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Culture

Steve Ballmer is a clueless NBA owner, says Bill Simmons

Technically Incorrect: The former ESPN star, now heading to HBO, believes the former Microsoft CEO is out of his depth as a sports owner.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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Clueless? Or still getting used to even more egos than at Microsoft? Bloomberg/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I remember when Silicon Valley venture capitalist Joe Lacob bought my Golden State Warriors.

In 2012, he traded away guard Monta Ellis and was summarily booed at a ceremony retiring former guard Chris Mullin's shirt. Lacob, it was said at the time, was a halfwit. He was just another tech guy with too much money who thinks he knows sports.

Three years later, the Warriors are -- as Americans like to have it -- world champions. Lacob's hires and his management skills are now regarded as having contributed enormously to that success.

I therefore want to put a consoling arm around former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Not for too long, you understand. He owns the Los Angeles Clippers and they're, you know, a dirty, scheming, arrogant bunch. (Disclosure above.)

I feel for Ballmer because he's just been besmirched by Clippers fan and well-known commentator Bill Simmons. The former ESPN employee, now with HBO, took to Twitter to express his views.

In a series of tweets offering all the (lack of) nuance sometimes expressed by his team, Simmons began kindly: "Steve Ballmer seems like a nice enough guy. Donald Sterling was one of the worst human being who ever owned a pro sports franchise." (Sterling is the former and little admired owner.)

Simmons continued: "With that said -- since last summer, the Ballmer Clips have been just as much of disaster behind the scenes as the Sterling Clips were."

Simmons is clearly blessed with inside information. However, outside information already tells one that the team's sudden pursuit of center DeAndre Jordan when he'd already agreed to join Mark Cuban's Dallas Mavericks had chaos at its core. (The NBA on Tuesday fined the Clippers for this debacle.)

It was rumored that Jordan and guard Chris Paul got along about as well as Donald Trump and Megyn Kelly. This can hardly have been all Ballmer's doing.

Still, Simmons insisted: "Ballmer has shown ZERO evidence that he knows what he's doing. And it's been the best kept secret in the NBA for 15-16 months."

Oddly, Ballmer's alleged cluelessness didn't show too strongly when the Clippers beat the much-fancied San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs.

For Simmons, though: "The Clips organization has been as dysfunctional as ever -- not just the team but especially off the court. It's a laundry list of things."

They used to say that Microsoft was dysfunctional. Which it was. But it's easier to enjoy dysfunction when you employee many thousands. Some might think that the Clippers ought to be a smaller scale and therefore more manageable problem. Oh, but the egos you'll find there.

The Clippers weren't immediately available for comment. They were too busy infighting. (Alright, I'll stop.)

Simmons believes there are two other franchises that are supremely dysfunctional. One, the Sacramento Kings, is also run by a wealthy tech entrepreneur, Vivek Ranadive.

The other is the Charlotte Hornets. This team is owned by Michael Jordan.

It must, therefore, be very easy to be an NBA owner -- or perhaps not quite as easy as it seems.

If the Clippers win the NBA championship in three years (perish the very concept), perhaps Simmons will credit himself with spurring them on to glory.

I feel sure that, whatever happens, Ballmer will still be screaming uncontrollably at courtside when the new season begins in October.

Will he be screaming with pain or pleasure? With him, it's sometimes hard to tell.