Be afraid, Golden State Warriors enthusiasts. Be very afraid.
I offer this advice after viewing a video clip of Steve Ballmer, the man who soon expects to fork over $2 billion and buy the Los Angeles Clippers. Perhaps you've seen the YouTube clip, too. It shows Ballmer being introduced to a Microsoft corporate function in his former job as CEO of the company.
Ballmer then bounds onto the stage, screaming and stomping, hopping up and down, hollering himself into a flop sweat. He eventually stops at the podium to whoop out how much he "loves this company!"
Watching the action unfold, I wondered: "If this is how the guy behaves when discussing quarterly profits, how will he act when the Clippers go into overtime against the Spurs? Or if he wins the NBA championship?"
And then I answered my own question: "I think we know. And I think it isn't a good thought."
I had dialed up the Ballmer video as research. I was attempting to determine how much our spunky little local Warriors franchise should be worried if, as expected, the Clippers' sale goes through to the big pale whale, Ballmer.
My conclusion is that the Warriors and all other NBA teams might not fully understand what they're facing -- sort of how, in the new "Godzilla" movie, the U.S. Army thinks it has a handle on what's coming to visit San Francisco but really has no clue. And we all know how well that turned out. (If you didn't see the film: Not happily.)
The most flamboyant current NBA owner, Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks, has specialized in sideline emotional displays and in lavishing attention on his players. It's paid off in one Mavericks championship. So. Is Ballmer going to be Cuban in a Godzilla suit?
We'll find out next season. Ballmer should join the NBA owners' club later this week. The only glitch might occur if lawyers for the current Clippers owner, serial racial insulter Donald Sterling, manage to hold up the transaction for a while with legal maneuvering. Otherwise, the transaction is a done deal.
That purchase price of $2 billion is indeed preposterous. It's roughly four times the highest previous amount paid for an NBA franchise, the $550 million for the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this spring. Ballmer won't have to blink. Forbes magazine has him listed as the 34th wealthiest human being in the world, with a net worth of $20.5 billion.
For reference, this puts Ballmer way behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffett but way ahead of Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen, who with a net worth of $16.1 billion is believed to be the current richest owner in North American professional sports. Allen also owns the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA. Portland and the Clippers, of course, both finished ahead of the Warriors in the Western Conference standings this season.
So, if you're the Warriors, doesn't all this get your attention? Wealth does not automatically equate to championships. But wealth makes those championships less financially thorny to pursue. The NBA has a salary cap. But extra money makes it easier to outbid competitors for the best coaches and staff. Extra money makes it easier to lock up talent with loophole "designated player" exceptions. Extra money makes it easier to create a plush team atmosphere that will appeal to free agents.
The Warriors' principal owners, Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, are not riding motor scooters to work. They have dough. But it ain't Ballmer dough, as they say in the billionaire layup line.
The line between success and failure in the NBA, especially in the tough Western Conference, is a fragile one. And given the planned Clippers takeover by Ballmer, the Western Conference ownership competition certainly hasn't grown any weaker.
As long as Sterling owned the team, the Clippers' run of recent success had the feel of a temporary trip to a roadside carnival, one that wouldn't last because you just knew that the team's incompetent leadership would eventually make a faceplant decision. But with Ballmer, the Clippers could develop a consistent winning groove. Ballmer isn't spending all that money to buy L.A.'s second most popular basketball team to put an inferior product on the court and remain subservient to the Lakers.
Hey, just look at the man's background. It shouts: "Fanboy With A Big Wallet." Ballmer was a football manager as a Harvard undergraduate. He then earned his MBA at Stanford, where he surely rubbed shoulders with some of the Sand Hill Road guys who are also Warriors investors. And of course, there is Ballmer's rivalry with Allen, another former Microsoft hotshot. The Western Conference is going to be a billionaires' playground argument settled with power forwards.
The good news: For all Ballmer's smarts, his judgment is hardly infallible. The Los Angeles Times, in a quickie profile piece last week, dug up a quote from 2007 when Ballmer was still Microsoft CEO and Apple introduced the iPhone.
"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share," Ballmer told an interviewer. "No chance."
So, yeah, he turned out to be wrong about that. The Warriors better hope he makes a few other bad assessments over the next decade. Otherwise, get ready for that Godzilla suit.
There's little doubt new Clippers owner Steve Ballmer will make himself heard in the NBA arena.