High School / Aug 18, 2014 / 11:45 am

Steve Ballmer’s Controversial “Ownership” Of High School Team

Clippers Fans

Clippers Fans (Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)

After a lengthy and drawn out process, Steve Ballmer — the former Microsoft CEO — is officially the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. It turns out he has a bit of experience as the owner of a team already, as details have emerged about his involvement with the high school basketball team where his three sons play.

Via Mike Baker of The Seattle Times, Ballmer was very involved with building up the basketball program at Lakeside School in Seattle, where all three of his sons attended:

Before he had a pro team to call his own — and with all three of his kids involved with basketball at Lakeside — Ballmer focused his attention on the high-school team.

Ballmer and his allies at Lakeside attracted basketball talent to the wealthy school and aided them with a series of questionable tactics that included a new basketball-focused nonprofit, cash for a coach, an unusual admissions process and weak enforcement of academic standards. One star player stayed at a $6 million mansion as he shuffled through three years of an academic schedule that almost ensured he wouldn’t get a Lakeside diploma.

“They relaxed their academic integrity to accommodate athletes,” said Dana Papasedero, who coached baseball at Lakeside for two decades.

Ballmer’s tactics, which at least one reported source thought was in violation of the prep sports rules in Washington state, paid off. In 2008, Lakeside won just two games all season. Last year, they made it to the state finals before losing in overtime.

There are several ways to view this, especially if we’re using this story to assess how Ballmer will be as the owner of the Clippers. On the one hand, setting up a nonprofit corporation to funnel money in order to aid the school’s basketball program may be seen as creating an unfair advantage over other schools. The fact Lakeside may have put basketball ahead of the academic performance of its players is especially disconcerting. It also speaks to the overall culture of high school basketball where winning gets prioritized over everything else.

On the other hand, Ballmer does not appear shy about pouring his financial resources into creating and sustaining a winning environment, which is great news for Clippers fans after spending years hearing about Donald Sterling‘s frugal approach. The high school environment didn’t seem like the right place for Ballmer to flex his muscles, so to speak. What he wants to do as an owner, and the money he wants to spend, makes him much more suitable to the NBA than someone trying to meddle with a high school program in Seattle.

With his passion for the game and willingness to engage with the team and their fan base, many people expect Ballmer to be the next Mark Cuban: the owner who is always visible court-side and can appear as intense as the players on the court. This might rub opponents, or even members of the Clippers, the wrong way. But it seems like a trade off they’ll deal with if it means they have an owner with deep pockets who will do what it takes to ensure the Clippers remain contenders for a very long time without sacrificing the basic decency all Clippers employees should experience.

What do you think?

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