By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Los Angeles Clippers won’t be changing their name. But if they were, Hurricanes would be appropriate.
L.A. is known for earthquakes, not howling tropical storms. But the latter is exactly what comes to mind after the franchise’s new owner blew into the city Monday afternoon.
Clippers players on stage at Staples Center on Monday couldn’t help but smile wide and long as they welcomed new owner Steve Ballmer. Some covered their mouths as they chuckled under their breath. Others cocked their heads in wonderment as this big, bouncing, balding billionaire bellowed into the microphone during a rally attended by nearly 5,000 fans.
The fans were issued T-shirts that read, simply: “It’s A New Day.”
Hurricane Steve barreled out of an arena tunnel like a bull unleashed in the streets of Pamplona. Eminem’s raucous “Lose Yourself” blared as he fervently clapped his hands, slapped high-fives with fans and double-pumped his fists as if he’d just been called to come on down as the next contestant on the “Price is Right.”
“When he came through the crowd, I literally had goose bumps,” said Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin, who was joined by coach Doc Rivers and teammates Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Matt Barnes and others on stage. “I don’t know if there’s one good word to describe him. I know all our guys are excited about the energy he brings. It’s completely different.”
Ballmer’s price to acquire the team from banned-for-life former owner Donald Sterling was huge, a record $2 billion. This for a franchise that for most of Sterling’s 33 years of ownership was labeled as the worst-run organization in all of sports.
But that started to change over the last few years. Sterling paid Griffin. He paid Paul. He paid to get Rivers from Boston to ensure keeping Paul. Before that he paid $50 million to build a state-of-the-art training facility in L.A.’s upscale Playa Vista neighborhood. There were other signs of fiscal change, too, that raised curiosity within the organization.
Former Clippers center Chris Kaman was drafted sixth overall by L.A. in 2003 , playing there for eight seasons before being traded to New Orleans in the deal that gifted Paul to the Clippers in December 2011, following the lockout. In a 2012 interview, a year after the trade, Kaman reflected on how far the franchise had come: “The worst possible franchise in NBA and all sports history … to one of the top ones.”
He then quipped that such a transformation could really go the distance, “if Sterling sold the team.”
Well … hey.
Ironically, after decades of stinginess, the surfacing of Sterling’s better judgment in running the team has set up the giddy Ballmer with the most talented, most championship-ready roster in the franchise’s history in L.A. Paul and Griffin are locked in for the next four years. Rivers isn’t going anywhere. Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO from Seattle, promised Clippers fans the team isn’t going anywhere either. He said he loves Seattle, but he loves L.A., too, and he won’t move the team “for a hundred reasons.”
He said at least a hundred more things that drew applause as his booming voice grew hoarse.
It is a new day in Clipperland. A much different day.
Hurricane Steve will take it from here.