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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

June 13, 2012 at 10:10 AM

In Ballmer, Seattle NBA team would get league’s richest owner

In the debate over a huge arena deal to lure the NBA back to Seattle, an open question has been whether project leader Chris Hansen has enough capital to back up his promises.

Hansen’s a hedge fund manager and early investor in Facebook but his wealth is a mystery.

But maybe that doesn’t matter so much, since Steve Ballmer is on Hansen’s team.

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The Microsoft chief executive doesn’t flaunt it, but he’s one of the richest men in the world – so rich that if the Seattle NBA team becomes a reality, Ballmer will be the league’s richest owner.

That’s based on the Forbes ranking of the world’s billionaires, which ranks Ballmer 44th (and 19th in the U.S.), with a fortune of $15.7 billion. It ranks Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen – currently the richest NBA team owner – at 48th globally with $14.2 billion.

As a reader noted below, New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is also pretty well off. The Russian businessman is 58th on the Forbes list with a worth $13.2 billion.

For comparison, Oklahoma Thunder minority owner Aubrey McClendon is ranked 1,075 on the global Forbes list with $1.1 billion.

Microsoft stock has been tepid in recent years but Ballmer’s doing just fine with his largest investment. His stake in the software giant is worth about $10 billion at today’s price.

Actually $9.79 billion, based on the 333,252,990 shares he held as of the company’s last proxy statement in October. He holds just under 4 percent of Microsoft’s stock. Bill Gates has just over 6 percent.

Hansen and his other disclosed partners, two Nordstroms, aren’t on the Forbes top 400 list. Erik Nordstrom’s stake the Nordstrom company is worth $118.6 million at the latest price today and Peter Nordstrom’s is worth $117.4 million. That’s based on their holdings as of March 30.

These partners clearly establish local ownership of the potential NBA team. Yet how much financial security these people are offering the taxpayers of Seattle and King County in the arena deal remains to be seen.

Ballmer and the Nordstroms aren’t going to pledge their fortunes to back up the $200 million in public loans the NBA venture is pursuing.

For a lesson in how billionaire team owners protect their personal wealth from the ups and downs of the sports business, review how Paul Allen was largely unscathed by the complicated bankruptcy of the Rose Garden arena he developed for his Trail Blazers in partnership with the city of Portland.

The arena financing model failed in part because proceeds of luxury suites didn’t pan out as expected. Allen gave up ownership of the arena in 2004 and then bought it back in 2007.

In Seattle, Hansen’s group envisions an NBA and NHL arena in a complex similar to L.A. Live, a cluster of restaurants, bars and hotels adjacent to Staples Center.

Here’s a look toward L.A. Live last week at 4 p.m. before a Kings playoff game:

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Comments | Topics: Billionaire techies, chris hansen, Microsoft

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