Steve Ballmer didn’t need to do anything other than have a pulse. Show up, avoid verbally tripping over himself, maybe begin negotiations on the next set of fan rankings, since Shelly Sterling is obviously No. 1 because of her decades of spending all that money on a tight income to buy tickets without personal gain, and also because it says so in the sales agreement.
Seriously, Ballmer being the Clippers owner is enough — it means Donald Sterling is not. Game over. The Clips win the offseason. Ballmer’s a hero.
And then it came time to actually do something.
When the team held a fan fest at Staples Center shortly after the $2-billion deal became official, Ballmer showed he had more energy than money, a burst of fist pumps, high fives and chest bumps. Music played. Promises were made about the organization’s relentless approach to winning. The crowd that would have loved him anyway, because of who he wasn’t, appeared to connect with the new boss even more.
Wednesday was another of those moments. Doc Rivers got a new contract as coach and head of basketball operations, the team announced. About three months ago, he was having to consider leaving, wanting to be with the organization in a city he loves but not at the cost of working for someone who had just spouted such racist comments. And now, Rivers signed a package reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! worth $50 million over five years.
Ballmer is the owner, but Rivers is the leader. That was the case anyway behind the scenes, a role Doc grabbed almost immediately after joining the Clippers and moving to marginalize Sterling on basketball matters, even if it meant publicly calling out the boss. (Sterling could have fired him the first week of the season, for all Rivers cared. Rivers knew he would get another lucrative offer before long, and even if he didn’t, anything was better than living with Sterling’s destructive intrusions.) But once Sterling’s hate became public and the first round against the Warriors stopped being just about the first round against the Warriors, Rivers’ navigation of an impossible situation became the public platform of his value.
Rivers had two more years on the deal he signed after being traded, at his request, from the Celtics, championship credentials in tow. Ballmer could have wanted to settle in, get a feel for the operation before making any major decisions that didn’t need making in August, maybe even wait the entire 2014-15 to see if Rivers can deliver more than a trip to the second round. Instead, the new contract ends the issue of the coach/president and his future in a move for stability.
It is why the new deal can be so expected and so celebrated.
“This is an important day for this organization,” Ballmer said in the statement announcing the move. “I am excited to work with Doc for a long time as we build a championship culture that will deliver results both on and off the court. Not only is Doc one of the best coaches and executives in the game, but he continually embodies the hard core, committed and resilient character and winning culture that the Clippers represent. It was one of my top priorities to ensure that he was firmly in place as the long-term leader of this team.”
Pep rallies on the home court in the dead of the offseason to energize fans don’t mean anything on the court, championships are not determined based on the heat an owner brings, and promises about driving hard to win titles is typical campaign promise. The events ordinarily mean nothing. The difference this time is that it’s the Clippers post-Sterling, after fans and the organization alike had endured so much even when the topics did not splash across CNN. So, yeah, they absolutely mean something.
A fan fest, all but accompanied by “Ding, dong, the witch is dead” playing on a loop, and a predictable contract should be feel-good moments after everything the organization has been through. Steve Ballmer has shown up, and he has more than a pulse.