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

August 23, 2013 at 8:38 AM

Ballmer to retire, brace yourself NBA

Microsoft’s loss may be Seattle basketball fans’ gain.

Steve Ballmer’s going to need to do something in his retirement besides mow the lawn at his Hunts Point mansion. He’s also clearly been bitten by the pro sports bug, after nearly winning an NBA franchise for Seattle over the last year.

Steve Ballmer and NBA All-Star Brandon Roy at a Seattle charity event in July. Photo by Dean Rutz, Seattle Times staff photographer.

Hedge fund manager Chris Hansen was the face of the Seattle basketball campaign but Ballmer was clearly the lead investor and sure to be the most passionate member of the ownership group Hansen assembled.

Hansen’s “local boy who loved the Sonics” image has been tainted by revelations of his political skulduggery, to undermine Sacramento’s effort to hold onto its NBA team.

That opens the door for Ballmer to take a more prominent role in the campaign to bring a team to Seattle. Perhaps Ballmer will buy out Hansen’s stake and take over the effort after the transition is sorted out in Redmond.

Ballmer would be a force in the league. Not just because he’d be the wealthiest owner, but because of the rare combination of personal skills and analytical capabilities that have enabled him to steadily grow Microsoft sales and profits, if not its stock price and stature in consumer computing.

Perhaps Ballmer would also pursue an arena on the Eastside, closer to his home, rather than the complex and controversial commercial real estate venture anchored by an arena that Hansen is trying to assemble in Seattle’s industrial zone.

Who knows – maybe Ballmer could even take over Paul Allen’s sports franchises in Seattle and Portland if Allen decides to move on. Ballmer’s been spotted visiting Seahawks offices.

Of course that’s not why Ballmer suddenly announced today his plans to retire from Microsoft, his beloved adopted child and the place he has spent most of his life.

But having another gig lined up may have made it easier for Ballmer to accept and expedite his departure. He made it clear today that he’ll be doing something significant and he’s staying in the Seattle area.

“I always knew I’d want to have one more chapter of my life beyond Microsoft,” he told my colleague, Janet Tu.

It would also be nice to hear about Ballmer directing more his considerable energy and $16.8 billion in personal wealth toward philanthropy, following the path of Bill Gates. Ballmer’s already made major contributions to Overlake Medical Center and Harvard but he’s generally kept his charitable activity private. That may change as Ballmer and his aides work to shape his post-Microsoft legacy.

Ballmer’s hometown of Detroit could also use a little help from a math whiz and reorganization expert with time on his hands.

My guess, though, is that in the near term Seattle basketball fans will be the biggest beneficiaries of Ballmer 2.0.


Comments | Topics: Billionaire techies, Microsoft, NBA


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