Ballmer Introduced at Clippers' Fan Festival
By Khalil Garriott
LOS ANGELES—Fans rose to their feet as Doc Rivers started an introductory chant. Several Los Angeles Clippers followed suit, clapping as they awaited the arrival of their team’s new owner. Music pulsated from Staples Center, and the man in charge of a new era for the Clippers was set to make his debut public appearance.
Before entering stage right, Steve Ballmer navigated through the jubilant crowd, high-fiving, fist-pumping and yelling “Let’s go!” while wearing his Clippers hat. “I can’t hear you!” he exclaimed to fans. “Do we have any Clippers fans here?”
After taking the mic, he made it clear: “I couldn’t be more honored, excited or fired up to be here,” Ballmer said at the top of his lungs. By the end, he had fans in an “I love Larry” chant, after the Larry O’Brien Trophy (given to the NBA champions). As indicated by his primal yells and sweat on his face, Ballmer personifies passion.
It was quite the introduction. For a fan base eager to move forward, Steve Ballmer made a strong statement.
“We got deep last year. We’ll go deeper this year,” Ballmer said at the Clippers fan festival. Monday marked the beginning of a new day for a franchise not looking back.
Blake Griffin told fans, “Sometimes you have to go through a little adversity to come out stronger. We can’t wait to start our next journey with you.”
The new ownership’s metrics for success revolve around championships being the goal.
“My expectations are that we go to higher heights than last year,” Ballmer said in a news conference after the fan event. “You have to work hard to win … but you have to have a strategy. I’ll boldly say that the Clippers will win many, many, many more Larrys (Larry O’Briens) in the next 26 (years) than in the last 26.”
With Ballmer now at the helm, good things are on the Clippers’ horizon. He will demand excellence of the entire organization, which aligns with Rivers’ vision as head coach. Rivers, who deflected praise for being the guiding light during a scandal that made national headlines, instead credited staff members for helping the organization stay afloat.
“I was the voice of a lot of people, but I was really just the voice of watching other people’s actions,” said Rivers, who thanked his players for persevering when they could’ve given up last season. “To the fans, you’ve been loyal, following this team through the good and through the bad.”
The Future Is Now
Ballmer, who said Monday that the Clippers won’t leave L.A. under his watch, brings certain traits to his team right off the bat. The former Microsoft CEO said the Clippers will be bold, optimistic, hard core and tenacious. Hard core (a Ballmer buzzword) as defined by him: a combination of passion, tenacity and dedication to improve.
“People give up on things too easily (in life),” he said.
What changes can fans expect this season? Ballmer believes it’s important to build new traditions and wants an unparalleled fan experience. He believes in transparency, even announcing his email address to the crowd. Beyond that, he wants the Clippers “to be a team that gets better every day and is successful.” His business background taught him the importance of supporting key people like players, fans, staff and the L.A. community.
The Seattle native, who will sit courtside to be near the action, called the Clippers “the hottest brand in basketball right now.” His tech expertise likely signals new ways for the team to use technology. “It’s an area where I’d like to use a little bit of my own ingenuity and creativity,” he said.
‘It Truly Is a New Day’
In addition to Griffin, seven other players joined Rivers and Ballmer on stage: Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Matt Barnes, Jordan Farmar, Jared Dudley, Reggie Bullock and C.J. Wilcox.
Jordan thanked fans for sticking with them throughout last season, while Paul called Rivers “the best leader in sports.”
“One of the biggest groups we want to thank is the organization, the employees and the staff,” Paul said. “We’re blessed and fortunate enough to have an amazing coaching staff. I think this shows that it truly is a new day.”
Rivers and Ballmer had a strong rapport on stage and while talking to the media. The coach, who joked that his new boss “just happened to have $2 billion in his pocket,” has his eyes on a bigger prize after a playoff run ending in the Western Conference semifinals. Rivers said 2013-’14 was a good year—but “we want great.”
Rivers said, “My sense is he’s excited about making the team a winner. From a coaching standpoint, that’s pretty nice. With Steve’s leadership, we have this opportunity to be a great organization.”
Ballmer, despite being cut from his freshman team in high school, never lost his passion for basketball. He was “a heck of a good statistician” for his college team and claims to be a solid free-throw shooter. “I think basketball is the most exciting sport on the planet,” he said.
Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti might have put it best during his remarks: “Today, we are one city united by the Los Angeles Clippers. Welcome to the city of champions, Steve, and Clippers fans, welcome to the future. To every other team out there … the Clippers are on the move.”