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Finally, Steve Ballmer Can't Lose

Steve Ballmer is the biggest loser in America ... among tech multi-billionaires. (That's a pretty important caveat, but still.) At Microsoft, he managed -- metaphorically, of course -- to turn the 1960s Celtics into something closer to the Celtics of the 1990s, or maybe the Lakers of the 1980s into the 2014 Lakers. Whatever. Microsoft under Ballmer went from hero to, well, not zero, but certainly something less than hero.

He got violently out-Steved by his late counterpart at Apple. Among former Microsoft luminaries, Bill Gates is currently saving the world, and Paul Allen, more than 30 years gone from Redmond, is still savoring a Super Bowl triumph with his Seattle Seahawks -- and no doubt loving the fact that he left Microsoft at just the right time, before any of the really hard work had to be done. For Allen, it was all music projects and sports-franchise ownership, while everybody else who stayed behind was fighting through antitrust suits and the eventual and humiliating existence of the Zune.

Finances aside, Ballmer was kind of Microsoft's first high-profile loser. Oh, sure, other Microsoft executives got shuffled or booted or whatever, but Ballmer was the first Microsoft household name associated with something other than staggering success and fabulous wealth -- which is funny, of course, because he was successful by many (OK, some) measures and is certainly fabulously wealthy. But popular culture and history (and snarky bloggers) can be harsh judges, as can Photoshop and YouTube clips.  

Now, though, Steve Ballmer, like Parker Lewis (look it up on IMDB), can't lose. He is, as of this writing on Friday, May 30, 2014, buying the L.A. Clippers for way too much money, probably. But the money's not important. He has it. Does Steve Ballmer even like basketball? We have no idea. But that doesn't matter, either. It doesn't even matter that the Clippers, aside from a few recent seasons, have never been any good. In fact, that's better for Ballmer. Oh, and the guy Ballmer's buying the team from, Donald Sterling, is literally the most hated man in America, a guy who told his mistress that he didn't want black people coming to his basketball games ... or something like that. (Of course, because Sterling bought the Clippers for a pack of Juicy Fruit and some Little River Band records back in 1981 and now stands to clear a cool couple of bil, he probably doesn't care much about his public image.)

Everything's coming up Ballmer! Steve Ballmer might have taken one of the most dominant forces in the history of the American economy and turned it into an also-ran in its own industry, but he can't screw up this time. Or, more appropriately, he can, and nobody will care. What's the very worst that could happen? The Clippers could become irrelevant losers, the way they have been for most of the past few decades? High-profile players could defect to other teams? Happens all the time in sports. The fans could abandon the team for the sexy counterpart across town? The Clippers never had that many fans. (Or they had L.A. fans, whose loyalty blows in and out like the Santa Ana winds, anyway.) Well done, Steve. Seriously. This is no Zune. This is no Vista. This is no Surface. This is no Windows Phone. This ... this is a winner. Or, at least, it's not a loser.

One thing, though: We'd like to see Ballmer move the team back to Seattle, just so that he and Paul Allen can own sports franchises in the same city at the same time. And one more thing: Steve, or anybody else out there who's still reading, I've got a semi-pro soccer team you could invest in. We're looking for way less than $2 billion, although we'd consider any offer. This is totally inappropriate for this space, of course, but I'm not kidding.

Although I rarely get to write these newsletter entries anymore, I'd like to hear from you, the readers, on this one -- or on anything, really (including that soccer investment). E-mail me your thoughts and PayPal information to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on May 30, 2014


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