaire Steve Ballmer left the Seattle Arena investment group to purchase the Los Angeles Clippers, the chances of the NBA’s return to Seattle took a hit. Now almost two years later, with the debate over city’s arena future at its precipice, the former Microsoft CEO told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross that he has no interest in moving the Clippers to Seattle.

RELATED: Chris Hansen says KeyArena bids should be nitpicked

“No… Zero. Zero (chance),” Ballmer said. “I don’t know — I don’t think the Lakers are moving, and we’re not moving the Clippers. LA is a great market. We paid a price that requires a great market to be in. The league doesn’t like teams moving. I’ve commented certainly publicly, we’re looking for options to build an arena in LA for the Clippers when our lease ends in 2024. I’m not looking at Seattle.”

There are three main players in the current push for a return of the SuperSonics and/or an NHL franchise. The Oak View Group backed by sports executive Tim Leiweke and Bob Newman’s Anschutz Entertainment Group both proposed $500 million-plus renovations of the Sonics’ former home, KeyArena. KIRO Radio’s Mike Lewis reported Monday that Mayor Ed Murray’s staff is leaning toward OVG’s proposal because it does not require public money or subsidies, and has a rumored inside track to an NHL franchise.

The other option comes from hedge fund manager Chris Hansen, who’s Seattle Arena Group has sought for years to build a new arena in the existing stadium district.

Ballmer was once the biggest name in Hansen’s investment group, which attempted to bring the Sacramento Kings to Seattle when the team struggled with arena support. The City of Sacramento ultimately approved public financing a portion of the Golden 1 Center. And when the league booted ex-Clippers co-owner Donald Sterling for making racist comments, Ballmer purchased the franchise for a record $2 billion.

Despite his avid fandom (and dance moves) in LA, there has been specter of speculation that Ballmer could move the team to the Pacific Northwest. When asked if he would have any interest in joining a Seattle investment group, Ballmer exclaimed: “No, you can’t own part of two teams. That makes no sense, so I’m out.”

However, Ballmer inferred where his arena preference lies.

“Full disclosure, I still am part-owner in the land near SoDo,” he said. “But it’s well-known how to get sports fans in and out of that area.”

Future of NBA in Seattle

Although he won’t be leading the NBA’s return to Seattle, Ballmer said he was optimistic about that possibility.

“I’m sure it will happen sometime and I can’t predict when it would happen,” he said. “Seattle’s a great market, people around the NBA know that but there are no plans for expansion.”

When asked whether Seattle has the “political talent” to bring a team to town, Ballmer stated: “Part of the reason we lost our team was the lack of political support. I’m not sure whether political support is the key thing to bring a team back here.” In the absence of NBA expansion, Balmer noted that the city still needs the following:

  1. A franchise owner to bring a team to Seattle.
  2. A franchise owner must be at the end of his current lease.
  3. “They have to try to get their new arena situation fixed in the city in which they’re based, because the league doesn’t want teams to move hither and yon, particularly after the Sonics (moved).”

Ballmer added: “And, oh, by the way, then you’d better own some land if you need to build an arena or remodel Key, whatever the solution is. And, oh, by the way, the people who permit these things have to … this traffic situation when people debate these two arena locations, it’s pretty crowded there in South Lake Union.”

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